Fitness watches and my descent into madness

Periodically in life I’ve had the desire to be somewhat fit, or at least have the benefits that come with that such as not dying early and being able to navigate a mountain (or just the city of Seattle) on foot without collapsing. I have also found that holding myself accountable via data is pretty vital to me actually going and repeatedly doing something.

So, at some point I got myself a Garmin watch. The year was 2012 and it was a Garmin Forerunner 410. It had a standard black/grey LCD screen, GPS (where getting a GPS lock could be utterly infuriatingly slow), a sensor you attached to your foot, a sensor you strap to your chest for Heart Rate monitoring, and an ANT+ dongle for connecting to a PC to download your activities. There was even some open source software that someone wrote so I could actually get data off my watch on my Linux laptops. This wasn’t a smart watch – it was exclusively for wearing while exercising and tracking an activity, otherwise it was just a watch.

However, as I was ramping up to marathon distance running, one huge flaw emerged: I was not fast enough to run a marathon in the time that the battery in my Garmin lasted. IIRC it would end up dying around 3hr30min into something, which at the time was increasingly something I’d describe as “not going for too long of a run”. So, the search for a replacement began!

The year was 2017, and the Garmin fenix 5x attracted me for two big reasons: a battery life to be respected, and turn-by-turn navigation. At the time, I seldom went running with a phone, preferring a tiny SanDisk media play (RIP, they made a new version that completely sucked) and a watch. The attraction of being able to get better maps back to where I started (e.g. a hotel in some strange city where I didn’t speak the language) was very appealing. It also had (what I would now describe as) rudimentary smart-watch features. It didn’t have even remotely everything the Pebble had, but it was enough.

So, a (non-trivial) pile of money later (even with discounts), I had myself a shiny and virtually indestructible new Garmin. I didn’t even need a dongle to sync it anywhere – it could just upload via its own WiFi connection, or through Bluetooth to the Garmin Connect app to my phone. I could also (if I ever remembered to), plug in the USB cable to it and download the activities to my computer.

One problem: my skin rebelled against the Garmin fenix 5x after a while. Like, properly rebelled. If it wasn’t coming off, I wanted to rip it off. I tried all of the tricks that are posted anywhere online. Didn’t help. I even got tested for what was the most likely culprit (a Nickel allergy), and didn’t have one of them, so I (still) have no idea what I’m actually allergic to in it. It’s just that I cannot wear it constantly. Urgh. I was enjoying the daily smart watch uses too!

So, that’s one rather expensive watch that is special purpose only, and even then started to get to be a bit of an issue around longer activities. Urgh.

So the hunt began for a smart watch that I could wear constantly. This usually ends in frustration as anything I wanted was hundreds of $ and pretty much nobody listed what materials were in it apart from “stainless steel”, “may contain”, and some disclaimer about “other materials”, which wasn’t a particularly useful starting point for “it is one of these things that my skin doesn’t like”. As at least if the next one also turned out to cause me problems, I could at least have a list of things that I could then narrow down to what I needed to avoid.

So that was all annoying, with the end result being that I went a long time without really wearing a watch. Why? The search resumed periodically and ended up either with nothing, or totally nothing. That was except if I wanted to get further into some vendor lock-in.

Honestly, the only manufacturer of anything smartwatch like which actually listed everything and had some options was Apple. Bizarre. Well, since I already got on the iPhone bandwagon, this was possible. Rather annoyingly, they are very tied together and thus it makes it a bit of a vendor-lock-in if you alternate phone and watch replacement and at any point wish to switch platforms.

That being said though, it does work well and not irritate my skin. So that’s a bonus! If I get back into marathon level distance running, we’ll see how well it goes. But for more common distances that I’ve run or cycled with it… the accuracy seems decent, HR monitor never just sometimes decides I’m not exerting myself, and the GPS actually gets a lock in reasonable time. Plus it can pair with headphones and be the only thing I take out with me.