The Everyday Watch Conundrum

There are two outstanding watches on the market, but currently, there are no perfect one-wrist solutions.

Six days a week, I have taken to wearing both the Apple Watch and the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus. At the same time. I have become that person. (The seventh day is a rest day.)

Last month I upgraded my running watch to the Fenix 5X Plus. I have been a loyal Apple Watch user since its launch in 2015, but the new Fenix series made me question my continued dedication to the Apple Watch.

First off, there is the feeling that I am managing the device and ecosystems. It is more than just trading hardware; coming home from work and putting my Apple Watch on the charger and strap on my running watch.

It is the software behind the devices.

Both watches are great activity trackers on their own. Each is capable of capturing heart rate, steps, floors climbed, heart rate variability, and encouraging you to stand. Really, the most significant difference is Garmin provides an integrated sleep tracker whereas there are currently only third-party apps are available to track sleep for the Apple Watch.

The issues come when I have tried to use watches at the same time.

While Apple’s Health app will use Garmin data as a source, it doesn’t do it well. For instance, while I have Garmin as a source for steps, steps never seem to sync between Garmin and my Apple Health app. Also, the only hours that count toward the Apple Activity app’s hourly stand goals are the ones during an activity in which I was recording a workout on the Fenix. And obviously, the Garmin Fenix is only monitoring data while I am running.

This fall, Sara and I are running the Moab 240. Training for this kind of race becomes a lifestyle in the months leading up to the start. With that in mind, I like the idea of having an activity tracker that tracks everything. An extra bit of feedback to highlight fluctuations in sleep, heart rate, weight, and anything else I can over analyze

Everything. All in the same device, all in the same ecosystem.

But the Apple Watch cannot be my single solution. According to Apple, the Series 3 battery will last five hours while using the GPS without connected to a phone. That battery performance is impressive but was limited for the type of training we will be doing in preparation for Moab. Also, there currently isn’t a way to integrate the Apple Watch with the Training Peaks service. Training Peaks pulls our data from Garmin (plus many other devices) and provides it to our coach. Currently, Training Peaks does not offer an Apple Watch app.

So when Garmin released the Fenix 5 Plus series, I was drawn to the idea of wearing just one device.

The naming convention for the newest iteration Garmin Fenix line implies that it is a modest update. But, the Fenix 5s/5/5X Plus series packs some pretty significant updates including:

  • Access to the new Galileo satellite system
  • 16 gigs of downloaded regional maps
  • The ability to download music to the watch

And specific to the 5X Plus edition:

  • 32 hours of battery life
  • The addition of a Pulse Ox sensor

DC Rainmaker has an excellent review of the device.

I wore the watch for a week trying out my one-watch solution. And while the Fenix 5X Plus is a powerhouse, I had a couple of issues with using this watch as an every-day watch and I missed too many features from the Apple Watch.

First — my biggest issue with Garmin Fenix 5X Plus — is it’s just too big for office attire. I couldn’t stand the way that my button down shirts hung unevenly on my left hand. While I may have been the only one who noticed it, It made me feel unprofessional and self conscious.

Second, Garmin’s current music solution feels very 2005. You can download songs you currently own via the Garmin Connect app through your computer. Or you can add a premium subscription to iHeartRadio and download songs over WiFi. In the future, other streaming music providers may provide an app, but those are currently your only options.

I signed up for a trial subscription with iHeartRadio and tried out the second solution. It was painful — indicating my 200 Mbps download speeds were too slow — but it eventually worked. Once downloaded, the experience of running with just the watch and listening to music over Bluetooth headphones was freeing. This is especially true during speed workouts. But the process of downloading songs is just too clunky. Also, I would only have iHeartRadio for use on the watch. This defeats many of the benefits of having a music subscription service that gets more personalized as you use it.

Deezer has announced they will be providing support for Garmin devices soon. At this time, Spotify has not announced support for any Garmin devices. If you’d like to show your support for Spotify developing Garmin support, Spotify does have a site where you can vote on this feature.

Going without the Apple Watch for a week also made me appreciate just how much I use it and the ever-present Siri. Without it, I didn’t have a way to add things to my Reminders list when my phone wasn’t nearby. I’m also apparently used to rotating the crown of the watch to adjust the volume of the podcast or music I am listening to. And the watch is just fantastic at allowing me to check my messages and provide a quick response.

So, about the two watch thing.

