You’re at the start line, the race briefing has been done, the countdown to the “hooter” has begun and everybody has their finger poised to start their wrist based gadget of choice.
I’m definitely one of them! From the early days of my running, well before GPS watches were around, I had my trusty Polar HRM telling me just how hard my heart was working to keep me going. Then Garmin released a GPS watch, Forerunner 305, with a chest strap to measure not just my heart rate but it could track my speed and distance too, great for a number crunching analytical geek like me. My main complaint with my old Garmin 610 was that I found the chest strap used to feel like it was slipping as I ran and it became more of a distraction. Then for my birthday my wife, Debra, bought me a Tom Tom Runner with built in wrist based HRM, and I was set free from the chest strap. Sadly the HRM on my Tom Tom stopped working but I saw this fab deal at Ribble Cycles of all places for a Tom Tom Runner 3 with HRM and Music and hence it has become my current wrist based gadget of choice.
Before I talk about the Runner 3 specifically, a little bit about how do you choose what to buy. There is a lot of choice in the sports watch market, even within one manufacturer, so it’s good to have a clear idea of what you really want your technology to tell you. Your budget is going to be a key factor and with devices being available from around £75 up to £500+, it pays to know which features really matter to you. If accurate monitoring of your heart rate is going to be important in your training, then personally I would opt for a watch with a chest strap as in my experience they produce a consistently more reliable reading than wrist based HRMs even though I prefer the ease of use of the wrist based ones. More expensive devices will give you cadence, stride length and much more if those are important for you. Also consider how easy it is to use the device both whilst running, in particular what can be displayed and how easy is it to read, and when you want to upload your runs to Strava or any other logging system you use.
Enough preamble, lets talk about the Tom Tom Runner 3. For a relatively low cost watch (I paid around £120) you get a lot of features. You have the basic GPS but you can also upload “trails” useful to keep you on track, it has a built in compass, the wrist based HRM, it can store your favourite play list and play it back through bluetooth headphones, it can even link to your smartphone and let you know who’s calling or messaging you. As you would expect when out on a run you can see most of the usual metrics, time, run-time, distance, heart rate, pace, average pace etc… When running you can display 3 different metrics, one on the main display and two smaller ones. It has a number of “training” modes so you can set it to race mode where you can see how you are comparing to a previous run on the same route (I’ve used this a few times), there is a zone mode where you can set what pace/speed or heart rate zones to run in and the display will indicate if you are above, below or in zone (this is handy for me with my half marathon training right now). It has a treadmill mode with much the same features as the running mode but in addition the watch does attempt to learn your stride to make a guesstimate of the distance you’ve covered and at the end of the run allows you to update the distance with the treadmills numbers. This latter feature I like and is something my old Garmin didn’t cater for. Finally there is a swimming mode and cycling mode – I’ve not used either but I guess this could be good if you are tri-athlete.
Once your run is done, its very easy to upload. I have mine set to sync with the Tom Tom app on my phone and this automatically then updates to Strava, or I can go all old fashioned and connect the watch to the USB on my laptop with a cable. Charging the watch is done using the same USB cable either via your laptop or any suitable USB charing point. The Tom Tom app as well as telling you all the usual information about your run, also gives you an estimate of your VO2 max, and your fitness age – both are handy guide to see how you are improving.
So what do I think of the Tom Tom Runner 3? Overall I really like this watch, it’s relatively simple to use, has a good app with clearly laid out information about your run and it has a lot of features for the price. It picks up my location much quicker than my old Garmin 610, the battery life is very good (less so if you have the phone alerts function enabled all the time) and it has all the features/information I need. My main quibble is that the wrist based HRM can be a bit temperamental with its readings. I’ve tried a few different things to see if I can get this to be more settled but none seem to work – I think it just a factor with wrist based HRM tech that it’s not as reliable as a chest strap, but it is so much simpler and convenient that I’m happy to live with it most of the time. After about 4-5 months of use the strap broke but Ribble Cycles replaced it pretty quickly with no hassle and you can buy third party alternatives if you so wish.
In summary, I would say if you are looking for a sports watch with a reasonable level of information, then you could do a lot worse than the Tom Tom Runner 3 especially if you can get one at a good price. One thing to look out for is that there are three versions – a basic one, one with HRM and one with HRM and music – so just make sure the one you get has the functions you want.