Best Garmin Watches for Marathon Training

best garmin watches for marathons

Marathon season is now in full swing, and to make sure that you not only look the part whilst pounding the pavements, but have the right equipment to help you pace, track, motivate and recover; why not investment in a Garmin GPS running watch?

Recommended best Garmin watches for marathons 2020

What to look for in a marathon training watch

Helping you to achieve maximum results when training and competing for a marathon, GPS running watches are not only able to monitor your speed and distance covered, but most devices come equipped with additional benefits that allow you to estimate your VO2 max levels, measure your heart rate and compare your progress against previous runs. Plus, due to advances in modern technology, you can even access your motivational music playlists, answer calls and pay for goods without worrying about a wallet, thanks to a multitude of smartphone features.

So, if you are in the market for a watch that will provide you with more data and stats than your average fitness tracker or mobile phone can, take a look at what you should be wearing on your wrist for maximum performance.

Whether this is your first step into buying a more advanced running watch; are looking to update your current model; or want to be strides ahead of the competition; read below for recommendations on the best running watches from elite brands such as Garmin.

garmin marathon training watches

Why choose a Garmin running watch?

Garmin dominates the running/multi-sports fitness market, thanks to its plethora of sporting and performance wearables.

Offering a range of in-depth exercise analysis, training plans and insights, these watches are specifically aimed at sporting enthusiasts and offer the best of the best. And for a brand who have always been at the forefront of GPS technology, it comes as no surprise to hear that these watches offer the most accurate and intuitive GPS tracking algorithms and data you can find.

It is important to note that whilst Garmin watches may not be considered the cheapest, they offer great value for money in terms of durability, functionality, technical support and warranties. So, if you are looking to increase the tempo with regards to your training, then a Garmin watch makes the perfect investment.

How accurate are Garmin GPS watches?

GPS stands for Global Positioning System and works by sending signals to satellites to determine where in the world you are. The benefits of having a GPS built into your running watch over using a mobile phone, is that it enables fitness fanatics the ability to view other metrics such as distance, speed and pace as real-time insights.

When you step out the door at the start of a run, you want to feel confident that your watch will find a signal straight away and that the results displayed on your wrist are precise. Afterall, there is nothing more frustrating than finishing a training session or running race, only to find that your watch didn’t work.

Although previously, GPS functionality had been erratic and sketchy to say the least, changes in technology and money spent on research and development by brands such as Garmin, has meant that the distance variation between devices are now minimal.

Tips for using GPS on watches

For the most accurate GPS results we would always recommend running in clear, wide open spaces as opposed to built up cities where satellites could potentially be blocked by skyscrapers. Syncing your watch to its corresponding app (such as Garmin Connect), will also ensure that you have the latest data.

Try to avoid turning your watch onto battery saving mode and resist the urge for pit stops and breathers, as pausing your watch means that you no longer receive GPS signals. Other factors such as different algorithms and extra steps all contribute to small discrepancies in data, so you need to bear this in mind

Which Garmin watches have GPS?

Garmin produce a number of different GPS watches depending on your budget. For example, the Garmin Forerunner 935 provides you with everything on hand to keep you moving and looks incredibly stylish, whereas for those with less money to spend, the Garmin Forerunner 25 may not look as fancy but accurately tracks your runs.

Garmin Tactix Charlie

Garmin Tactix Charlie – GPS watch for the ultra-marathon runner

For those who enjoy pushing themselves to the limit, this watch has to be the ultimate training companion. Equipped with GPS European mapping, this watch will navigate you across the most treacherous of terrain and can even orientate you to specific points of interest. Plus, its advanced performance metrics will evaluate your insights and advise you on training productively, peaking too early and even overreaching.

Key Features include:

  • 2″ high-resolution, sunlight-readable display
  • Preloaded European mapping plus routable map navigation
  • Durable Diamond-Like Carbon (DLC) coated titanium bezel design
  • Built-in navigation sensors include GPS and GLONASS plus a three-axis compass, barometer, altimeter and gyroscope
  • 12 days’ battery life when in smartwatch mode. 20 hours in GPS mode and up to 35 hours in battery saver mode
  • Wrist based heart rate monitor
  • Garmin Connect app
  • Customizable menus and watch faces
  • Running Power app to evaluate pace, grade and wind conditions

Garmin Vivoactive 3

Garmin Forerunner 935 – high spec GPS watch

Offering a host of data for preparation and recovery, this premium GPS watch helps you fine-tune your training in order to be a better athlete. In addition to the reliable GPS, there are a host of advanced running features including cadence, ground contact time, vertical oscillation, VO2 max, recovery time guidance and many more.

