UPDATED – To get your little hands on one of these in Australia, Footpoint Shoe Clinic has got these for sale with free shipping and very well priced. Click here to visit the website and go to their online store.
The journey towards my first real investment into a proper GPS/HR monitor started in a more traditional way. I was walking the streets of New York with a good old fashioned paper map and I found myself popping into one of their ubiquitous running stores. As I chatted to the locals I asked what is new in running?
Collectively the shop assistants all said the new must have gadget for 2011 is the Garmin FR610 GPS watch. And I was in luck, they were just unboxing 4 of the little sleek black numbers while I was there. I asked if they would sell out quickly and the response was “Hell Yeea!” The guy behind the counter suggested I grab it while I can as the previous order of 10 units they had, sold out in 30 minutes once they tweeted that they had some of them on the island of Manhattan ! So immediately I responded to Robert Cialdini’s Weapon of Influence #6 and handed over my credit card whilst ignoring all of my usual purchasing decisions which normally includes extensive research and feedback from multiple sources. I plumped for the whole box and dice and got the HR monitor to boot.
The Top Line
The Garmin 610 represent a huge leap forward in watch design and functionality at the touch of a screen, This watch has listened carefully to all of those previous Garmin Forerunner owners and listened well, as the features pack is pretty extensive. It goes without saying the first and probably single feature everyone wants to know about is the new touch screen technology. Is it more gimmick than key feature ? Is it form over function? Will it make me run faster? My immediate reaction on picking it up was the same as when I first got to play with an iPhone – sheer excitement. Is it a game changer ? Too early to tell but its close to gear nirvana.
So, what does this watch have over its predecessors that makes it so desirable ?
Well the new Garmin FR610 comes with:-
- A touch screen that is not a gimmick
- It adds virtual racer for more training fun and the chance to really test yourself!
- Sleeker design that can be worn as a normal watch (in some circumstances)
- Very fast start up- acquires satellites in about half the time of previous Garmins
- Run/Walk Alert Function which is great for ultras
- 1 second recording option previously missing from all Garmins since the FR305
- Up to 4 fields per screen and up to 7 screens all scrollable and fully customisable
- Heart Rate, Footpod and Bike compatible for multi sport fanatics
- Garmin Connect supporting software is free and provides a pretty good training log
- Battery Life is limited to 8hrs in GPS mode therefore unlikely to be used in 100km plus races.
- Not fully waterproof – so no ocean swimming ultra marathons for me.
As I have been getting more experience with the watch and I reemphasise that this is my first real GPS/Training device I have been guilty of adding too many training screens and becoming a little overwhelmed by the information on offer. At one stage I had set up 6 screens which included:- time of day, elapsed run time, lap pace, km split time, HR, speed, altitude, HR zone, compass direction, grade and Virtual Pacer. Well this soon becomes overkill and is something to be looked at in the comfort of your own home when the run is over and becomes a little cumbersome out on the trail due to the fact that the scrolling for these numerous screens is only available left to right on the FR610. With more experience I will be able to set the screens up to give just the info I need with the slightest of glances and more chance of maintaing my eyes on the trail ahead. The good news is that the ability to set up these screens is very easy and only a couple of clicks away through the settings icon.
The display itself works best when either two or three sets of information are displayed, when I extended this to 4 separate bits of info on the one page it became just a tad too difficult to see when taking swift glances. You can probably get away with 4 windows if you are on the track or road when the potential for trip hazards are significantly reduced. For now I have my screens set up with two and three windows.
The Virtual Racer
I lent the watch for a few days to Andrew Vize from the team to get his feedback on the watch, as most of you will know he is pretty diligent when it comes to recording times and gauging improvements on some of our toughest terrain and one of the immediate pieces of feedback was that the Virtual Racer was a reason in its own right to buy this watch. I asked him to expand on this from a practical sense, as this is not a feature that I recognise immediately as being of any use to an ultra runner. He simply highlighted that with previous Garmins the pacer function allowed you to measure your progress over a set distance with a set time but what it didn’t do is take into consideration the changes in pace within that run due to hills, terrain etc.
With the Virtual Racer function you can recreate a previous run, for example a 10 k hilly run you normally do in 45 minutes and then come back the following week and set the little stick man to race you, while he runs at your previous pace you can try and edge him out 15 seconds quicker. And it gets better, you can download any activity from the entire Garmin Connect world, load it onto your FR610 and attempt to beat it. And yes I have checked, it is possible to download this years unofficial WR at Boston !
Garmin Connect and synching the FR610
Garmin Connect allows you to graphically display a map of your run, although it defaults to the rather archaic looking Bing maps as opposed to, in my opinion the more detailed looking Google Maps, although I think this is more cosmetic than relevant. Other default graphs include elevation profiles, pace, heart rate and lap splits. Other boxes quickly show you pretty much everything you could possible want to see on the one page. Another neat feature is the player function which allows you to place a video-like run through your run animation style which highlights key aspects of your run as it runs from start to finish. This is pretty cool to watch on some of the longer more gnarly runs where you know you were in the hurt locker for long periods on some of the climbs and you can watch the speed drop and the heart rate climb in relation to the incline. Here is an example of a recent run around Sydney Harbour
Synching the watch is pretty simple. Plugging the ANT Stick into your USB and when the watch is within range it automatically downloads your latest runs. To date I have had about 95% success rate with this approach. On the odd occasion I have had to force the watch to pair with the ANT Stick, but this is simple to do, either via the watch or via the computer. Why didn’t it pair immediately, not sure, maybe interference from the watch or a drop out on the server, but it is possible to set the watch up to store all workouts until the memory is full and then start to overwrite the oldest run it you are not keen in sharing your activities with the rest of the online world.
So what other features are worth highlighting, well, it recharges pretty quickly through a magnetic clip that plugs into a USB or the mains. The downside is that the best battery life to date I have got is just over 9 hours when on full power, i.e. GPS and HR monitor fully operational and the backlight activated to come on every kilometre for 5 seconds. Therefore it would not be useful for any ultras over 50-80kms. The new soft heart rate strap is very comfortable to wear especially when you have a backpack on and out on the trail for several hours. No chafing or pinching. It is fully compatible with other Garmin accessories especially those that are attached to bikes, e.g. speed/cadence sensor.