Garmin Forerunner 405 HRM
REI; $349.95 + $22.99 2-day shipping

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the Forerunner 405 since January.  Its release was delayed and delayed and again delayed.  It finally made its debut at the Boston Marathon and soon after at online retailers and local running shops.  As soon as REI confirmed they were shipping units, I cancelled my pre-orders and waitlists and ordered over the phone.  The price for the Forerunner 405 with HRM is the same everywhere, $349.

I’ve been testing out the features of the Garmin watch for the past week and am very satisfied with the purchase.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any experience with the Forerunner 305 so I can’t make any direct comparisons with the 405’s predecessor.  Below are a few aspects of the 405 that were most important to me as a runner.

Design

The Forerunner 405 is demonstrated in the Garmin blog videos as a watch you can work out in and then “wear in the office.”  So that’s exactly what I did.  I’m an actuary on Wall Street and dress to work in a suit everyday.  I got a few curious looks on the subway as I was playing with the 405 but no one said anything — neither on the subway (no surprise, really) nor at work.  But not getting any comments doesn’t mean it looked appropriate, not with a suit anyway.  Nevertheless, the watch didn’t interfere with my furious tapping away at Excel during the workday.

I don’t know if I’d go as far as saying the 405 is stylish, but it’s certainly not ugly.  The Forerunner 305 looks like my old Palm Pilot strapped to a wristband, while the Suunto T9 looks like it’s designed to launch nuclear missiles.  The 405 looks like an unusually thick sports watch.

What’s not obvious from photos is that some of the 405’s electronics are built into the strap which extends about an inch above and below the gray bezel.  Below the bezel is where the GPS antenna is located.  This means about 3″ of the watch isn’t pliable and may not conform tightly to very small wrists.  However, the resulting crescent shape actually helps in putting on the watch.

The picture to the left shows the smallest band setting on the 405; there are 12 notches in the band but I found the first 2 notches unreachable without overstretching the band (set on notch 3 in picture).  If I wear the 405 as I would a normal watch (on my average-sized wrist) on notch 6, gaps appear between the watch and my skin as I push the watch side to side.  When the 405 is worn normally the gaps aren’t noticeable and don’t cause the watch to slide around.  Measuring circumference of the band is too difficult to do accurately and wouldn’t provide a good sense of fit.

Here the thickness of the Forerunner is shown next to the popular Timex Ironman watch, which may be the gold standard for basic sports watches.  There is good reason why this is the Ironman “sleek” version — I probably couldn’t find a slimmer watch for comparison.  The 405 is heavier than most watches but it hasn’t bothered me a bit while running.

There are lots of options available in customizing the watch interface, but I’d like to select options through Garmin Training Center which would then synchronize with the watch (this is done in a few cases already, such as user profile details, heart rate, and speed zones).  Maybe this would be messy to implement, but it’d be great if, for example, you could relive a saved race in Garming Training Center and have the data play through a watch emulator where you can test configurations of data fields and screens.  These settings you should then be able to send back to the Forerunner.

Bezel

The bezel locks/unlocks by holding down the two buttons simultaneously.  I found it very easy to toggle this unintentionally, as when putting on a backpack or pulling up the sleeves of a jacket.  There is some mechanism that tries to recognize errant bezel touches but I’ve noticed this does not always work perfectly and I need to sometimes tap several times to get a response — not very significant in my opinion.

The bezel is very similar to the iPod wheel.  However, every time your finger is at the top of the bezel when circling on the 405, it blocks the screen.  It’s rather annoying but can be avoided by not circling all the way around, just around the sides and bottom.

The backlight is turned on by tapping the bezel in two locations.  The light is very bright and fills the entire screen evenly.  There is also an option to change how many seconds the light remains on (or on until turned off).

Satellite Signal

Picking up a satellite signal was much easier than expected, even here in Manhattan.  As long as I stand near the street curb I get a signal within a minute, usually much less.  There is some play with losing satellite signal (power save) when in Training mode while not yet having started the timer.  It’s usually not a big deal and regaining signal is much faster than acquiring it from the GPS off position.  However, what happens when the watch falls into power save and the race horn sounds?  I don’t want to think about it.

Time Keeping

The clock on the 405 is set via satellite signal; no manual adjustments are possible except for time zone.  Exactly one week ago I synchronized the time on my Timex Ironman to match the 405.  Today, seven days later, the Ironman clock time is two seconds ahead of the 405.  Obviously assuming the satellite time is correct (GPS satellites carry sophisticated atomic clocks), this does not make my Ironman look so great.

