Best cheap(ish) GPS watch for marathon training
August 6, 2017 8:49 AM   Subscribe

I'm not really a runner. But I got into the New York Marathon and during my training my phone's Nike+ app has proven to be inadequate for run tracking in many ways. Runners, what are your recommendations for an affordable running watch? (I've looked at previous questions on AskMeFi, but the last one is two years old, so looking for more recent recommendations given tech development).

I've run off and on for distances up to a half marathon for about 3 or 4 years. So far the Nike Run app has been fine for short distances (5k-10k). However, as I'm starting to train longer runs, it's failing me in several ways. It's killing my phone battery. I run while listening to Spotify through bluetooth wireless headphones, and the combination of that and the Nike app at the same time mean that I'm at less than 15% battery after an hour and a half of running. There's no way I'll be able to have both music and tracking work through an entire marathon, and I'm not really interested in carrying an extra battery pack with me during a long run. The app is also not entirely accurate. I was frustrated during my last run because first, it didn't track my first half mile for whatever reason, and then it had my speed as very steadily increasing over the course of a ten mile run (which, given my previous run patterns, is wholly inaccurate--the graph was a straight line up, not the usual waves up and down). I wonder if running through Manhattan yesterday (I did City Streets yesterday, while Park Avenue was closed to traffic) caused the GPS to be inaccurate due to tall buildings and such interfering with the signal. Usually I run the West Side Greenway or Prospect Park, but given that the NY Marathon course is through the city, I want it to be as accurate as possible throughout the race.

What I like about the Nike app: it tracks route, current/average pace, and distance while giving feedback during the run. It also tracks achievements. That's all I really want/need from a watch. I do not need heart rate monitoring or general fitness tracking or call answering/phone notifications. Looking on Amazon, it's really confusing to tell which watches actually do run tracking vs. which are simply fitness trackers for steps or heart rate. The Wirecutter recommends the Garmin Forerunner 220/230, but on Amazon they are $150+. I'm looking for under $100, if possible. Several models from unknown brands are under $50 on Amazon but it's unclear about whether they meet my needs. Should I just suck it up and shell out for the Garmin? Help!
posted by Fuego to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's not a watch but if you want to offload the battery drain from your music there's now a standalone Bluetooth Spotify player called Mighty ( that gives about three hours of Bluetooth playtime on a charge and only requires a phone for syncing music before your run. I use it for lawn mowing.
posted by noloveforned at 9:21 AM on August 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Since you don't need fancy on-watch features, find a new or refurb Garmin FR10 or FR15. Will track you just as well as anything else and you can choose your service (strava, etc) on the back end. You should be able to get out for around $50 if you're into trolling deal sites, etc.
posted by ftm at 9:21 AM on August 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

I bought a new FR15 at Target for less than $100. (I didn't want to wait.). It tracks distance accurately and tells me my pace for each mile, and has an app for other things.
posted by kerf at 9:46 AM on August 6, 2017

The Forerunner 15 is what you want. Small, barebones, cheap and it just works. I've had mine for a couple of years now and it's great. Looks like amazon has some refurbished for ~$50, or new closer to 100
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 10:05 AM on August 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Definitely the FR15.

You might also try Strava on your phone.
posted by Brittanie at 12:17 PM on August 6, 2017

Nthing a basic Garmin. The accuracy boost moving from my phone to a Garmin watch was so satisfying.
posted by augustimagination at 12:46 PM on August 6, 2017

I fought this battle last year, in the run-up (no pun intended) to a half marathon.

It didn't work for me for other reasons (I ended up buying an Apple Watch), but I went with a FR25. You don't want something not-Garmin, I don't think, so a Forerunner 15 or 25 would be ideal for you.

Not for nothing -- and I have no idea if this is verboten here -- but if you want MY FR25, memail me. I need to get rid of it for reasons of domestic harmony, and would be willing to send it your way in exchange for a reasonable donation to a mutually agreeable charity.

(The "other reasons" that drove me to the Apple Watch+Phone solution were tied to needing wrist-based notifications while riding, when the FR25 would be functioning only as a watch. Turns out, it doesn't talk to my phone so well IF the phone is also paired with, and using, another Garmin device - and I use a bike-specific Garmin GPS when riding. If all I had been doing was running, the 25 would have been fine.)
posted by uberchet at 2:15 PM on August 6, 2017

Thanks for the recommendations, everyone. Floored that it was virtually unanimous in terms of the brand and model--always a good sign. I bought a FR 15 on Amazon, should be here in time for my next short run. uberchet, too bad I didn't see your post before that...If I decide to upgrade for whatever reason, I will let you know!
posted by Fuego at 5:52 PM on August 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Another FR15 rec here -- I'm very happy with mine. Cheap and cheerful; also does step counting and sleep tracking; pretty much on my wrist full-time.

find a new or refurb Garmin FR10 or FR15

Not an FR10 for marathon training. It has a shorter battery life than the FR15, and my partner found it frustratingly doesn't last quite long enough on a charge to make it to the end of marathon-length long runs.

(And on preview, hooray, go team FR15. Good luck with the training.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 7:08 PM on August 6, 2017

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