I have been using the Apple Watch Series 4 as my daily driver for about 3 weeks now. I am getting close to doing a review on it and a comparison to the Garmin Forerunner 645 (which is really the best Garmin to match up to the Apple Watch Series 4). But, I did my first race with the Apple Watch Series 4 a couple of weeks ago and I wanted to share some things I liked about it and some I didn’t.
Running a Race with Apple Watch Series 4
The race I ran was a half marathon (13.1 miles) in northern Greece. It was at night (which I love!) and was in the center of the city (buildings but not a lot of tall ones). It was mostly straight with some areas of turns and some initial maneuvering to get around people that should never have lined up to start where they did (yeah, monster pet peeve that will get a post all of its own!).
What I Liked About Running a Race with Apple Watch Series 4
I wore the Apple Watch on my left (dominant) wrist and the Garmin Forerunner 645 on my right wrist so I could compare the two. This was the first race I have ever run with the Apple Watch in the primary position and a big amount of that has to do with the new data field in the workout app to show Rolling Mile Pace. This is part of Watch OS5 that shows your last mile pace at any given point (instead of last mile as a lap).
I am one of those runners who does use a playlist during races. The half-marathon, for me, is where I start with music. For races under 13.1 miles, I never run with music as the distances are too short and I am way more focused on the smaller things at that distance.
For the half-marathon, I do like some up-beat music to help me with my tempo. The thing is that there are often songs that pop up that I really want to play again when I am at a certain point in the race. Trying to do that on the iPhone is definitely not happening mid-race and even the Garmin does not make accessing the music that quickly and easily something of a priority.
With the Apple Watch, a simple press of the side button brought up my most recent apps and allowed me to open the music app and replay or even adjust my volume. When I am running with the AirPods, it is nice to have that kind of actual control over the volume and have it so handy. (small downside – the connection with the AirPods from the watch is a bit more sensitive than between the phone and AirPods. By this I mean that it would pause the music from the watch at times because it thought I took the AirPods out and that never happens on my phone).
It was so simple to pop in and out of the music and workout app (or any other running app you may want to use at the same time) and I literally did not lose a step, thanks to how flexible the app switching is with the Apple Watch.
I have used and tested each generation of the Apple Watch and one of my big problems with all of them has been the display not being always on. I love Garmin for that! However, even though the screen is not still always-on, the Apple Watch Series 4 reacts much faster to the wrist rise in turning it on. I found myself having to dramatically move the wrist sometimes when running to get the display to come on (or tap it) but the Series 4 comes right on – no delay.
I also loved how fast it would get the GPS signal and the app switching was. The speed of the Apple Watch Series 4 during a race is definitely much appreciated!
Ok, this can really be the Achilles heal of any smartwatch – battery life. There is the fine balance of the quality of the screen/resolution with how long you want the battery to last.
With earlier Apple Watches, I was unable to get through a 3.5-4 hour run. For the Apple Watch Series 4, Apple says it is now rated for 6 hours of outdoor workout and doesn’t dock that time at all for playing music at the same time.
I ran this half-marathon in 1 hour and 38 minutes after having worn the Apple Watch for 3 hours after the most recent charge. When I started, the battery was at 94% and when I finished, the battery was at 81% – that was with GPS tracking and playing music to the AirPods for the 1:38.
I was very impressed with that! This is coming quite near battery life for workouts that the Garmin Vivoactive 3 had displayed to me during my time with it. I actually wore the watch for a 5K shortly after the half-marathon and then to bed and all the way into the afternoon of the next day, a total of 27 hours with about 2 hours of GPS usage, music playback, and notifications and other use.
I know that the Apple Watch Series 4 will do great with marathons for most runners and this is huge improvement over the Series 2 and even the 3.
It can be hard to get exact numbers with GPS accuracy at times when just comparing between two devices. That is because each device will be off a bit and to judge one by simply comparing it to another is not that fair of a test.
However, when you are running a race, that can be a really good way to check it out. Of course, unless you run the tangents, there is going to be some varying distance numbers over the course of the race.
All that said, my Garmin Forerunner 645 told me that the distance run was 13.16 miles. The Apple Watch Series 4 said it was 13.28 miles. The course was a double loop with pretty good corners and I ran them quite the close. My guess would be that my actual running distance was around 13.18-20 miles, so the Garmin won out.
There was a strange anomaly with the Apple Watch Series 4 in this race, however. It was actually pretty close to what I would think was spot on until around mile 11. At that point, it jumped my pace up for a bit which showed me covering more distance than I had. What was strange about that was that it was on a straight stretch with no nearby buildings or obstructions. Had it now been for that, I think the Apple Watch Series 4 could have been dead on.
I am used to the minimal color Garmin watches for the display. Seeing the Apple Watch Series 4 display, especially at night, was fantastic! It was bright and responsive and the increased display size can really be seen, especially since Apple takes advantage of it with their Workout App information. It was really easy to just take a quick glance at and get the information I wanted.
Heart Rate Monitoring
I can tell that the heart rate monitoring of the Series 4 has been improved. It was a bit more erratic in earlier versions but it did a really good job in this race. It was pretty much dead even with the Garmin Forerunner 645 the whole way and nothing seemed off at all.
Using the Apple Watch OS5 Features
Three of the new features of WatchOS 5 that were great for runners were the addition of Cadence (tracking steps per minute), Rolling Mile (showing the pace for the last mile at any given point), and Pace Alert. I used all 3 in this race and they were all helpful. The Pace Alert was not annoying but would just let me know if I was going quicker than the planned pace or slower – by the average pace, not all along the way. This meant that I was not getting constant alerts but just when I would drop below or move ahead of the planned pace.
At the end of the race, there really wasn’t anything that I was unhappy about with running a race with the Apple Watch Series 4. The display quickly turned on whenever I raised my wrist, tracking was pretty good, it was lightweight, the display was bright and big, and the battery life meant it would definitely not die on me – during the race or anytime after it that day.
I am looking forward to running my next marathon with the Apple Watch Series 4. There is a lot about it that puts it above the Series 3 for me and I am looking forward to seeing it perform in the marathon (well, I will be the one performing but it will be nice to have it along for the run!)
Have you run a race with the new Apple Watch Series 4 yet? What are your thoughts about it?