Many people use the best Apple Watches for running training. Until recently, I mainly used Garmin and Polar watches for this purpose, but my recent experience using one of the latest Apple Watches convinced me I should try them out under actual racing circumstances. After a chat with Apple, I decided to take the Apple Watch Ultra with me to the London Marathon to see what would happen!
Thanks to the WatchOS 9.2 update, the latest Apple Watch cohort is probably the best running watches from the Californian company. In fact, I recently reviewed the Apple Watch Series 8 and was impressed by its running prowess, so naturally, I thought I'd put the watch through its paces at the London Marathon. However, Apple recommended the Ultra as a better option for such a long race; I was happy to oblige.
In case you have lived under a rock for the last six months, the Apple Watch Ultra is the most significant update to what many consider the best smartwatch in the world. It has the biggest screen and the longest battery life of all Apple Watches, as well as the latest sensors and features. Better still, it has some unique features, such as Precision Start, which can't be found on any other Apple Watches (yet).
Thanks to the large screen, the Apple Watch Ultra can display up to six data fields on each of its workout views, which is pretty impressive. For comparison, the Garmin Forerunner 265 can only display four data fields, although that watch is much cheaper. The Ultra also has an extra button compared to the Series 8 and the latest-gen SE, which is much better when you don't have time to fiddle around with the touchscreen.
Another top-notch feature that makes the Apple Watch Ultra the ultimate marathon racing partner is the multi-band GPS. Not dissimilar to the best Garmin watches, the Apple Watch Ultra can connect to two GPS systems simultaneously to give you better accuracy, even in challenging environments such as city centres with tall buildings. There is also the Pacer function that lets you set a distance and a desired finish time on the watch ahead of the race; all you have to do is pay attention to the watch's suggestions as you run, and voila! You smashed your PB (if only it were this easy).
With this in mind, I set out to run my second London Marathon in six months, even though I didn't quite nail my debut last year. Not only that, but it took me forever to recover from the Mongol 100 ultramarathon I did in late February/early March. Nevertheless, I was thrilled to be back on the streets of London to soak up the atmosphere and support coming from the crowd!
Apple Watch Ultra x London Marathon: the results
I won't go into too much detail about the London Marathon here; it was brilliant, just like last time. There were thousands of people running and even more cheering along – everyone must try it once. You have eight hours to complete the race, so even if you aren't a sub-3-hour runner, you should be able to drag yourself to the finish line.
Anyhow, I digress. I set up my virtual Pacer for a 3:30 marathon, which, even then, I knew was utterly unrealistic based on how much training I did, but I couldn't help myself. Also, I thought this would help me see what the Pacer would do when I started lagging behind my planned time. I also customised my workout views before the race to ensure the first screen showed me all the necessary details (I didn't want to spend much time scrolling between screens).
Lo and behold, the Ultra was pretty accurate regarding GPS accuracy and pacing. I had the new Garmin Forerunner 965 on my other wrist (review coming soon) to double-check the Ultra, and the distance, pace and heart rate data were on point. Not saying the Ultra needs double-checking, but I thought I'd have a fairly accurate multisport watch with me to ensure everything is going well.
Pacer aside, another feature I wanted to see in action was the data field layout. You get six of these on each workout view of the Apple Watch Ultra; plenty to work with. I would appreciate some division between the fields and clearer labels – it's not always easy to determine which field is what when running in the rain. You can fully customise these, but still; there is plenty of unused space on the right side of the screen, which could help spread out the information better.
Regarding battery life, I charged the watch in the morning before the race, and it was on 66 per cent after I crossed the finish line, leaving me with plenty of battery power for the rest of the day. Of course, I would prefer not to carry a watch charger with me on a just-in-case basis, but it's something, right? I hope Apple will soon introduce watches with week-long battery life or at least allow people to turn off some of the unused sensors and features to help preserve battery power.
Overall, I have no regrets about taking the Apple Watch Ultra to the London Marathon. It has accurate sensors, GPS and spot-on running features. The display is bright and easy to read, and the watch measures tons of advanced running metrics like cadence, ground contact time, running power, etc., without external sensors. If you're concerned about the battery dying on you – which, as I found out, shouldn't be an issue as long as you quick-charge the wearable in the morning –, just have a portable power bank in your backpack.