Battery

I don’t see battery life as an issue.  My 405 was fully charged for the Brooklyn Half Marathon on Saturday, I conducted a few tests with GPS this afternoon, and the battery is now at 43%.  The battery recharges very quickly, which either indicates that it’s of good quality or that it’s small and there’s not much to recharge.

Charging is done via an alligator clip that loosely snaps onto the 405; the other end connects to a USB port or directly into a wall outlet.  The positioning of the clip on the watch is partially by feel, but once it’s connected to the recessed nodes the watch will beep and the screen will indicate it’s charging.

Features

I was primarily looking for a GPS watch to tell me in real time how fast I was running and then be able to display my route on a computer.  The 405 does both very well.

My complaint is that the documentation is very poor; except for the initial set-up, almost everything else needs to be figured out by experimentation.  The menus take time to decipher and you’re mostly on your own — again, experimentation.

Satellite Tracking

I walked a zig-zagging path through the streets of the Upper West Side that took me under tree cover, next to tall buildings, under scaffolding, and into a Tasti D-lite shop.  The resulting map when exported to Google Earth is decent.  It tracked exactly the streets I walked, but the path is sometimes crooked and occasionally shows me walking on rooftops.  When I walked into Tasti D-lite (wide open doors) my location becomes erratic, as if I was dancing in the middle of Broadway.  Nevertheless, I’m impressed; you need to recognize this test was hardly fair for a GPS watch.  The 405 is intended for outdoor running, not timing how long it takes to get a chocolate/vanilla frozen yogurt in a waffle cone.

My next test was walking around the JKO Reservoir in Central Park.  Here the mapping was very accurate.  I stayed to the right of the path to avoid runners, but I can even see where I moved to the left to pass a group of slow-moving tourists.

I also tried stopping the watch/timer, walking 150 yards, and then restarting it.  The watch connects the dots in a straight line when mapping, but it does not count the line as part of the total time or distance, which is exactly what you’d expect.  Without the connecting line, it’d be easy to lose track of scattered timed segments, although it’d be helpful if this assumed line was differently colored or dashed.

GPS Navigation

I read online a common complaint that the 405 does not have on-screen mapping like the 305.  It’s actually hard to imagine that this would be a popular function for everyday use, but the 405 has two related features: Go to Location and Back to Start.

The Go to Location function displays a compass rose and pointer arrow and indicates how far a previously saved point is located.  Technically, you don’t even need to have visited the saved location; it’s possible to edit latitude/longitude and rename locations on the watch.  The 405 comes preset with a few mysterious locations thousands of miles away that seem to have something to do with Garmin (deletable!).  The Go to Location function is probably useful as a desperate last measure to make your way home or, for the sentimental folks, to know how far you are from your faraway girlfriend.  The distances indicated are straight line point-to-point.

More useful for out-and-back runs in an unfamiliar city is the Back to Start function.  When selected, an arrow appears pointing you in the direction you came from and the distance to back-track your route to your original location.

The compass rose and pointer arrow spin wildly when using either of the functions and standing still, but if you keep the watch positioned directly in front of you and start moving, the result stabilizes.  (There is no magnetic compass on the 405 so the 405 needs movement to recognize your orientation via GPS.)  During my test at the JKO Reservoir, Back to Start requested I turn around and follow the path (distance 0.55 miles) while Go to Location pointed across the water to my starting point (distance 0.30 miles).  Both were accurate.

Data Fields

There are 3 customizable screens (labeled Training 1, 2, 3 in the 405 menu) with up to 3 data fields on each, plus one Heart Rate screen.  The available fields are: Sunrise, Sunset, Time, Time-Avg Lap, Time-Lap, Time-Last Lap, Time of Day, Cadence, Cadence-Avg, Cadence-Lap, Calories, Distance, Dist-Lap, Dist-Last Lap, Elevation, GPS Accuracy, Grade, HR, HR-%Max, HR-Avg, HR-Avg %Max, HR-Lap, HR Graph, HR Zone, Heading, Laps, Pace, Pace-Avg, Pace-Lap, Pace-Last Lap, Speed, Speed-Avg, Speed-Lap, and Speed-Last Lap.  (Clearly, fields like cadence require additional hardware.)  In my experience, Elevation and related Grade data is unreliable; while the elevation here on the Upper West Side is approximately correct on average (~125 ft.), the data shows too much variation to be useful.

