I have always been a little bit of a running gear snob, although probably not in the way one might think.
It is not that I looked at people and judged them for their lack of expensive, top-of-the-line running gear. Quite the opposite. In fact, I have almost always found the slowest, least dedicated runners to be the ones who possess the fastest, most expensive running watches. These are the same women who, in the gym, walk uphill for a few minutes on a low speed setting while reading Us Weekly sporting blue eye shadow.
Now of course I have digressed into snark, which I am particularly sensitive to as it appears that I have, in fact, become one of them.
In ye olden days of running, I used to love how egalitarian the sport was. All it took to be fast was a bit of natural ability and dedication. For years I ran in ratty t-shirts and old gym shorts and very often ran faster than the women sporting Lululemon and the highest end Polar watch.
All the $400 running watches in the world won’t motivate your butt off the couch when you just want to watch the Bachelor. Or so I thought.
Last year, for my birthday, my husband gave me a Garmin Forerunner watch. It retails for around $160 now on Amazon (although was more last summer-drat!) and I don’t think it is dramatic of me to say that it revolutionalized the sport for me.
Suddenly I was not guessing if I ran four miles. The GPS told me to the 10th of a mile! Suddenly I was not guessing at my pace, the Garmin told me I was running 8:10. Honestly, I am not sure how I could have made it through last year’s training without it.
This is not to say the Garmin is perfect. It takes forever to load the satellites. The battery has to be fully charged to make it through a long run and it dies quickly after. It is heavy, much heavier than some of the Polar models I looked at and most of all, it is running exclusive. It does not have a function for running or swimming and is even difficult to use to tell the time.
A few weeks before the marathon, I received an iPod Nano and with it, the Nike Plus system, Apple’s answer to the Garmin. It comes with two parts, one that attaches to the shoe (you can also buy the special Nike shoes that fit it, but I am pretty dedicated to my Asics). It is a runner’s dream. Much less expensive than the Polar or the Garmin, it calibrates quickly so there is no lag time between leaving the house and actually being able to start to run.
I love the Nike Plus software on the computer and prefer it to Garmin’s. It provides little incentives for running further and faster and tracks individual runs better than the Garmin. I also enjoy the voices (like Lance Armstrong’s, for instance) that come on to encourage me on particularly long or fast runs, telling me “congratulations, this was the fastest five-miler you have run yet!” That is the kind of motivation I can use.
The final piece of gear I tried during my last marathon was the Polar rs800cx, which retails for $400, making it by far the most expensive of the lot. The good thing of course, is that it works for all my sports, namely biking and running (parts of it also works for swimming, but I never used it in that capacity). It was also lightweight and more stylish than the Garmin.
That is where the good parts end. I found the set up very confusing and once I ran with it, it was only later that I discovered the software is incompatible with a Mac, which meant I needed to use my husband’s computer and since he is planning on buying a Mac soon enough, I may have nowhere to upload my information soon. Needless to say, that put a major crimp in my plans for the Polar.
In the end, I find myself always going back to my Garmin for the long runs. It is the easiest to read, the most reliable and also the one that got me through my first marathon. At this point, we are war buddies.
And those girls with blue eye shadow? I guess they are my comrades now, too.
Sasha Brown-Worsham is a writer, a mother and an unabashed, unashamed runaholic. Check her progress each week as she trains to qualify for the Boston Marathon.