Forerunner 35

watch

I threw my watch away two months ago. The band was broken, duct taped, and broken again. I last connected it to my computer in 2014 when I got the error message ‘software no longer compatible.’ I can’t remember when I bought it. Eli, now fifteen, was maybe in kindergarten. The running store where I got it is long gone. They sell phones there now, or they did until the pandemic.

I wore my watch last in 2016, during the first half of a 50K, the battery only lasted for three hours. It sat on my dresser after that. Ready, in case I ever needed to measure something shorter than three hours, and I didn’t mind carrying it in my pocket or pack. But I never did. I “ran on breath.” I set my pace by how hard I huffed and puffed during my run. I thought this more holistic, natural, sure to produce better results.

Recently, my running fell apart. Spells of dizziness, bouts of breathlessness. A reaction to medication? A stealth case of COVID-19? Old age? I quit my remote, forested trail runs in favor of park roads where someone will find me if I pass out or die. A doctor recommended a heart rate monitor. “You need some data,” he said. “Right now, you’re guessing at the problem.”

Because I’m old, when I think of a heart rate monitor, I think of a chest strap. And then I roll my eyes. I can’t see buckling that thing on every time I head out the door to run, hike or ride a bike. I envision myself constantly fiddling with it. Too high? Too low? Too tight? Too itchy! Plus, in order to see what’s going on with my heart, I would need my phone handy. Eli suggested “Maybe a watch?”

My last watch was part of the Garmin Forerunner series. A 210, I think. It tracked time and distance, and if I’m remembering correctly, maybe elevation. I don’t think I paid more than $200 for it, and I recall it being easy to use. This is where I started my hunt for a heart rate monitor.

Garmin is the Pop Tarts of running watches. Sure, there are other brands of watches, just like toaster pastries, but I’ve never heard of any of them. In my internet searches, maybe because of familiarity, maybe due to high reviews, all paths led me back to Garmin— specifically, the Forerunner 35. I went into my search concerned about the cost. Eli, who was in the conversation from the start, suggested cost was an unfounded concern. “Whatever you paid last time, you’ll pay less, technology has gotten cheaper. Other than heart rate, you’re not looking for any new features.”

Kids these days know everything… Yes, the Garmin Forerunner 35 lists for $199, but it seems to be on sale everywhere. I bought mine (with a lime-green band) from Walmart for $99 plus free shipping. During my online shopping, I noticed that refurbished models sold for as low as $59 for those feeling really unsure about this investment.

Like I do so frequently when I buy electronics, I simply handed the unopened box to Eli and let him get it ready to use—something he completed in about a minute without looking at any instructions. Before you roll your eyes at me, I later set up my own online Garmin Connect account, uploaded my data and dove into analytics without any help.

After one weekend, I love it. On Saturday and Sunday, I went for two mountain bike rides, a hike and a run. It worked perfectly on all four outings. At each starting location it found a satellite connection within a couple of seconds. This may sound like a small achievement, but it’s something that took my old watch about a minute to do every time I used it—even when new. Toeing the line at countless road races I remembered at the last second to start my watch. I missed the first minute of half my races.

The watch defaults to various screens that display all the necessary data: miles run/ridden, exercise time and pace, calories burned, heart rate, and heart rate zone (the zones won’t work accurately until I set my maximum heart rate) and something called VO2 (need to research that). What I learned on my first run is I tend to push my heart rate up extremely high even when I’m not trying. No wonder I always feel like crap. Apparently “running on breath” doesn’t work for me. I need cold, hard numbers to keep myself in check.

My Sunday afternoon run, a five miler, was a completely new experience for me. Before I started, I set a lowish heart rate goal for myself. A number not to exceed. Quickly I hit my goal and crept over. I set a new goal and blew past that. Another goal, another failure. By the time I finished I was twenty beats per minute over where I hoped to run.

I know from years of reading that I’ll become a stronger runner by lowering my heart rate (essentially running slower) on most of my runs. It’s counter-intuitive and therefore hard to enforce. Plus, I’ve got forty-years of bad habits to break. But what I’m doing now clearly isn’t working. It was fine through my forties, but over the past four years my performance has taken a huge hit. My body and brain—with my dizziness and breathlessness—has finally found a way to tell me that. I think my Forerunner 35 and I will spend untold quality hours together making me a fitter person. Next year, I’ll let you know how it works.

22 thoughts on “Forerunner 35

  1. I use my Apple Watch in a similar fashion except that it is also connected as a standalone phone which is great when I’m off for a run down an isolated trail. It will also alert emergency services if I fall down and don’t get up again within a period of time so it’s great for my motorbike travels. I also struggle to run slow and usually only look at that afterwards and shake my head at my heart rate…maybe I’ll try harder to keep my heart within range. Absolutely love fitness wearables.

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    • I like the apple-watch notification piece. The Garmin seems to include live tracking which will allow my wife to figure out where I am if I don’t call in by the appointed time. Much lower tech, but still much better than things were. I used to be addicted to my running watches. I’m guessing I will be again.

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  2. An interesting experiment with better living and running through technology. I hope it continues to help!