The screens and fields are easy to customize.  It’s possible to set all screens with data fields but then turn off the screens individually (only Training 1 cannot be turned off) which is convenient if you only want certain data for specific workouts.  Reconfiguring the data fields (or navigating the menus for that matter) during a run is nearly impossible.

Virtual Partner

The Virtual Partner feature works as advertised.  When in Training mode, the Virtual Partner appears as another data screen.  Adjusting the VP pace requires circling the bezel which changes the pace in increments of 5 seconds.  Meaning, if you’re adjusting from a running pace to a walking pace, it’ll rub your finger raw!  Okay, it’s not that bad, but it’d be nice if it could somehow accelerate the increments the longer you scroll.  Also, it’s probably worth noting that when you adjust the Virtual Partner pace mid-run, it brings both you and the VP back to even.  I like this implementation.  A cute touch is that when you press the stop button, the running icons bend over and put their hands on their knees as if they were tired (just like me!).

Heart Rate Monitor

The heart rate monitor is definitely one of the 405’s strengths.  The strap is comfortable and the readings seem very accurate and sensitive to the level of activity.  It’s very easy to pair the HR strap with the watch.  As soon as I put on the HR strap (almost instantaenously) a message appears indicating the strap was detected.  In Training mode a small heart icon appears on the watch screen confirming it’s connected and transmitting.  (It’ll likewise indicate with a small flashing ‘x’ if it’s paired but not transmitting.)  You don’t turn the HR strap on and off — it’s in standby until it somehow knows it’s in use.

When the heart rate monitor is detected, the 405 adds the Heart Rate screen into the mix of screens.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed with data (up to 3 data screens, Heart Rate screen, Virtual Partner…) but it’s customizable to your liking.

Courses

I have not used the Course function, but I may in the future.  Garmin Training Center lets you create courses from previously saved information which then lets you race against it and navigate.  These courses you can also annotate to indicate valleys, left/right turns, water stops, etc.  What it cannot do is let you draw a route and send that information to your 405 (at least through GTC, I understand there are workarounds).  Nevertheless, this function has potential.  I’ll probably make a course out of the Central Park and Reservoir loops I run frequently.

Workouts

When I purchased the Forerunner 405 I didn’t even know designing workouts was possible, yet this function is especially sophisticated.  The Garmin Training Center software comes with several predefined workouts.  Let me grab a few lines to illustrate what these workouts look like:

  1. Go for 00:02:00.  Try to keep my heart rate in zone 1.
  2. Go for 00:02:00.  Try to keep my heart rate in zone 2.
  3. Go for 00:02:00.  Try to keep my heart rate in zone 3.
  4. Repeat the steps below 2 times:
    Go 0.1 Miles.  Try to keep my heart rate in zone 4.
    Go 0.1 Miles.  Try to keep my heart rate in zone 2.
  5. Repeat the steps below 2 times:
    Go 0.1 Miles.  Try to keep my speed in zone 4 (SLOW JOG).
    Go 0.1 Miles.  Try to keep my heart rate in zone 2.

To schedule a workout, you simply drag-and-drop a workout onto the Garmin calendar which will then sychnronize with the 405 (to do a workout, it does not need to be scheduled).  In the watch Time/Date mode it’ll say:

Today’s Workout:
[workout]
Enter To Do Workout

Workouts are only as good as the instructions.  Garmin appears to have a tie-up with Training Peaks and New Leaf where you can subscribe to more workouts or you can always program your own.  There is surely no shortage of running books with suggested workouts at Barnes & Noble.

The Forerunner’s Advanced workouts give you a lot of flexbility, but if you don’t know what you’re doing it’ll show.  Just to see what would happen, I programmed unrealistic steps such as “Go for 00:03:00. Try to keep my heart rate in zone 5.” Followed by “Go for 00:00:15.  Try to keep my heart rate in zone 1.”  Easy to program, impossible to do; the alerts will beep at you.  Likewise, if your speed and heart rate zone are not set correctly, it’ll be very difficult to maintain different zones.  My Slow Walk zone was set so slow that I could not walk slow enough.  And the 405 didn’t care:  SLOW DOWN!  Beep!