Key Features include:

  • Built-in GPS, barometer; altimeter and electronic compass
  • 2 weeks battery life when in watch mode. 24 hours in GPS mode and up to 60 hours in battery saver mode.
  • Swappable bands.
  • Advanced running metrics for cadence, stride length, ground contact time and balance, vertical oscillation and vertical ratio.
  • Wrist based heart rate monitor and additional heart rate strap.
  • Waterproof.
  • Garmin Connect app
  • Customizable menus and watch faces
  • Running Power app to evaluate pace, grade and wind conditions

Garmin Forerunner 25

Garmin Forerunner 25 – Best value GPS watch

If you are on a bit of a budget but want accurate GPS tracking at a reasonable price, then this easy to use, lightweight watch is the perfect match for you. Great for everyday wear, when you want to up your pace this watch more than keeps up by offering vital stats for distance, speed and heart rate during training. Just like all the Garmin sports watches, this device lets you upload and analyze each run in more detail.

Key Features include:

  • Built-in GPS
  • 10 weeks battery life when in watch mode. 10 hours in GPS mode.
  • Heart rate monitor
  • Tracks distance, pace, heart rate and calories
  • Garmin Connect app

How do Garmin watches measure heart rate?

Heart rate monitoring was previously done via a paired chest strap that took a reading and sent it straight to a synced wearable. Now, however, most Garmin watches include a heart rate monitor built in as standard (with only a few exceptions to this rule), so that you can keep track of your heart rate activity via wrist sensors.

These optical heart rate sensors measure the level at which your blood is being pumped around your body, giving you a heart rate reading in real time for training insights and general wellbeing.

For the most optimal results, however, we would recommend a combination of using both a built in and chest strap heart rate monitor. By adding an external heart rate strap (if you can handle the faff of putting it on), for your efforts you’ll receive more accurate readings with a much lower lag time than an optical sensor can offer.

Which Garmin GPS running watches have a wrist heart monitor?

Just like GPS functionality, there are a number of Garmin running watches that offer the ability to monitor your heart rate directly from the wrist. All from the Forerunner range, these include the Forerunner 935 (as mentioned above), Forerunner 735XT, Forerunner 235, Forerunner 35 and Forerunner 30. Below we have detailed a couple of our favorites.

Garmin Forerunner 235

Forerunner 235 – Great GPS watch for heart rate insights

This affordable GPS watch comes with a built-in heart rate tracker and is great for those who are preparing for a marathon as you’ll find a specific app to help with your training. This watch also comes equipped with VO2 Max estimator to see how your fitness is progressing, and can monitor your speed, distance and cadence with ease. And when you have finished training you have the option to share your ‘Live Track’ with friends.

Key Features include:

  • Built-in GPS
  • Built in heart rate monitor and VO2 Max
  • Smartphone notifications
  • 9 days battery life when in watch mode. 11 hours in GPS mode with heart rate monitor.
  • Tracks distance, pace, heart rate and calories
  • Live Track feature
  • Garmin Connect app

Garmin Forerunner 35

Forerunner 35 – Budget friendly GPS watch with heart rate monitor

This basic GPS watch might look simple on the wrist, yet below its stylish strap lies a host of training insights and an accurate heart rate monitor. Able to track outdoor running time, pace and distance, it can also distinguish between indoor runs, cardio, walking and cycling.

Key Features include:

  • Built-in GPS
  • Built in heart rate monitor
  • Smartphone notifications
  • 9 days battery life when in watch mode. 13 hours in GPS mode with heart rate monitor.
  • Tracks distance, pace, heart rate and calories
  • Preloaded sports profiles
  • Garmin Connect app

Which Garmin watches can play music?

Relatively late to the music scene, in comparison to the competition, Garmin now offer a number of GPS watches that come with music storage and can be paired with Bluetooth headphones, allowing you to leave your smartphone at home. Most people find it easier to clock up the miles when you to can run to a beat and Garmin Forerunner 645 Music, Vivoactive 3 Music, Fenix 5 Plus and Fenix 5X Plus all offer the latest music innovations and are a must for any marathon runner. Below are top picks for music lovers.

