What About Running?
Okay, as we all know, cycling computers are a dime a dozen so it's not that big a deal to have a GPS device tell you how far or how fast you've ridden. The Garmin Forerunner 301 really shines when you run, especially on trails. While the current pace per mile is very good, it's not something you really need to fixate on. Basically, it's too difficult to get immediate on-the-fly feedback during a run.
But for accuracy, I'm thoroughly impressed. Here's why. I did a run in Philadelphia over a certified course that had markers placed at every tenth of a mile. And the 301 shows your distance down to the hundredth of a mile. Every time I hit one of those tenth of a mile signs, it wasn't accurate to the tenth but rather to the hundredth! I was amazed.
I also did about 20 runs over the same courses and noticed almost no difference in total distance. And because you can set the Forerunner to audibly beep at any distance interval, I set mine to beep at every half mile and it was awesome to see exactly what my pace was over the last half mile. The only drawback was I knew how slow I was really running. There's no way to trick the unit or lie to your buddies about how fast you ran.
The obvious big upgrade from the original 201 to the Forerunner 301 is the heart rate function. While this is awesome for more serious athletes and those sticking to a dedicated routine and program, the heart rate monitor function is probably the only real disappointment with the 301.
Since I was very fit over this past summer and fall, I knew exactly (from using different Polar heart rate monitors) what my maximum and average heart rates were for hard training efforts. I also know, especially at age 46, that it's not possible for me to see heart rates north of 200 beats per minute. In fact, the most I'll ever see on the most intense cycling climbs is about 174 beats per minute. The Garmin 301 was showing me spikes well over 200 in places where there really didn't seem to be any interference.
There were times I'd be running along, very comfortably at a heart rate of about 130 bpm, and all of a sudden, without increasing my effort, I'd jump to over 180 bpm. I began to learn, however, that most of the time the heart rate would stabilize at the correct reading and I'd simply have to ignore the spikes.
OK all you geeks, here's the cool part. Garmin recently purchased a company called Motion Based and all the data stored in your little 301 can be instantly uploaded to a training log that will give you more data than you'd ever want to know.
For example, after uploading your workout, which is as simple as connecting the supplied USB cable and clicking "synchronize," your new workout, or several workouts (depending on how long it's been since you last synchronized), will be automatically placed in your Web-based training log. Simply stated, you can log in from anywhere you have Internet connectivity and look at your workout data in amazing detail.
There's a small "Motion Based Agent" that you must download before your first synchronization and that local software seamlessly synchronizes with your online account. I've had no problems with Motion Based as long as I use Internet Explorer as the Map Player doesn't function well within Mozilla Firefox.
Once your data is in Motion Based, you'll be able to play back your workout at several different speeds, showing what the time of day, elapsed time and heart rate was at any place on the map. And the even cooler part is you can put any base layer map (street map, contour, satellite image or aerial photo) under your workout. So what you get, in essence, is a track of where you've been and how fast—or slow—you traveled at any place in your workout.
And you can share your activities to others by simply e-mailing them a link. So since seeing is believing, anybody who wants to see one of my cycling workouts can simply click on the following link and play around with the different functions. In addition to the default "dashboard," you'll also see an "analyzer" and "map player" function.
The Good and the Bad
The good thing about the Garmin Forerunner 301 is that it's entirely accurate for tracking distance and speed and is being sold near or under $200 because the newest Forerunner is supposed to solve some of the sensitivity and heart rate monitor issues. The bad part is if you're the type of person that needs the latest and greatest, you're going to want to spend almost double for the 305.
Personally, I haven't noticed issues with loss of signals, but then again I've been doing my runs and rides away from tall buildings and trees. So if I were just using this for running, I'd be totally happy with paying less and staying with the 301. On the other hand, if I wanted to replace my regular cycling computers with a very cool device that synchs with the Motion Based software, I'd probably look into the new 305 and the specific cycling computer dubbed "The Edge."