The 405 also lets you select Simple, Interval, and Heart Rate workouts that can be programmed on the watch itself.  Take Interval, the options are: Type (distance/time), Duration (distance/time), Rest Type (distance/time), Rest Duration (distance/time), Reps (number), Warmup (yes/no), Cooldown (yes/no).  Do Workout.

When a Workout is active, the workout is added as another data screen, keeping all your other screens available.  If the workout says to keep in Speed Zone 3, it’s still possible to click through to see what your heart rate is even though it’s not explicitly required for the workout.

When the workout data is uploaded to Garmin Training Center, each step of the workout is shown as a Lap, but there’s no way to tie it back to the specific workout and its instructions.  This is a pretty serious limitation.

I like keeping my workouts flexible; sometimes I’ll turn a 5 mile run into 7, sometimes I’ll start running fartleks.  The 405 workout feature is terrific, but it’s not something I see myself using regularly.

Software

The Garmin Forerunner 405 software is good but not perfect.

There are two pieces to install:

  1. Garmin ANT (wireless data transfer to computer, to online)
  2. Garmin Training Center (analysis/history software)

Garmin ANT

I have an issue with Garmin ANT quitting whenever my computer wakes from Standby mode,  which requires me to restart Garmin ANT.  I haven’t been able to Google the problem, so maybe this is specific to my set-up. I received an email from Garmin Product Support saying that there is no way around the error except to prevent my computer from going into Standby.  However, the representative suggested that if I log off from my computer, Garmin ANT will restart the next time I log in.

Other than the problem with Standby, the wireless connection works flawlessly.  My 405 is always recognized and in a minute or so, data is uploaded from the watch and displayed in Garmin Training Center.  There are options to select where the watch data should be sent, online and/or Garmin Training Center, and whether or not to delete data from the 405 after transfer.

Garmin Training Center

The Garmin Training Center is client-side software with well-organized interface and clear graphs.  There are no lags — every click responds instantaneously.  The graphs are integrated so that clicking a point on a graph measuring distance or heart rate will show a change on the map and vice-versa.

History is neatly stored by activity type (Running, Biking, Other, Multisport), then by week (4/27/2008-5/3/2008), and then by activity time (5/3/2008 9:02:17AM).  There is no way to rename the activities, which would come in handy if I ever wanted to find a former race in a few years.  I would remember “Brooklyn Half Marathon 2008” not “5/3/2008 9:02:17AM”.  It is WAY too easy to delete history — all it takes is a click of Delete.  There’s no confirmation box and it’s easy to miss the undo.

The software does neat things like setting up zones automatically for heart rate and pace depending on your history and then telling you how much time/distance you spent in each zone (it indicates I was slow jogging during my half marathon yesterday and that’s unfortunately tough to disagree with).  The zones can be adjusted manually as well.  Surprisingly, some useful data are not provided, such as splits — this calculation I have to do myself manually.  In other words, there is no easy way to tell how long it took to run the first 6 miles in a 13.1-mile race.

Garmin Training Center does not let you make manual adjustments, such as splitting a lap if a mile marker was missed.  It does let you delete laps though.  Perhaps still a shortcoming, not being able to alter data keeps it honest; this way you can’t peel 15 minutes off your time and post those results online (or inadvertently mess up the data entirely).  The way Garmin provides clock time at the start of each lap, each lap time, and distance (calculating pace) leaves no room for ambiguity.

Garmin Connect

It seems Garmin Connect, the Garmin web application, is redundant to Garmin Training Center, but slower and less detailed.  It is good, however, for sharing maps/results over the Internet.  I sent my family my half marathon results; my dad’s reaction: “This is definitively cool.  You were wearing a GPS system?  Nice race.”  I doubt I’ll use Garmin Connect regularly but it seems many other Forerunner enthusiasts do.

Raw Data

It is possible to export raw watch data from Garmin Training Center as XML with latitude, longitude, altitude, distance, sensor details, among much other data.  The XML schema is viewable here.

Trackpoints are recorded once every two seconds, an example:

<Trackpoint>
   <Time>2008-05-03T13:02:21Z</Time>
   <Position>
      <LatitudeDegrees>40.5741777</LatitudeDegrees>
      <LongitudeDegrees>-73.9713467</LongitudeDegrees>
   </Position>
   <AltitudeMeters>4.4632568</AltitudeMeters>
   <DistanceMeters>13.2894421</DistanceMeters>
   <SensorState>Absent</SensorState>
</Trackpoint>

I’d eventually like to try to resolve how Garmin translates latitude and longitude positioning into distance.  I’m curious how/whether altitude and the oblate shape of the Earth are considered in their calculations.

