A Garmin GPS watch is an amazing piece of kit that has the potential to massively improve your running experience. You have more metrics being recorded on your wrist in one of today’s entry-level models than the greatest athletes from the 20th century had access to.
But, if you don’t know how to use all the features, and you’re not the most technically-minded nor inclined to figure things out, that fancy looking bit of tech adorning your wrist might end up not doing much more than the free watch you got out of a cereal box when you were eight-years-old.
In this article I’m going to run through a few tips to help you get the most out of your Garmin watch. So whether you’ve just got your first Forerunner or you’ve just upgraded and you’re wondering where to start, or if you’ve been using the Fenix you got two Christmases ago to time the perfect boiled egg, this one’s for you.
Customise your data screens
From the Forerunner 45 up to the latest Fenix, and even a lot of older discontinued models, you have a lot of control over what you see and how you see it. Take the time to customise it to show what’s important to you.
You could have as many as eight data fields on one screen. Distance, timer, lap pace, average pace, cadence, heart rate, temperature, time… all on one screen without having to click a button. But just because you can have eight data fields doesn’t mean you have to use eight data fields. That’s a lot of information to look at on a relatively small screen while exerting yourself. And do you necessarily care about all of those values?
Decide what information you need while actually running and set it up in the way that works best for you. The same goes for your other sports profiles too, like trail running, cycling and swimming if your device supports those activities.
To alter the data fields and screens, click into your chosen activity as if you are about to perform it, then hold down the middle left button. Click on “Run Settings” then “Data Screens”. Clicking on the edit icon with the stop-start button will then allow you to intuitively customise the profile’s interface.
Either set up Garmin Coach…
Now when I said you’ve got a coach on your wrist, you’ve got so much more than a grumpy old man with a whistle and a dirty tracksuit barking splits at you. You’ve got training plans that range from completing a 5K all the way up to running a 1:32 half marathon, a choice of three coaches, and further options to tailor the plan to suit your lifestyle and current ability level.
On the Garmin Connect app, click into “Training” and select “Training Plans” to customise your coaching. This will give you specific sessions, and send workouts to your watch, to help keep you accountable and take the guesswork out of your training.
… or at least customise some workouts
If your goals extend up to the marathon and beyond, or your target time for the half heads under the 90-minute mark, your Garmin watch is still a useful and intuitive coaching aid.
Clicking into the “Training” section on Garmin Connect gives you the opportunity to create a workout and send it to your watch. These workouts are fully customisable, giving you absolute control over the duration of efforts, be that by time or distance, the rest periods, and the options to set your workout intensity by pace, heart rate, cadence, or even power (if your device is compatible with a power meter or the Running Dynamics Pod).
When you send these workouts to your watch and perform them, they will be displayed on an extra data screen which will guide you through the workout with beeps and visuals, typically showing a gauge that will indicate if you’re inside the correct intensity range to complete the workout.
If your watch is music compatible, load it up with music
If you have Spotify premium, this is an incredibly quick and easy process. All you need is your watch, your smartphone, and a secure Wi-fi network. Scroll through the arrow until it gets to music, select “Add Music” and follow the instructions.
If you bought your watch for its topographical mapping features, load it up with some GPXs and go exploring
As a criminally sub-par navigator with very mediocre map reading skills,* the topographical mapping on my Forerunner 945 has allowed me to travel relatively quickly through the mountains and wilder regions where I haven’t been able to rely on local trail knowledge.
Even on marked ultra races, different race directors’ definitions of “marked” can definitely be complimented by a reliable GPX file. The GPX on your watch also can’t be vandalised by local hooligans (the same cannot be said for course marking flags and arrows).
*While slow and far from an expert, I can read a map. Remember, if you run out of battery or you have an accident and break your device, a map and compass could save your life.
Be precious about that optical heart rate sensor
Wrist-based HR monitors have always gotten a bad rap for their accuracy, and on early watches with this feature, that may have been deserved, but the newer versions using the ELEVATE optical HR sensor (the Forerunner 45, 245, 945 and subsequent models) have shown far more accurate readings at higher intensities.
The HR monitor works by flashing lights against your skin, so if that sensor gets scratched, it will distort its accuracy at higher intensities (even sensors that have long since lost their ability to be reliable at higher intensities prove more than adequate for things like sleep tracking and resting HR readings). Whenever you take it off, take the time to not place the sensor against hard surfaces - protect the sensor with the silicone strap.
Equally, if your training lives and dies by HR accuracy, you’d be well served to pair your watch with a more traditional and more reliable chest strap.
But most importantly, don’t let it distract you from the run
Garmin watches are great, but you’ll have all the data at the end of the run to sift through to your heart’s content. When you’re on the move, stay safe, don’t accidentally barge over a pedestrian, don’t miss that annoying pothole and demolish an ankle, and take in the experience of being healthy and outside.