Fenix 5 Plus/5X – The best of the best GPS music watch

Price point aside, there are really only two main differences to take into consideration between the Fenix 5 Plus and the Fenix 5X Plus. These are lens material variation and Pulse Ox compatibility (awareness of your blood oxygen saturation levels) which can only be tracked on the Fenix 5X Plus. Apart from that, these watches are by far the most superior running watches on the market in terms of functionality and music integration.

For marathon runners exploring unfamiliar routes and trails, these watches come with color street and topographic maps and can help you decide how best to run and split out a loop route. They also offer programmed workouts and can track and monitor your pace, cadence, fitness level and recovery time. The highlight for many runners, however, are the music capabilities of these watches in terms of streaming, storage and playback via Bluetooth wireless, plus the ability to sync to your own personalized Spotify playlists.

Key Features include:

  • Built-in GPS with color topographic mapping
  • Built in heart rate monitor
  • Wrist based Pulse Ox Acclimation sensor (Fenix 5X Plus only)
  • Store and plays up to 500 songs
  • Smartphone notifications including contactless payment
  • 20 days battery life when in smartwatch mode. 13 hours in GPS mode with music
  • Tracks distance, pace, heart rate and calories
  • Comes with compass, gyroscope and barometric altimeter
  • Garmin Connect app

Garmin Forerunner 645

Forerunner 645 Music – Great value running watch with music

This watch was launched as Garmin’s first ever GPS running watch with music storage, but originally only offered limited offline streaming support for selected services such as iHeartRadio, local music stations and Deezer. More recently, however, Garmin decided to add the Spotify app to their Garmin Connect store for downloading. Allowing you to store over 500 songs, this smartwatch enables you to create a playlist that can be controlled from your wrist in order match your workout pace and mood.

The Forerunner 645 Music also comes with build-in heart rate monitor, GPS, smartphone notifications and contactless payments, providing you with all the sports training tools you could possible need and still be gadget free.

Key Features include:

  • Built-in GPS
  • Built in heart rate monitor
  • Store and plays up to 500 songs
  • Smartphone notifications including contactless payment
  • 7 days battery life when in smartwatch mode. 5 hours in GPS mode with music
  • Monitors distance, pace, heart rate and calories
  • Tracks contact time balance, stride length and vertical ratio
  • Garmin Connect app

Other GPS running watches

Although Garmin leads the way when it comes to technology and producing some of the best running watches around, there are a number of contenders offering devices that are a step up from your average fitness tracker.

If you are someone who places style over substance, then the Apple Series 4 is a great watch to wear on the wrist. Although this watch favors design over functionality, there are many health and wellbeing features that will benefit both serious runners and casual joggers alike, such as the electro-cardiogram and heart rate notifications.

For those who want to leave their phone behind but still be able to track their activity and receive smartphone notifications, then the Fitbit Ionic comes with a host of features not yet available on other running watches. Its multi-day battery life means that you can leave on the continuous heart-rate tracking, listen to music whilst on the go and be navigated by the upgraded GPS. For a full review of the Fitbit Ionic click here.

If you are into your stats, then the Polar Vantage V has a number of metrics to help you monitor your performance and improve your training. It even has a unique feature that allows you the ability to measure your running power from your wrist. This is particularly helpful for those who want up their training program or want to prevent running the risk of injury as it works by estimating how hard you are working during each run.

When it comes to ultramarathons, the Suunto 9 is the watch to wrap around your wrist. Its extendable battery life allows you to keep running for over 120 hours! Plus, its navigation features are second to none, allowing you to create and follow breadcrumb trails and find new routes created by other users on the Movescount website.


It is important to recognize that a good running watch offers far more than an everyday fitness tracker, in terms of tracking capabilities and training data insights. Whereas in the past, elite runners had to make do with a stopwatch and pacer, todays marathon runners can track their distance, pace, cadence, heart rate and listen to music, thanks to a range of affordable running watches.

Running watches come in a variety of sizes, with differing functionalities and at varying budgets. If you want to customize your workouts but don’t have mega bucks to spend then you can’t go wrong with one of the watches from the Garmin Forerunner range. If, however, you are a serious competitor who wants to push themselves to be strides ahead of the competition, then the Fenix 5 range and the Tactix Charlie will ensure that you come out on top.

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