Garmin FR60 versus 405CX

>> Tuesday, May 11, 2010

One of our beloved readers wrote us last week because she wanted to know how we got all those nifty charts in the Early to Rise, Early to Run post. I think I wrote only briefly about our secret before: Stephen and I both have Garmin watches. Stephen has the insane, GPS-enabled Forerunner 405CX. I have the smaller, female-friendlier FR60. We both love our watches for different reasons, so I thought I'd post about the features that we love . . . and some that we're not so keen on.

For the longest time, I was a total Zen runner. I didn't wear a watch. I didn't listen to music. I ran free of all distractions. And I loved every minute of it. When I started training more seriously (mostly more miles), I wanted to know more about my pace. So, I bought a Timex Ironman Triathlon watch. I trained my way to the Philly Marathon with this baby -- simply recording my long run times in minutes and seconds. I still wear it during the day (in fact, I'm wearing it right now), but its days as my stopwatch are over.

For Christmas this year, Stephen's parents bought us both the Garmin Forerunner 405CX. We couldn't have been more thrilled! Stephen was upgrading from a striped-down Nike timer . . . and he was psyched to get the GPS going. I was excited, too. However, when I took the behemoth out of its box and slapped it on my wrist . . . I found a problem (for me, at least). It was HUGE! We're talking GIGANTIC. I felt horrible about it, but I knew at that size, I wouldn't use the thing for more than a couple runs. To me, it felt the way those police tracking devices look. And I've done nothing wrong!

Anyway, here's the skinny on these two particular Garmin watches. We hope you find this information helpful as you search for the timepiece that works best for you. (Timepiece? Are we in the year 1810???)

405CX: Everything you'll ever need . . . just really big.

Stephen's watch does everything. It tells you where, when, and how you ran. Reporting spans pace, splits, location, elevation, you name it. It's just made for a man. Or an elephant. Or a sea cow. (OK. Maybe not, neither device is totally waterproof.) But if you don't mind its mammoth size, you can get some pretty amazing, more-than-you-ever-wanted-to-know reports.

Stephen's dashboard comes complete with a map, which is pretty cool. So, he can see in great detail every turn he took (even when he crossed the street!) during his run. With all that fabulous ability comes a price, however. Not only in the overall cost of the thing -- but Stephen must charge his watch after every single run. It dies otherwise, so there have been many occasions when he's in the middle of a workout, and the watch just stops working.

It is indeed the coolest thing EVER to see the elevation chart when he's finished (especially if I go with him, because then that's MY elevation chart, too.). It can also be overwhelming at times. At least for me, knowing all this information might make me shy away from doing more of the epic runs, that is, if I know exactly how epic they are. Anyway, he gets all the same reports I get, too (more about that below). Everything about his pace and distance and then some. (I chose not to include absolutely all of his dashboard because these screen shots are somewhat difficult to see. You get the picture, right?)

FR60: Useful reports. Comfortable fit. Not entirely accurate?

I love the FR60 because it's not much larger than my usual watch. The band is slightly less bendy than I'd like, but I've gotten used to that. My watch comes complete with a shoe buddy that hooks to my sneakers -- it's what enables the thing to track my distance/pace/etc. Yes. The FR60, since it has no GPS capabilities, is entirely based on strides. To set it up, you must either go to a track to calibrate . . . or in my case, it seemed to work right out of the box (it's an auto option, or something like that).

The only problem I've found with this whole method of tracking is that it isn't always reliable. For example, it works accurately for the bulk of my training -- the runs when I keep the 8:15 to 8:20ish usual easy pace. But during a race, when my pace quickens . . . the watch often reads that I've run much longer than I actually have. ("Much" is a slight overstatement -- but, for example, at our last half marathon -- 13.1 -- my watch said I ran 13.25. It's a big difference if you are a stickler about that sort of thing.)

Here are the reports I get on my dashboard. There are many. And they are useful. I just don't get the handy-dandy map or elevation charts. But, if you're good without those, all this information is great, too. Overall, I feel like I know enough to train my heart out, but there sure are some days I wish I knew the REST of the story . . .

There's no clear winner in this head-to-head as everyone needs/wants something different. And that's OK. There are also a multitude of other options on the market. (Did I mention there's a hefty price difference between the two as well? The 405CX will run you about $370 versus around $200 for the FR60.) So, do you research. Ask around. There's also no harm in trying it out . . . and if you don't like what you find, take it back. It's an investment, so there's no shame in making it a wise one.

We'd be interested to see what others do to track/time/train. Do you wear a watch? Are you totally against it? Hate Garmin? No matter what you do, just leave a comment or email us! And with all this talk about time, if you haven't participated in the Respect the Marathon? discussion yet, you're missing out. Head over there now.

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