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Sport Watches Go the Distance

   After triathlete Mark Vermeersch crosses a finish line, his wristwatch tells him a lot more than how long it took him to swim 2.4 miles, bicycle 112 miles and run 26.2 miles. It also shows his speed, pace, distance, altitude and heart rate at every point along the route. That info gets synced to online software that lets him compare it to other races and see where he is lagging or improving.
   “Having the ability to do all those things on one piece of equipment is impressive,”
Vermeersch says of his Timex GPS-enabled watch. “Most people have multiple measurement devices to do all that.”
    Vermeersch is a former Chicagoan and a member of the Timex Multisport Team, a group of 50 sponsored professional and amateur athletes from around the world. In June he competed in a triathlon in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and in September he’ll race in Las Vegas. That’s in addition to his full-time job as a portfolio analyst.
   Whether you’re an elite competitor, a gym rat or any other kind of fitness enthusiast, an array of sport watches and monitors can gauge how your body is performing. At the basic end of the spectrum are pedometers and stopwatches. At the high-tech end are devices loaded with sophisticated features. In addition to measuring speed and distance, they compare workouts, tally body fat, take blood pressure and forecast the weather. Some are water-resistant; others aren’t.
   Mike McCarty, a buyer for the REI outdoor gear and clothing purveyor, has seen the devices evolve. About a decade ago, the wireless heart monitors came out. Then came the GPS connection. Now they’re getting smaller and smaller.
  “They’re not exactly petite, but they don’t look like some Dick Tracy two-way radio anymore,” he says.
    Prices are surprisingly affordable. The Rolexes—the Submariner and the Sea-Dweller Deepsea—set you back thousands, but you probably want them for prestige as much as performance. Plenty of hard-working multi-taskers start well under $100. Heart monitors add another $50 or so.
    Before you buy, figure out how and where you’ll be wearing your watch, McCarty advises. For example, for GPS technology is accurate, but it works under open skies. If you typically run indoors, between skyscrapers or through narrow canyons, an accelerometer—a foot device that sends data to your watch—is a better choice.
    Vermeersch wears the Timex Ironman Global Trainer Bodylink System, which retails from $300 to $360. He especially likes the extended-life battery, which he says is essential for long-distance races.

Also for your consideration:
  • Nike+SportWatch GPS. A shoe sensor and TomTom-powered GPS record data, then the watch uploads to Nike’s online running community via USB port (From $199). The system also works via iPod or iPhone if you prefer music, data and motivation through headphones.
  • Casio STR300 stores 60 records and gives an audible pace signal. $45.
  • MTM Special Ops watches were designed for military and special forces. The limited edition “Vulture” is a night-diver with a multi-mode lighting system and water- resistance to 200 meters. ($950 to $1400)
  • Highgear Alterra IPT Barometer/Altimeter watch takes you up and down. The ski chronograph function calculates vertical ascent and descent data; water resistance is to 50 meters. ($160)
   McCarty’s pick? He likes Garmin’s newest release, the Forerunner 610, which has a touch screen (From $350).
   “It’s the latest and greatest—it’s what geeks who like to run have to have,” he said.  

Published: August 20, 2011
Issue: Fall 2011 Issue