Whether it be a training plan from an app such as TrainAsOne or Zombies, Run!, or comparing results with fellow runners via a platform such as Runkeeper or Strava, technology has helped lots of runners off the start line, coached their performance and led them to become obsessed with their digital trails. Most start off tracking their runs with their smartphone strapped to their arm, but other devices can capture metrics beyond just pace and distance.
Garmin Fenix 5X Plus
This is a hefty watch, with a matching price tag. Within its titanium casing is a multitude of sensors that can track your activities (running, rowing, cycling, skiing, kayaking and pretty much anything else), your heart rate, heart rate variability (the time between the beats, an indicator of how stressed you are) and pulse ox acclimatisation (the amount of oxygen in your blood – useful if you are training at high altitudes). It can also prompt you along routes it has created, although in built-up areas these weren’t very runner-friendly.
Apart from this gripe, it’s almost faultless and a powerful device. It’s straightforward to customise for the activities and data you’re most interested in, the screen is easy to read while running, the buttons make it simple to operate and the battery lasts for an age (Garmin claims 33 hours of GPS tracking or 20 days on standby).
However, if you want something for urban running and some racing, something cheaper, such as a Garmin Forerunner 30 (£130) or a Polar M430 (£175), which have HR monitors and GPS, would be more than sufficient.
Best for: ultra-active, high-net-worth individuals who like to run trails, swim wild, ski cross-country and paddleboard – before breakfast.
Apple Watch Series 4
The newest Apple Watch is a powerful tool for keeping track of your health and exercise. It can measure HR, HRV and VO2 Max; other useful features for runners include the ability to make contactless payments and listen to music without lugging your smartphone along too. The watch is, well, watch-size compared to other sports watches, plus it’s aesthetically pleasing enough to wear all day.
Tracking a run with Apple’s Activity app works smoothly. Other apps and devices can write data to Activity, but this is haphazard, resulting in double entries or oddities, such as mistaking cycling up a hill as climbing up stairs. If you’re happy not to stray from the Apple apps, this is less of an issue but if you want to share your activities to another platform you would be advised to install the HealthFit app, which can export your runs to Strava, TrainingPeaks and other platforms. For £2.99, this app removes one of the Apple Watch’s two drawbacks.
The other issue is poor battery life, not surprising given its small size and the powerful chips and sensors. You’ll need to charge it most days, so using it to track sleep patterns is tricky and there’s not enough juice for tracking long bike rides with GPS. A new feature of the Series 4 is a wrist-based electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor; however, this isn’t enabled on UK devices until Apple gains the appropriate EU approval, since it is classified as a medical device.
Best for: style-conscious runners
£99, plus £9.99/month subscription
This strap for Apple Watches already has EU approval to take ECG measurements, so it could be ideal if you are impatient for this function on the Series 4 or you own an older Apple Watch. The HR sensors in the Apple Watch and other devices work by using optical sensors in their rear to monitor blood flow in the wrist but the KardiaBand can pick up electrical activity from the heart. But why is this of particular interest to runners? An ECG can detect atrial fibrillation (typical AFib symptoms would be a fluttering or pounding feeling in the chest), which is more common in middle-aged endurance athletes than the general, sedentary population. To monitor your heart, you simply place your thumb on the metal tab on the strap for 30 seconds and the app will tell you if your heart is displaying any signs of AFib. The SmartRhythm feature will monitor your heart during runs and will prompt you to take an ECG if it notices anything untoward. If you have any concerns, you can show the results to your GP.
Best for: runners with concerns about their heart
As the name hints, these shoes claim to give a 4% boost to your performance, due to the carbon-fibre plate in the sole. Eliud Kipchoge and Abraham Kiptum set world records this year wearing them in the marathon and half-marathon respectively. I ran 5k and 10k personal bests in these very light shoes, an improvement of 2.4% and 3.95% respectively. Is there any evidence to back up Nike’s claims?
The 4% claim originated from a Nike-funded study but recently two independent studies have been published by US academics. The first found that the shoes do “enhance running economy” by 2.6% to 4.2% (depending on the comparison shoe). The second study concluded that the boost was due to the carbon plate acting as a lever for the foot and that the foam in the shoe’s sole possessed “superior energy storage”.
Aside from the price, the only drawback seems to be longevity – their bounce is widely reported to fade by 100 miles. So they are definitely a shoe to save for (personal) best.
Best for: special running occasions
This is a small pod to attach to laces, which tracks how much power is generated as you run.
You may be tracking distance, heart rate and pace, so why would you want to know your wattage? After monitoring your running habits for a while, the Stryd app can calculate the power you should run at for a particular distance, lessening the chances of you “blowing up” before the finish line. And if you are doing interval training, running in zones defined by power is more exact than using your heart rate, which will lag as you recover from exertions.
In practice, the Stryd app was a bit hit and miss, sometimes underestimating distance by half, which messed up the power data. After reinstalling and resetting (and reverting to using a watch to track speed) it became more reliable.
Best for: competitive, data-hungry runners looking to maximise the benefit from their training sessions
Running tights and top by Soar Running
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010