While the whole world is now discovering the benefits of a connected watch, for runners, this is home ground. While connected watches have come on leaps and bounds, the needs of runners haven't changed hugely over the past 20 years that running watches have been around.
Familiar names persist: Garmin and Polar offer some of the best sports watches, adding the connectivity to give you more from your smartphone, more analysis of your data and better presentation.
There are decisions to be made - do you want the accuracy of a heart rate chest strap or the convenience of wrist-based HR? Do you have a preference for the platform the data will sync to? Are you interested in a wider ecosystem?
Buying a running watch is a very personal thing, so here's a rundown of the best watches on the market, for you to take your pick.
Our top recommendation...
Here's our recommendation for the best all round sports watch on the market.
Garmin Fenix 5
The Garmin Fenix family encompasses everything that Garmin can put into a sports watch. It's a great choice for runners offering a premium design that looks good out on the trails or in the office. It offers protection from the elements, from knocks and drops, while packing in all the sensors you could want.
There's GPS, naturally, with wrist-based heart rate tracking, with the option for a chest strap if you prefer. There's motion sensors, an altimeter and digital compass, so not only will this watch give you a premium sports experience, but it's suited to a wide range of multisports, outdoor activities and adventures.
There's also great battery life from this watch, the option for smartphone notifications, quick change straps and it comes in a range of different sizes and colours to suit your style, with all your data syncing to Garmin Connect. It's expensive though at £499 and a bit on the chunky side and that might push you toward some of the other options on this list, perhaps event the older Fenix 3, which you can now snap up for around £280. When it comes to sports watches, the Fenix 5 is flying first class.
Read the full review: Garmin Fenix 5 review
Best of the rest...
The Garmin Fenix 5 isn't for everyone though, and there are plenty of other great sports watches to consider whatever budget you are on. Here are the ones that you should also look at:
Garmin Forerunner 630
If the Fenix is a little beyond your reach, then perhaps Forerunner 630 will suit your needs. Forerunner is synonymous with running and although the Forerunner 630 is now a few years old, we still think it's a great option for those wanting good value for money, plenty of features and a chest strap model.
The Forerunner 630 can manage 16 hours of constant GPS enabled tracking or up to a month with notifications from a connected smartphone. So getting texts, WhatsApps, emails and call notifications while out allows this device to act as a smartwatch too. It will track daily activity using its accelerometer, as well as track heart rate or things like cadence using ANT+ sensors and it is good for up to 5 ATM of water resistance.
Smart running metrics that the Forerunner 630 offers include lactate threshold estimate, recovery time, vertical oscillation, ground contact time and plenty more. All that should add up to a very accurate way of varying training and seeing the effects on performance. This is all saved to the cloud-based Garmin Connect app, which can be viewed on a phone or computer, anywhere.
The Forerunner 630 is like a do-it-all combination of GPS sports watch, activity tracking wearable and smart notification centre all rolled into one slim and attractive package. Not bad for £300. It has now been replaced by the Forerunner 735XT with wrist-based HR tracking, ditching the chest strap.
Read the full review: Garmin Forerunner 630 review
Polar has traditionally been a running watch brand focused on heart rate. With the V800, the company has integrated GPS while sticking to chest strap connected heart rate monitoring. Although the V800 has been around for a few years, it's still Polar's flagship and a great performer.
This model is better looking than any Polar device before it, with a metal finish and buttons plus a super comfortable strap. It offers GPS, a chest HR strap, barometer, motion sensors and it's compatible with Polar's other sensors to track additional metrics.
The V800 also has added smart notifications as well as activity tracking. The metallic finish looks like a day-to-day wearable and the battery life is decent at 13 hours of training time and a month in activity tracking mode. This also tracks sleep and offers inactivity alerts.
The Polar Flow app pulls all the data together in a large community where you can be competitive. Snap one up with heart rate sensor for around £350.
Read the full review: Polar V800 review
Garmin Forerunner 920XT
The Forerunner 920XT has had a remarkable life. It's one of the most widely-used watches for multi-sport athletes, a familiar sight on the triathlon set and the friend of runners the world over. It's big, but it's light and importantly it's fully packed with features, the natural rival of the Polar V800.
Aside from your standard running metrics from the onboard GPS when paired with the HR chest strap, you get a lot of advanced running metrics, as well as support for swimmers, with stroke metrics, as well as compatibility with ANT+ bike sensors to feed in the information about your ride. Sure, it's a great watch, but the Forerunner 930 is just about to replace it, shifting to a round design and offering wrist-based HR tracking, so you no longer need the chest strap.
It offers customisation of the display, smartphone notifications and all your data is synced to Garmin Connect. We still think there's life in the 920XTX however, especially as the price falls. You can snap one up for around £325.
Read the full review: Garmin Forerunner 920XT review
TomTom has a number of watches, all with a similar design, but the most fully featured is the TomTom Adventurer. The Adventurer is designed for the great outdoors, but that brings with it advantages you don't always get in a watch at this price.
There's excellent wrist-based heart rate tracking and GPS, but the addition of an altimeter means you can have additional data about how much climbing you've done, which is more accurate than from GPS alone. It's also a comfortable watch to wear, protected against the elements and offer Bluetooth connectivity so you can hook it up to headphones to play music on the run.