    I tried using a heart rate monitor chest strap many years ago. Hated wearing it, but quickly learned to identify my target heart rate by feel: my pulse, rate of breathing, etc. So it was helpful in that regard. I have a feeling your watch will help you find the right “feeling” as you run at optimum heart rate.

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  3. I reckon you will like this watch, for what it can do. I had this watch for a short time, but I stopped using it, because I found it bulky. (I have very small wrists.)
    I have Garmin Vivosmart 4 now and love that what I currently use it for. But for anything else, its there, if I need it.

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    • I agree, the watch is probably too big for me to wear all the time, My wrists are pretty small too. When I bought it I thought I might just keep it on and I was a little bummed that I’d need to take it off to charge it. Now I’m sure I’ll only wear it when I’m trying to capture data.

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    • There’s wisdom to the power-walking suggestion. Recently, instead of running a trail, I jogged the downs and power-hiked the ups. It was strangely satisfying. I’m sure this will become more and more my model as I continue to age. But right now, I’ll figure out how to run… because I’m a ‘runner’ and I know that doesn’t make sense but ask around and you’ll hear the same thing from all the other runners.

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  4. The fall – I keep telling myself things will change in the fall when the weather cools. I always feel better on my runs and run better. Yesterday was a cooler day for us. It was in the ’70s on my early morning run with lower humidity. And I chose to run paved streets, not the trails. I was surprised at how much better I felt and I didn’t have crazy numbers either. For me, I know I am in a good HR place when my RHR is low or when I stop running and it goes down quickly – I can recover well. Then I know I am in good physical shape. I have an older Garmin – I think mine was $150 and that was a while ago. The one I have now is purple because they stopped making it and I got the last one. But I was stuck on what I knew and what I liked. Although the GPS does the same for me. Sometimes I am waiting minutes for the thing to find me. Might be time to upgrade!

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  5. Wow, never heard that about the running slower thing. I am a way, way, way more casual runner than you but I’ve also noticed I let my heart rate go crazy when I run. I’ve always had issues pacing myself but it is fun to see the graphs and data afterwards. I run slower with my dog; I should start taking her with me more. Glad your new watch is working for you!

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    • I’ve actively ignored running zones and I’ve even been known to roll my eyes a bit when other runners talk about them. What I’m learning is too much effort in the highest zones is counter productive and any effort in the middle zone (known as the no benefit zone) doesn’t yield much in the way of gains. I guess we’re supposed to put in most of our mileage in Zone 2 which is essentially a very easy run. I’m going to give this a try for a few months and see what happens. I’m sure your dog would like it if you ran together more.

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  6. I didn’t know about the slower heart rate equalling stronger runs – it does seem counter-intuitive. I’m curious to know more even though I can’t run. But I’ll have you know that your last post about feeling fantastic inspired me to go back to the gym and do some cardio on the elliptical, and it felt great! (Thankfully the virus seems to be under control here or I wouldn’t have gone.) Two mountain bike rides, a hike and a run in one weekend is a lot! Guess I’m going to react by going to the gym again, haha. As for watches, mine’s a Fitbit – not as fancy as a Garmin – and I only wore it to track steps and not since lockdown. Although it was interesting to see my heart rate change in response to different activities. It’s easy to become hooked on the stats. It sounds like exciting developments for you!

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    • So ‘easier = better’ isn’t a blanket thing. I’m reading that about 75% of my exercise should be “zone 2” (easy-ish), the rest should be high intensity. It’s all sort of out of my control when I’m coaching. I ride as fast as the kids. Last weekend it was the beginners so I went out for a second ride. Are you noticing any obvious changes from going meat-free?

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      • Nothing super obvious, the main thing is I’m less tired. But I ate like crap on Saturday and I REALLY felt it in comparison, so I think it must be doing something. It’s also probably more to do with the mostly plant-based food (so less meat, wheat, dairy, and sugar in general, more veggies) but I do still have meat once or twice a week. Overall it’s been a good change for me so far.

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      • I keep saying that I feel so much better but I have a hard time quantifying what that means. My daughter was asking me the other day because she gave up meat (mostly) the same time as me and she sees no difference. I sort of settled on “I feel less old”. Said another way, I am brimming with energy.

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      • Maybe she doesn’t feel a difference because she’s so young that she can handle it better. As I get older I can tolerate less suboptimal food. For example, I never had heartburn until a couple years ago, now it’s a given if the meal is right. This change is way overdue. Agreed it is hard to quantify it, but if it works then I say keep at it!

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  7. I got a Garmin for the first time in May. Also a Forerunner 35. I love it, especially the heart rate function. I have my home screen set up so that it displays time, distance, and heart rate when I run. Seeing my heart rate is soothing to me. Now I wonder what took me so long to get one!

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    • Oh, I didn’t know I could customize the display. Those are the readings I’d like as well. I assume I edit that by hooking the watch up to a PC? So far, I’m pretty obnoxious with my watch. I’m always measuring everything. Hopefully that will go away. Something I’ve learned over the past two weeks, I don’t seem to have a moderate run setting on my body. I cannot keep my heart rate down. When I bike, my heart rate acts more normal and goes up and down with my effort. If I’m running, even lightly, my HR starts in the 140s and only goes up from there.

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