Apple Watch Series 1 With Strava: A Runner’s Review

Review of the Apple Watch Series 1 with Strava

The Apple Watch Series 1 is Apple’s second attempt in the smartwatch category. This review will be focusing on its capabilities as a run tracking watch when paired with Strava (as of Strava’s August 7th update, version 16.0.0). After owning this device for about a year now, I think I’m ready to give a thorough review of it in this regard.

As a quick disclaimer, this was my first activity tracker besides my phone, so I can’t compare it to other, more dedicated running watches like the ones Garmin and Tom Tom make. I do however understand that the Apple Watch has its limitations when compared to higher end fitness focused watches and trackers. That seems like a good place to start, let’s talk limitations.

The most obvious limitation of the Series 1 is its lack of built-in GPS. This means that you need to have it tethered to your iPhone to track your runs if you want it to track your distance and where you go. That right there can be a major deal breaker for some. Personally I like to keep my phone with me at all times so it hasn’t been an issue, but I can imagine the benefits and freedom of being able to go out for a run with nothing but a watch. The Apple Watch Series 2 added GPS, so if you’re interested in being able to use GPS without your phone then that device would be better suited for you.

The next major limitation when using this device as a run tracker is its battery life. Usually I can comfortably make it through a day without needing to charge, unless I went on a particularly long run that day. I estimate that if starting with a full charge, you’d be able to get about 6 hours of running in before it dies. Fortunately I haven’t gone on a run of that length. Combined with the battery drain from normal daily use though, if I go on a 2 or so hour run I might need to juice it up for a few minutes at some point during the day to ensure it can last me to the end of the day.

The Strava Apple Watch app has its own limitations. First of all, you can either start a run from the watch, or from your iPhone. If you start it from your phone you can’t track the progress on your watch, and the same goes for if you start it on your watch. They basically act completely independently from each other, except for the fact that you need your phone with you regardless of how you want to interact with Strava for GPS purposes. I always start my runs from the Watch app, but that comes with some drawbacks. My biggest complaint is the lack of audio feedback. That’s a feature you can only get if tracking the run from your phone instead of from the watch. Want a voice telling you how fast that last mile was? Too bad, for some reason that’s not possible. I’ve also had issues with non-voice split notifications. You can get notifications on your wrist after each mile, but half the time they never come through.

Apple Watch on Wrist Strava App
Strava interface on the Apple Watch

Another drawback of the Strava Apple Watch app is the touch interface. While this isn’t the fault of Strava, it is very difficult to interact with the app with sweaty fingers. Likewise, in rainy weather it’s virtually impossible to interact with the watch; better get used to bringing a rag with you (and have a way to keep it dry) if you want to run in the rain.

Wow, this post unintentionally turned into an airing of grievances. Based on what I’ve said so far you may think the Apple Watch isn’t useful at all as a run tracker. It does have a couple of redeeming qualities though (again, I’m specifically focusing on running related features).

The screen is beautiful, bright, and easy to read. Seeing the data it displays is a breeze, I have no problem glancing at my wrist to check my split pace or average pace (you can choose which it displays), total elapsed time, total distance, and current heart rate. And speaking of heart rate, the sensor has proven to be accurate, with only occasional glitches and misreadings.

The Apple Watch paired with the sport band is also very comfortable. I have nothing to compare it to, but I’ve had no discomfort and it’s very easy to put on and take off. Being able to rinse it off to clean it when it gets salty from sweat is handy as well.

Ultimately the Apple Watch Series 1 is useful as a run tracker, but most of its upside comes from its abilities as a smartwatch. I purposely didn’t talk about that side of it since this post is focused on running, but I may make a separate review of the watch if there’s any interest in that. So while there are a few aspects of the watch that make it good for running, there are more downsides. If you are looking for a device to be a dedicated run / fitness tracker and don’t really care about smartwatch features, you’re probably better off passing on the Apple Watch for now until they make some improvements in later iterations.

 

OFFICIAL ARBITRARY RATING:

6/10

(this rating was made of the Apple Watch as a running watch and not as a device as a whole)

Running Buddy H20 Magnetic Water Bottle Pouch Review

Review of the Running Buddy magnetic water bottle pouch

The Running Buddy H20 Magnetic Pouch is designed to be an easy hands / belt free hydration solution. It’s essentially a sleek little pouch that magnetically clips to your waist band and holds either a 7oz or 10oz water bottle. This magnetization has another plus side; you can toss the pouch against the fridge after a run and have it stick to the surface, which has become a kind of post-run mini game for me.

