Speed and Distance Gadgets

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Garmin, Navman, iPod+, Timex, Polar, Oregon Scientific, pedometers and beyond...

This article is owned by Hollywoof!

There are quite a few gadgets around for measuring Speed and Distance while you're running and they're quite affordable now.
This article provides the low-down and some opinions on some of these gadgets...
*Garmin Forerunners*
Undoubtedly the most popular running GPS manufacturer. Be aware that there is a series called the ForeTREX which are more aimed at MTB, sailing, paragliding, hiking or trail running.
There are several different forerunners - from the old 101 through to the latest 305...
The same as a 201 except uses 2 disposable AAA batteries not rechargeable.
*Main Features*
Stopwatch with splits.
Lap counter.
GPS Speed/Distance recording.
Virtual Partner.
The unit is not the most accurate of the Forerunner series, however it is good enough to allow the runner to measure how far they have been on a run and what their average speed/pace was over the distance. Another useful feature of this device is the virtual training partner that provides an added incentive to keep running and set a certain pace.
Loses signal on cloudy day, in built up areas (particularly where the buildings are taller than two stories) or heavy tree cover.
When first switched on it needs to be left for at least 15 mins on a wall or suitable stationary object in order to calibrate the firmware and get a suitable GPS "lock".
This must be done when first switched on, otherwise lock on problems may result. Locking is quicker after the first time it has been used, unless you have moved a long way (>100 miles) or left the unit switched off for weeks. The unit can be reset to factory defaults and initial lock repeated which is sometimes necessary.
The 301 is the same as the 201 except:
- it has a USB rather than RS232 serial port connection (much easier to use)
- it has a Heart Rate Monitor attachment too - very useful for "serious training" ;-)
- it has more memory and retains detailed recordings of runs for longer than the 201; this only matters if you download many runs at a time to training software, rather than doing it every time you run
- it costs more!
*Main Features*
Stopwatch with splits.
Lap counter.
GPS Speed/Distance recording.
Virtual Partner.
Pre programmed workouts.
Heart Rate Monitor.
This unit is the successor to the 301 which also had built in HRM. The 305's main selling point is that Garmin claim to have used newer technology in the GPS function which has significantly improved not only the time it takes to lock on but also how it maintains a lock especially in built up areas, trees etc.
As a training device it is probably the most effective and useful on the market. A powerful combination of features such as GPS and heart rate monitoring make this product almost a must have for anyone who wants to monitor their training and performance.
The 305 is a great incentive to run when one sees the effects of a more structured approach to training the 305 gives a runner. The heart rate monitor coupled with GPS can be a very useful tool for helping people to improve their base endurance through being able to accurately determine when the level of effort is too high to be of benefit.
Provided by Ianm:
DO NOT wear it close to or on the skin because the contacts may short out on your sweat (mine have on three devices so far and I was told the software switches power off to the contacts whilst being worn - IT DOESN'T).
I put a small strip of black electrical insulation tape over mine when I wear it. I also try to wear it over the sleeve of my long sleeved runnig top when I can. The tape so far seems to work wonders. Another potential issue may be that memory gets written to when it should not in cases where there are loads or run and lap data. Solution: upload your data to the PC regularly and wipe the history on the device. I do this every day. you can back up all your data to an XML file which is useful too.
With regard to picking up a signal. If the unit is not TOTALLY still, on a flat non moving surface with the flat aerial bit facing upwards you will have problems locking on and if you keep moving while it is tryig to do the initial lock, chances are it will never lock on properly.
I put mine on the wall outside, THEN switch on and leave it. I have observed that doing this gets a lock in less than a minute. If I have it on my wrist and move at all, then it takes a few minutes but if I move up the road at all, it just won't lock on. This is the same with all FOUR units (305) I have had.
Making_Tracks: I have both a 301 & a 305. I've found that the text on the screen on the 305 is not as easy to read as the 301. I find its almost impossible to read the little box that pops up to tell you what you should be doing next when I'm running to a specific programme. If your eyesight is poor you might want to compare the screens on the 305 & 301 before making a purchase.
They are still deveoping technology and subject to the usual teething troubles but all in all they are a great device. I wouldn't be without mine.
Useful Links:
Link (roll over me to see where I go)
Link (roll over me to see where I go)
Link (roll over me to see where I go) - A very useful FAQ about the Garmin GPS units - including tips about how to reset them and how to get them into special engineering modes (geeks of the world will enjoy this!)
Link (roll over me to see where I go)=
Link (roll over me to see where I go)=
Link (roll over me to see where I go)=
Link (roll over me to see where I go)=
*Additional Software*
In addition to the good Training Center software provided by Garmin there are a number of excellent other software tools around including:
*Motion Based*
The Garmin site that you can use with your GPS device:
Link (roll over me to see where I go)
