My name is Brent, and I have a problem.
I’m addicted to running stats. If my Garmin isn’t recording, I might as well not run. If you can’t see a run and evaluate the numbers after, it didn’t happen right?
I started with the Nike+ running app on my phone back in 2010. I progressed to the Nike GPS watch (I went through five of them, without a single one making it more than six months before breaking…Nike replaced the broken one each time). Then I tried Suunto’s Ambit 2, which I liked. But Suunto’s customer service wasn’t strong, and its software was constantly going down for days on end.
So in April of last year, I made the switch to Garmin. That was one of my best running decisions ever. I started with the Forerunner 620 with HR strap. Then in December, I upgraded to the 630 HR bundle. Last month I made what will hopefully be my last upgrade for a while — the Forerunner 735XT.
I love it.
For a stat geek, this watch is incredible. The wrist-based heart rate optical sensor makes the 735 the perfect watch for me. I have a HR strap I can use if I want it — to get even more stats, including my estimated threshold pace. But running in the summer in Louisiana makes daily heart-rate strap use annoying. So the 735 was a perfect option for me. I’ve been using it for about a month so far, and here are my top takeaways.
Wrist-based heart rate rocks
This was the real selling point for me to choose the 735. The 630 had everything else. But running without a shirt (which I do a lot in the heat here) looks weird with the heart-rate strap, not to mention the funky tan lines and smells involved after using it every day.
I have my 735 set up to record my heart rate throughout the day. I even wear through the night and in the shower. On my actual watch, I can check my current heart rate and also see my trend over the last four hours and average resting heart rate from that time period. When I synch my watch, either using bluetooth to my phone or through my computer’s USB port, I can view longer heart rate trends going back to when I started using the 735.
I love having the wrist-based heart rate going all the time. It gives me another marker to monitor my recovery and overall health. I can follow my resting heart rates week to week and see how my body is reacting to the training stress.
The optical sensor technology Garmin uses, called Elevate, has been quite accurate. My heart rate has been exactly what I would have expected to see from my old heart rate strap. When I was hooked up to a heart rate monitor during my recent hospital emergency room visit, I flipped to my heart rate screen on my watch. They two numbers were never more than one or two numbers apart.
I’ve been impressed with the 735’s heart rate tracking, and not worrying about a chest strap all the time is a big time saver and relief. And I still get most of Garmin’s cool features — like recovery advisory and VO2 Max estimate.
While most of the stats I crave are available without the chest strap, there are several that require the HRM strap. Just using the watch, I can get any distance, pace, heart rate, elevation, route, and cadence information I want.
Adding the HRM strap, which cancels the wrist-based heart rate when it’s in use, gives me vertical oscillation ratio, ground contact time balance, ground contact time average, and estimated threshold pace.
While it’s fun to see so many metrics, I don’t need all of them all of the time. It’s hard to figure out a way to correct a bad vertical oscillation (how much I’m bouncing up and down). Ground contact time is also difficult to change from one run to the next. I can try to pick up my as quickly as possible, but that can leads to a lack in running economy if I try to make big changes instead of slowly progressing.
The stat I do miss when I go sans chest strap is threshold estimate. Like VO2 Max, threshold pace estimate is a great way to track progress and fitness. As I become more fit, my threshold pace drops. I tracked that progression this past racing season, starting when I got the 630 in December all the way through two huge PR marathons and several other shorter distance PRs. My T-pace prediction from Garmin was a great training tool.
If you know your threshold pace, which should be the pace a runner can hold for an hour going all out, you know how fast to run threshold and tempo workouts. If you do those workouts correctly, the paces drop along with the threshold pace estimate.
The benefit to the 735 is that I can throw the chest strap on whenever I want, and it will update my threshold.
Sleep monitoring and activity tracking
I’ve never cared much for monitoring my entire daily activity. My 630 told me daily steps and monitored my sleep, as my 735 does now. But I’ve never obsessed about making sure I hit my step goal.
If I complete my workouts weekly, I will have plenty of steps by the end of the day.
The sleep monitoring function is intriguing. I always knew my sleep patterns were messed up. But my 735 gives me the visual proof daily. Since I wear it while sleeping, my watch will tell me exactly how long I sleep each night and how much of that sleep was deep. I’ve noticed that when my watch upload looks like I had a bad night of sleep, my body typically agrees the next day.
While I have the watch set to my normal sleep range (10 p.m. – 6 a.m.), it seems quite accurate on my actual time asleep. Even if I’m laying down watching TV for the previous hour, it seems to pick up right when I really go to bed.
My sleep has actually improved since I started using Garmin’s equipped with sleep monitoring. When I know I will have to view my awful sleep log the next day, I seem to be better about getting in bed on time.
Those who know me will not be shocked to find out that I don’t use the 735 to its potential. At all.
This watch is a high level multi-sport machine. It’s capable of inside or open-water swims. I can do any type of cycling. I could complete in a triathlon or brick workout and record it as one activity with transition times and specific sport breakdowns.
Again, those who know me might laugh at all of that. I’m the worst swimmer. And I have no desire to compete in triathlons.
I have used the cycling setting several times, and it is really easy to work. And it’s quite clear that I’m not a strong cyclist. I chose to upgrade to the 735 because it is essentially the 630 that I had plus wrist-based heart rate option (630 also lacks multi-sport). The multi-sport functionality wouldn’t influence me either direction. It’s nice to have, but I’m never going to use most of it.
I encourage people to try Garmin all the time.
There are other GPS watches that will record the essential running stats. But, to me, Garmin is set apart. Not only do Garmin watches record anything and everything you can think of, the Garmin Connect website is a powerful tool. It puts every training run I’ve done since switching to the brand within a few clicks. Unlike Suunto, which had a shaky website that crashed on my constantly and sometimes for days on end, I’ve never had a single issue with Connect.
I can plan out workouts and then send them to my watch. I can track the mileage on each pair of shoes I use by tagging a pair for each run. I can monitor my training peaks and valleys and compare how I’m running this month to July of last year (which can be very helpful). Connect also saves all of my personal records and will alert me if I break any of them, even in a training run.
Connect also adds in an added social aspect. You can follow along and comment on your friends’ workouts (if they make them public or accept a friend request).
Connect is what makes Garmin so great. What good are stats if you can’t look at and compare all of them whenever you want? The phone app version of the site is amazing as well.
Battery life and wrap up
I have been quite pleased with the battery life of the 735. I run a lot when I’m in peak training, and I’m charging about every three to four days on average. That’s with the around-the-clock heart rate monitoring turned on. I charged it twice two weeks ago, a training week that included 60 miles running.
For anyone wanting to read a much more in-depth review of Garmin’s 735XT, with a lot more technical talk and comparisons to virtually every other GPS watch available, go here: dcrainmaker.com.