Running Buddy H20 Magnetic Pouch
Running Buddy H20 magnetic pouch with 10 oz water bottle

It’s a pretty simple concept and you can learn more about it on their website, so let’s jump right into the pros and cons.

PROS:

  • The bottles fit snug in the pouch, while still being easy to remove while on the go.
  • The magnets keep the pouch secure, once you get them lined up properly the magnets should hold regardless of how fast you’re running.
  • The bottles are easy to open and drink from.
  • You can use the pouch to carry other things when wearing shorts that don’t have pockets. I’ve used it to hold my phone while out walking the dog (be careful though, it’s not the most secure pocket for that purpose).

CONS:

  • The 7oz bottle really isn’t enough capacity for any significant distance, so you might want to pay a little extra to get the 10oz bottle.
  • The mouth of the bottles isn’t big enough to fit ice cubes into.
  • If you don’t have a layer between your skin and the back of the pouch, you may experience some chafing (this can be an issue with shorts that have built in liners, since you may not be wearing underwear separate from the shorts).

NEUTRAL:

  • The waistband on your shorts must be snug, otherwise the weight of the water bottle can drag them down and lead to an embarrassing moment. This is especially true if using the 10oz bottle.

This pouch has proven particularly useful for my short to medium runs on hot days, when the distance doesn’t necessarily require bringing water but the heat makes it so it’s smart to have a few ounces with you. It’s a good option for anyone who wants to bring some water with them without needing to strap anything to themselves.

OFFICIAL ARBITRARY RATING:

8/10

Nathan SpeedMax Plus Handheld Flask Review

Review of the Nathan SpeedMax Plus Handheld Flask

I recently purchased the Nathan SpeedMax Plus Handheld Flask (after searching the internet to see what handheld ultra running stud Jim Walmsley uses like a total fanboy). I needed a way to carry a significant amount of water without adding significant heft like a vest or backpack would, and this handheld system sounded like it would be up to the task.

22oz of water is proving to be an ideal amount for my 10-20 mile runs. Nathan makes a smaller but similar model, the SpeedDraw Plus Flask, but that has 4oz less capacity. The SpeedMax is the highest capacity handheld they make, which makes it their best option as an alternative to bigger, heftier hydration solutions. For shorter distances I like to go hands free with the Running Buddy H20 Magnetic Water Bottle Pouch (which I reviewed here), but for anything more than 10 or so miles, the Nathan SpeedMax has been doing the job.

Let’s go over some of the pros and cons of the SpeedMax Plus.

PROS:

  • 22oz capacity, enough for medium to long runs (depending on the individual).
  • The mouth of the bottle is large enough to easily add ice.
  • The shape of the bottle conforms to the hand comfortably.
  • It’s easy to put on and take off, with a small strap you can tighten for extra snugness and security.
  • It has a slot for your thumb for a comfortable, natural grip.
  • The design of the nozzle is clever. You can have it closed (pushed in) to prevent water from escaping, but even if you have it open it does a pretty good job of keeping water in due to its special “push-pull blast valve cap”.

CONS:

  • Main pocket with zipper is just barely big enough to fit an iPhone 7 without a case. I have to take my case off before runs, a minor inconvenience but an inconvenience nonetheless. Would have loved for that pocket to be just a tad bigger.
  • The small tightening strap seems pretty flimsy. It’s held up so far but I can see it easily snapping in the future.
  • COLD HANDS. This is probably an issue for all non-insulated handhelds, but when I pack this thing with ice and water and head out for a run, my hand freezes and basically goes numb until it gets used to the cold surface of the bottle.
  • Slippery when wet. On extra hot, steamy days, sweaty palms makes squeezing the bottle a bit of a problem.

NEUTRAL:

  • There is one main zipper pocket, but another smaller kangaroo-like pouch which is just big enough to fit a car key, but not really substantial enough for much fuel. A GU might fit in it, but nothing bigger than that.
  • While I do like the fancy nozzle / valve, it makes getting a heavy flow of water more difficult than normal. As long as you drink with your mouth on the bottle and suck the water out it’s not much of an issue, but trying to squirt water into your mouth or onto yourself isn’t as easy as other water bottles.

So there you have it, a solid option for a handheld especially for someone who wants a lot of water but doesn’t want to wear something on their back, chest, or waist.

OFFICIAL ARBITRARY RATING:

8.5/10