This software is also excellent and it's FREE! You can view your route on GoogeEarth style maps too!
Link (roll over me to see where I go)
*Additional Software*
Training Peaks: Link (roll over me to see where I go)
I purchase training programmes from this website. The programnes are written by Hal Higdon and Matt Fitzgerald. The Fitzgerald training plans upload automatically to your Garmin. This saves a lot of typing into the Training Centre Software that comes with the Garmin.
Matt Fitzgerald has also published some training zones information on this site. I find these really useful in ensuring I'm training at the right pace.
Link (roll over me to see where I go)
Link (roll over me to see where I go) - Hollywood - If you want to connect a USB-based Garmin to your Fetch log or to Gmap-pedometer then you can use my Internet Explorer toolbar.
*ForeTREX 101/201*
*Main Features*
Routefinding Functionality (Waypoints, OS Grid References, Routes etc)
NO Lap counter.
GPS Speed/Distance recording.
NO Virtual Partner.
The only difference between the ForeTREX 101 and 201 is the battery (AAA vs inbuilt rechargeable).
Can navigate to and from waypoints, follow routes, add waypoints / routes using PC interface or OS grid references - check out the garmin website for a more comprehensive comparison table between all the models.
Like the ForeRUNNER 101/201/301 Loses signal on cloudy day, in built up areas or heavy tree cover or lower reaches of very big, steep hills. No HRM functionality at all.
When first switched on it needs to be left for at least 15 mins on a wall or suitable stationary object in order to calibrate the firmware and get a suitable GPS "lock".
This must be done when first switched on, otherwise lock on problems may result. The unit can be reset to factory defaults and initial lock repeated which is sometimes necessary.
*Timex Speed And Distance Monitors*
Timex SDMs were among the first on the market.
They use a separate Timex Ironman style watch and a GPS arm pod made by Garmin.
The arm pod uses AAA batteries which last about 10 hours of active use (in my experience) - but also (annoyingly) drain down while the arm pod is turned off.
The watch uses a normal watch battery which seems to last around 12 months.
Depending on which version you buy, you get either 50 or 100 lap capability on the watch and you may get a Heart Rate Monitor too.
There is also an extra data logger you can buy which allows you to collect data for later transfer to the PC.
The beauty of the Timex system is that you can wear the watch and use it as a really good sports watch without the GPS.
However, the screen and functionality provided by the Timex is not as good as the Garmin - e.g. there are no extra functions like the AutoLap recording, the Virtual Training partner, the workout schedules, etc.
Timex SDM's seem to go very cheap on the web - for as cheap as 30 pounds secondhand on ebay.
Hollywood says: I had an early Timex SDM and loved it. It helped me through some long marathon training runs. However, since I moved up to a Garmin 301 I would never ever ever go back.
*Oregon Scientific Speed And Distance Monitors*
I believe the Oregon Scientific range are actually doubles of the Timex ones - they use the same electronics (the same watch innards from Timex and the same arm pod from Garmin) - the only difference is they are cheaper!
*Navman Speed And Distance Monitors*
*Polar Speed And Distance Monitors*
The Polar WIND sensor which ships with, among others, the RS800SD is reputed to be more accurate than a GPS in some sircumstances, and has the rather more obvious advantages of instant start up, working indoors and on treadmills, and so on.
It appears that a footpod correctly calibrated on one pair of shoes may not be accurate on another, however.
The following may be helpful, as they are the callibrations used by GreP (1.7m tall, 71kg):
Suacony ProGrid Trigon Guide: 0.956
Brooks Vapor: 0.935
*Apple/Nike iPod+*
The new Casio GPS watches are tiny.
They are the smallest on the market.
They look snazzy.
BUT they only have 2 hour battery life, they are expensive and I'm not sure they are in the shops yet.
*Nokia Sportstracker*
Provided as a free download for GPS enabled (or Bluetooth GPS connected) Nokia S60 phones including the N-Series, E-Series and many others (see Link (roll over me to see where I go)).
Route based running
Auto lapping based on 1/2K, 1K, 1/2 mile, mile or route depending on measurement unit selected
Basic map background (more promised)
Realtime route sharing via the Sportstracker website
Bluetooth heart rate monitor by Polar included in the N79 Active package (Hopefully this will be available by itself)
All this combined with a phone so that if the worst happens you can at least phone for help.
Battery life especially with Bluetooth connected devices (although it tracked my 3:35 Marathon with power to spare using the internal GPS)
Occasionally crashes for no obvious reason with no way of continuing the failed track

Recent Updates User Comments
Feb 2009 Alun Added the Nokia Sportstracker phone app
Jan 2009 ninemins Will add more on the Suunto memory belt but the main news is the Garmin original velcro strap for the 305 is brilliant - i will post support images soon but it is SO much better than the standard plastic strap that flapped about and was either to tight or too loose. The 305 even eases forward to allow the usb cradle to dock and holds in on. Genius bit of design and production!
Jan 2009 GregP
Jan 2009 GregP Sample callibrations for Polar S3 W.I.N.D. Sensor footpod
Nov 2008 GregP
Nov 2008 GregP Brief update to Polar section
Oct 2008 Argie corrected 101 entry and correct misspellings found
Oct 2006 Badger Added a few details on 201 and 301
Oct 2006 AddledAdder
Oct 2006 AddledAdder Added detail on the ForeTREX 101/201
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