Race Day

In the Brooklyn Half Marathon this weekend I used two screens: 3 data fields on one screen (time, avg pace, distance) and 2 data fields on the other (lap pace, lap time).  Every data field has a label, though tiny, so it helps to memorize the data field locations.  The orientation and size of the data fields depend on the number of fields selected for the screen.  I set the screens to Auto Scroll at medium speed (options: slow/medium/fast/off), but it’s always possible to scroll through manually by touching the bezel.  I kept Virtual Partner turned off and I did not wear the heart rate monitor.

I was generally pleased with the mapping of the route and the data.  As I mentioned in my half marathon race report, the map in Garmin Training Center shows me running in the Atlantic Ocean and the map draws streets as straight lines while the roads were actually curved.  Mapping is much more accurate when the data is exported to Google Earth but Garmin Training Center is adequate for most purposes.

I had Auto Lap turned off and had no problem pressing Lap myself (it beeps loudly in confirmation).  My total running distance was calculated as 13.20 miles (0.10 miles over), which is reasonable since I likely did not run the tangents perfectly.  I’d be more concerned if the distance showed me running less than 13.1 miles.

After a race or run I recommend holding Lap to reset the watch and close the session.  Otherwise, it’s possible to inadvertantly restart the timer.  The only way to delete data from the 405 directly is to navigate into the History menu and this won’t happen by accident.

Conclusion

Get the Forerunner 405.  It’s reasonably priced at $299 ($349 with HRM) and a good value.  The watch is well-designed, full-featured, and comes with stable software.  No serious runner will regret this purchase.

Computer specifications:
Dell XPS 630, Quad-core, 2GB RAM
Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate

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The Competitive Runner’s Handbook
by Bob Glover & Shelly-lynn Florence Glover
641 pages; $19.00

I’ve been using my lunch hours to carefully browse the many running books at Borders and finally purchased this title. I can certainly learn about running by trial-and-error, but why? Recovering from my first injury, I use my bandage instructions as a bookmark so that I remember how much I have at stake; that, or maybe so I learn how to wrap ankles really well.

The Competitive Runner’s Handbook is both a running narrative and reference manual. What it’s not is cutting-edge science.  At times, the author, Bob Glover, comes to mind-numbing conclusions such as dress warmly in winter and running is hard for fat people. Some material is repeated several times across chapters, but that’s almost required. In general, the book’s attitude to running is listen to the body.

While the book cover says “now completely revised,” this most current edition is copyrighted in 1999. The material is very relevant, almost timeless, but there’s only a short chapter at toward the end of the book on heart rate (instead of throughout) and there’s no mention at all of newer technology such as watches with foot pods or GPS, which are quickly becoming standard equipment for competitive runners.

The reader most likely to get the most out of this book is someone who has entered a few races and knows what the experience is like but wants to take a more rigorous approach to running. It’s also a good learning base for terminology and methods that may get brushed over in Runner’s World or trendy fitness books. Do you know what a fartlek is? This book will tell you.

This is a book that you’re unlikely to outgrow. It covers information from how to get into running to Elite training. I have no intention of ever winning a race, but the book shares even the psychological aspects of taking down your nemesis. Out of the thousands of runners at each NYRR race, I’d be lucky to recognize a familiar face let alone have someone out there to get me. Nevertheless, it was interesting to read what gunning for number one might be like.

Not surprisingly, my favorite chapters were on marathon training and competition. The Marathon Strategy chapter dissects every component of the marathon from what to eat to pacing to mental toughness. I feel better prepared for what’s in store for me after being primed by this book. I liked the numerous references to New York Road Runners Club — to which I belong — and Central Park, but it’s introduced so casually that it’s unlikely to annoy anyone not lucky enough to live in New York City.

I’ll definitely reference the book’s many ideas on workouts, training/mileage schedules, nutrition, and injury prevention (obviously), among many others over the next few months. The chapters are short and well-organized so it’s easy to find exactly what you’re looking for quickly.

The author’s ‘I’ perspective is occasionally self-congratulatory and has been criticized in some reader reviews, but I think it makes the book more personable. Bob Glover’s many successes helps establish his credentials as a running expert and coach, but at the same time it’s balanced by his setbacks and what he’s learned from them.

Overall, I highly recommend the book.