Believe the claims and the right multisport watch will have Alistair Brownlee and Lucy Charles chasing your shadow. The hyperbole is a turn-off for committed sceptics but wade through the marketing and, though they might not win you an Olympic gold, they’ll certainly have you training smarter and racing faster.
Just be aware of the pitfalls. Many a triathlete has been lured into purchase by a long and ‘scientifically-proven’ features list only to realise a month later that 99% of its capability simply isn’t required. If you’ve never used a heart rate monitor and are training for 3-4hrs a week, for example, will your triathlon performance benefit from spending upwards of £300 on a wrist device that monitors your aerobic capacity, run cadence and cycling fatigue rating?
Also, remember that some of the metrics offered – ground contact time, for instance – are useful but arguably maximised by the intervention of a coach. Then again, if you’re aiming for podium finishes, digging deep will be worth it. You’ll refine your training, resulting in greater gains for the same effort.
But beyond our test, do your own research to confirm the efficacy of many ‘performance-changing’ features. Take sleep tracking, which is primarily monitored by the user’s movement. The gold standard requires measuring brainwaves and eye movement, which even a top-end Garmin or Suunto can’t do. Instead, watches or bands combine an accelerometer and an algorithm to estimate the quality and quantity of your sleep. Recent Chinese research highlights just how inaccurate this method is.
Garmin’s FR935 is near identical to their lauded Fenix 5, albeit in a plastic bezel rather than a metal one. That saves weight without sacrificing looks. Highlights on the extensive feature list includes training status, which measures your recent history and performance indicators to let you know if you’re training productively, and an anaerobic training effect metric which, we believe, is the first of its kind and designed to measure your ability to resist fatigue. Both are useful for the top-end triathlete and, like many features, grows in accuracy over time as it collates and stores session data. The TrainingPeaks app comes as standard and an optical sensor tracks your HR, but you’ll have to buy a chest strap for run metrics. Impressively you can download data over Wi-Fi, and Connect IQ affords you access to hundreds of fitness apps. garmin.co.uk
Verdict: Simply a brilliant multisport watch...but at a huge price 88%
Buy from www.garmin.com
TIMEX IRONMAN CLASSIC 30
Let’s start with the price – it’s £220 cheaper than the next cheapest, which is cheap but you do get what you pay for. There’s no GPS, apps or session sharing; instead, the standout feature is that it’s waterproof so you can monitor your timings during the swim. Clocking a session length’s about as detailed as it gets, although ‘it comes with a 24-hour countdown timer complete with stop and repeat functions’ for the most hardcore of endurance athletes.
Its name derives from its ‘distinctive’ 30-lap recall, which you can recall onthe fly. Those looks are also dated, though some might appreciate the retro aesthetic, there’s an occasions button where you can preset 15 reminders and a backlight button for easy viewing in the dark. And the dark ages is where this watch comes from. www.timex.co.uk
Verdict: Rewind 20 years and this watch would still be outdated; you get what you pay for 59%
Buy from www.amazon.co.uk/Timex-Ironman-Classic
Suunto’s Spartan has done away with the chest strap, instead choosing heart-rate tech from respected brand Valencell. Both parties state its optical sensor is the most accurate on the market and it certainly proved reliable, but suffered like many during high-intensity running. It’s also not active when swimming, though we appreciate the pool intervals and GPS accuracy. You can track 80 sports including tri, but with peak GPS connection limiting battery life to up to 10hrs, it’s no use for many iron athletes. It’s easy to use thanks to a mix of three buttons and the touchscreen. It’s an activity tracker, too, counting steps and calories burnt, but doesn’t offer sleep tracking. Estimates of your VO2max and EPOC (exercise post-oxygen consumption) figures are useful but only as accurate as they can be when derived from algorithms. www.suunto.com
Verdict: Typically feature-packed but we’d go for the chest-strap version, which is £40 cheaper 79%
Buy from www.cotswoldoutdoor.com/p/suunto-spartan-sport
Continue reading our guide to this year's best training watches (2/2)