Training on a treadmill gives you a host of stats to pace and race against. Whether it's the speed you are going or the distance you have travelled it's all in front of you. Go out into the field however and it's a different story. Sure you can work out your time- stopwatches are both cheap and easy to use, but distance relies on a guesstimate, an OS map and a ruler. Garmin hopes that with its updated Forerunner GPS device that you'll be able to get all this information and more from a device that you wear like a wristwatch.
As far as GPS units go this is tiny and compact, however it's not tiny and compact from a wristwatch point of view so be prepared to wear a largish device on your arm. When we say largish we are talking the size of two large diving watches and for runners who don't like to be bothered by extra clobber, the device may seem cumbersome. Being large isn't all bad news and it does mean you get a large LCD display to give you plenty of information at a glance.
Size aside and you got yourself a very good data unit. The watch connects via satellite, just like any other GPS locator to give you your exact location on the earth and then plotting where you are and where you move to can give you a host of statistics. On first use the manual warns of a long time to align the satellites and locate you and when we turned the device on to test it, this was the case. However after the initial location tracking, subsequent usage found the satellites with ease.
The built-in stopwatch takes up most of the display in the default mode, alongside distance travelled and moving pace. The last two stats are derived from the satellites tracking you and for a runner, or walker this is great information to have all at the tip of your finger (actually your wrist).
But the Forerunner doesn't just feature and present the basics. Probably the best applications here is the Virtual Trainer mode which allows you to set pre-determined goals based on a number of combining factors such as distance and time, time and pace or distance and pace. The mode will show you a graphic of your virtual running partner and tell you how in front or behind you are so you can speed up or slow down accordingly. When training, this is as good as having a pace runner running with you. It certainly helped when we tested it out on some training runs.
For the runner who likes to just throw on some trainers and get out onto the beaten path, the breadcumb mode is also likely to be a Godsend. Again using the GPS navigation side of the device, the unit will track your running and leave electronic breadcumbs that you can follow back to the start if need be, giving you some sense of safety that you'll eventually get back to where you started, likewise if you want to set a waypoint (ie a specific longitude or latitude reference to head towards within your running or walking you can do.
A lithium ion battery mean the device isn't as big as it possibly could have been and the battery will hold charge up to around 16-hours, plenty of time for that 1-day adventure race or trail walk.
The Forerunner also has a history mode so you can compare runs and the ability to download the information from the device to a PC will suit the serious runner.
With additional support for downloading your times to a PC (software has to be downloaded from Garmin's website) this is unit has it all. Of course nothing is perfect and we did experience trouble receiving a signal when in heavily built up areas, where the direct line of sight between the unit and the satellites was interrupted. Overall the device performed as well as could be expected from a GPS unit attached to your arm though.
However we can't but worry this might be just a five-minute wonder for anyone that isn't a serious off-the-track runner. Yes its all very well knowing how fast you are going and how far you have travelled, but running on the road is totally different from the treadmill.
Then again, you might as well say that about using bike computers and give us one cyclist that having used a bike computer doesn't miss it every time they go out without it and we'll be very surprised
Aside from the rather large unit that sits on your arm this is a great device and one that if you are use to running with a watch won't really notice any great change in the slightly larger unit attached to your arm. If you need to measure, this is the tool to measure with.