After experiencing the freedom of not carrying a phone while using the Fenix, I started wearing both watches and leaving my phone at home during the weekday runs. I can stream music to my headphones over my Apple Watch Series 3. Using Siri to change the playlist or artist is the coolest thing since Kris Kross. During a hot and challenging speed workout last week, I even turned up my air conditioner so the house would be nice and chilly when I got home. And It also gives me comfort knowing that Sara can call or text me if she needs me. All without my phone.

Also, this means that other than when I am charging the Apple Watch, I now have an all-day activity tracker. I just also look a little bit like a dork part of the day, and I’m ok with that.

Other Notes from a First-Time Western States Finisher

With the Western States 100 still fresh in my mind, I wanted to leave a few additional pieces of advice, both as reminders for myself and as tips for anyone else who could benefit from my lessons learned.

1. Carry an extra bottle of water from Robinson Flat through Michigan Bluff

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Before I got there,  my crew poured half a root beer into a small, plastic water bottle for me to drink at Robinson Flat. As I finished it, my coach told me to hold onto the empty bottle, advising me that when I reached any creek crossing, I should fill the bottle and use it to douse myself on the climbs. He did made sure to mention not to drink the creek water — if I did, I would regret it in the following weeks.

I carried that little bottle for 14 miles before I finally put it to use — at one of the aid stations I was really tempted to throw it away, but I didn’t — and during the climb up Devil’s Thumb and up into Michigan Bluff, I was sure happy I hadn’t tossed it.

Continue reading “Other Notes from a First-Time Western States Finisher”

My 2018 Western States 100

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Last weekend I finished a race that — for me — started a decade ago: The Western States 100.

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This race meant a lot already, but this one had an extra layer because Sara and I headed out with a much larger group than we were used to. We had my son, my dad, Grandma T, Sara’s parents, and friends Kelley and Tristen. We’ve been racing primarily alone for a while, so having our friends and family with us made this experience even more special.

We arrived on Wednesday and spent Thursday and Friday soaking up as much of the Western States community as we could. We made it to the flag raising ceremony, the Truckee Food Truck festival, and spent a full day at the event check-in.

In those days leading up to Saturday’s 5 a.m. start we chugged as much water and tried to get as much sleep as we could. When Saturday morning rolled around, both of us were feeling pretty good as we showed up to the Squaw Valley Ski Resort for the start of the Western States 100.

The actual start was a surreal experience. After years of thinking about starting this race we were finally here.

It was going to happen, we were going to run the Western States 100.

Continue reading “My 2018 Western States 100”

2018: A Year of Focus

This is the obligatory, “It has been a while, but I am back” blog post.

Last year, I fell off in keeping up this site and contributing to The Endurist — my side project with Sara.

I enjoy reading the regularly updated blogs, such as Writer on Writing by Peter Clines and Macdrifter from Gabe Weatherhead. I was recently going through their archives and found myself wishing I had maintained this site a little better.

So here it is.

Continue reading “2018: A Year of Focus”

The 200 Project S1:E7 | The Bigfoot 200

Sara and I after leaving the Windy Ridge (31.3) Aid Station. I was feeling much more human after getting some real food back in my stomach.

The Bigfoot 200 was the culmination of almost two years of planning and training. In my head — finish or fail — my participation in this event was going to be my victory lap.

In November 2014, I found myself in the middle of a surprise divorce.

Shaken both emotionally and financially, I was forced to reevaluate my plans to run the 2015 Grand to Grand Ultra, a unique multi-day challenge that was going to be the farthest I had traveled for a race. Instead, I sent a painful email to the race director and donated the non-refundable portion of my entry fee.

When I hit send on that email, I told myself that I would stay local in 2015, and then in 2016 I would travel.

This trip was the culmination of those two years.

Continue reading “The 200 Project S1:E7 | The Bigfoot 200”

The 200 Project S1:E5 | The Bighorn 100

About 15 miles from the finish. Every step into the canyon got hotter.
About 15 miles from the finish. Every step into the canyon got hotter.
June’s Bighorn 100 wasn’t the race I wanted, but it turned into the training run I needed.

That doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.

Before I flew out, I had this romantic idea that I would write this amazing race report on the plane ride back. I also had some preconceptions about how well I wanted to run it.

Neither happened.

Continue reading “The 200 Project S1:E5 | The Bighorn 100”