It connects to your smartphone by offers no notifications from you phone, with data syncing into TomTom Sports. This isn't quite as sophisticated as PolarFlow or Garmin Connect and you miss out on some of the more advanced running metrics, like VO2 Max or recovery times. It will pause tracking when you get on a ski lift however, not bad for around £220.
Read the full review: TomTom Adventurer review
Garmin Vivoactive HR
If it's the great outdoors that features on your radar, aside from just running, then you might be drawn to the Vivoactive HR. Then model makes a departure from the Forerunner family that's often the favourite of runners and sits on the fitness tracking side of Garmin's offerings.
However, the Vivoactive HR is still equipped with a wrist-based heart rate tracker and GPS, designed to be a master of multi-sports, but also including an altimeter, so it will give you distance climbed rather than just linear tracking.
The downside is that the design is a little bland, even if the information you gather, synced with Garmin Connect, is nicely presented and accurate enough. Still, if you're looking for a little more than just running, the Vivoactive HR has you covered and for around £180.
Read the full review: Garmin Vivoactive HR review
TomTom Spark 3/Runner 3
If the Adventurer just sounds like it does too much, then step down to the TomTom Spark 3, or Runner 3. Two names, one watch. It's focused on fitness and it essentially the same hardware as the Adventurer above, but without such a premium strap and without the altimeter or functions that use it - like ski tracking.
If you're a runner then that's fine, as you still get the advantages of excellent wrist-based HR tracking and GPS performance. New in this model over older smart models is the inclusion of route tracking, meaning you can find your way back to where you came from simply and easily.
There's no smartphone notifications but you can have all-day activity tracking with all your data syncing to TomTom Sports. It's a little more basic than some of the functions you'll get from Polar or Garmin, but if you buy the right model, you can at least hook-up your Bluetooth headphones and listen to your music with no need for your phone. There's a number of different models, so make sure you buy the one that does what you need, expect to pay around £160 for heart rate and music.
Read the full review: TomTom Spark 3 review
Fitbit is traditionally a company that's been all about activity tracking. With the Surge it moved into GPS running watch territory. It's a decent size, offers smart notifications, tracks multiple sports and has a built-in heart rate monitor.
It offers the good looks of an activity tracker with a comfy elastomer strap, clear app platform and excellent touchscreen monochrome display and one of the immediate appeals is that it comes from Fitbit, so it integrates with the Fitbit app and all the other services that now work with Fitbit too.
The Surge offers constant wrist-based heart rate monitoring, it'll also track activity and sleep. All that translates to a battery that'll last about four days with moderate use. In GPS mode you'll be lucky to get five hours out of the wearable, but that will see you through most runs.
There may not be as many metrics as the established watches, nor the ability to personalise screens, but at around £150, it undercuts the big boys and offers a cheaper way for newbies to get a GPS sports watch.
Read the full review: Fitbit Surge review
Garmin Forerunner 35
If you're after a Garmin but want something a little more basic, then the Forerunner 35 is a good starting place. It cuts away a lot of the additional features of the watches higher up the family and focuses on just the information you need.
You get wrist-based heart rate tracking and GPS as well as the accelerometer to take care of your daily step tracking. You get all your information with a leaning toward the beginner runner. Importantly, however, this is a slim and compact device, so it won't weight you down like some other models.
Buy you still get lots of information, syncing through to Garmin Connect as well as the option for smartphone notifications on your wrist. The price is a more pocket-friendly £150 too.
Read the full review: Garmin Forerunner 35 review
And if you're looking for a smartwatch...
If the temptation of a smartwatch is clouding your judgement and you really want a wearable that will do everything, but still deliver a reasonable sports experience, then there are a couple of choices. In general, the running watches above have the advantage of offering better battery life, but the following devices give you a lot more features outside of sport.
Apple Watch Nike+
If you're an Apple iPhone user, then the Apple Watch delivers a first class smartwatch experience. This version of the watch has been designed for runners with a tie-in with Nike, although the only real unique options are the strap and the watch faces from the Nike Running app. Otherwise, the Apple Watch second-gen supplies you with wrist-based heart rate tracking and GPS, returning accurate results.
The running metrics aren't as full as you'll get from the other devices on this list, especially for the price of £369-£399, which is the real downside. However, if it's only basic run tracking that you're after then the Apple Watch will do that for you, while also giving you the advantage of a full smartwatch experience.
The Apple Watch will only work with the iPhone, however, it's not compatible with Android devices.
Read the full review: Apple Watch Nike+ review
The Polar M600 is an Android Wear smartwatch that's been built for runners on top of the full Android experience. As such, it offers a better experience for runners than the Apple Watch Nike+ edition, as there's a lot more information and a lot better presented than on Apple's device.
With integrated heart rate and GPS the Polar M600 offers great tracking of your activities, syncing all your data to Polar Flow, which is a great diagnostic app, providing plenty of feedback on the effectiveness of your exercise.
The downside against as regular running watch is battery life. Where you'll get a week from the running watches on this list, smartwatches will struggle to make it through two days. But you get a fully connected Android experience, making this a great companion for an Android smartphone user. This will also work with the iPhone too, although Android users get the better experience.
Read the full review: Polar M600 review