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I ran my first ultra-marathon just about a week ago and due to the outside circumstances I pushed the limits on my existing Garmin Forerunner 220. The GPS watch is rated to provides about 8 hours of battery life while in use during running and by the time I finished the 50K race I was down to 12%. Now I am ready to tackle my first 50 mile ultra-marathon and while my existing GPS watch is good for my training runs for now, coming closer to the race and for the race itself it is not sufficient enough. Accordingly, I am in the market for a GPS watch for ultra running. This blog posting is what my initial research has brought to light.
Battery Life Matters
There are really 3 main things that matter to me regarding a GPS watch. 1) Battery Life, 2) Heart Rate Monitor, and GPS Accuracy. I do not need a lot of features other than distance, average pace, time elapsed, time, and eventually current pace. Everything else would be a welcome add-on, but not a requirement for me.
Battery Life is probably one of the most important feature for the typical ultra runner as most races (50 mile and up) will take more time than most of the GPS watches can handle. I think even elite runners will push the limits of battery life in some of the races – but that is too far off for me anyway. At age 48 and being at the beginning of my ultra running career I am happy just to be there and to work my way through the challenge.
Some of the newer watches can be charged while running by using a portable USB Battery charger. Usually it does not interrupt the activity recording, but some watches will show the battery charging screen during the process and not the activity information. So, I did some research and the following list seems to represent GPS watches that can be charged while running. This might be a great option, because it would allow me to not having to buy the most expensive watch, but to settle for something more reasonable priced.
Garmin GPS Watch
- Forerunner 310XT with heart rate monitor
- Forerunner 910XT
- Fenix 2
- Fenix 3/Fenix 3HR
- Forerunner 230
- Forerunner 235
- Forerunner 630
Suunto GPS Watch
- Ambit 2
- Ambit 3 Peak
- Ambit 3 Run
Epson GPS Watch
- Runsense SF-510
- Runsense SF-710
- Runsense SF-810
There is also the Garmin 920XT that is supposed to last for 24 hours while in use, but apparently it cannot be charged while running. This would be enough for my 50 miler for sure, but at least for me the price tag attached to the Garmin Forerunner 920XT is a bit too high.
The GPS watches that made it into my list of watches I will further investigate are:
Forerunner 310XT with heart rate monitor
Forerunner 910XT with heart rate monitor
I am not at all familiar with the Epson GPS watches nor do I know anyone who has one of those. The Ambit and Ambit 2 watches seem outdated at this point + I doubt I would find them new at a fair price and I am not going to buy a used watch as the battery life usually degrades over time. For a normal run or even a marathon that would be fine, but I am looking for something that can be my trusted GPS watch for ultra running. Other watches look great, but I am not ready to spent $400+ on a GPS watch.
Be on the lookout for another blog post coming later this summer where I will review whatever GPS watch I ended up buying. The ones listed here seem to be best GPS watches for ultra running.
Update 09/14/2016: Earlier this summer I bought the Garmin 735XT which is supposed to have 14 hours of battery life. Well, the Garmin 735XT did not live up to my expectations and battery life fell well short of what it was supposed to be. In addition, Garmin Support sucked big time in helping me to figure out why the battery life sucked. Read my posting about the Garmin 735XT here. I know bought the Ambit3 Peak from Suunto. A review will follow soon about the Ambit3 GPS watch.
Reminder/Disclosure: I get a commission for some links on the blog. You don’t have to use these links, but I am very grateful when you do. Please read my full disclosure here.