The Differences Between a Triathlon Watch and a Running Watch

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The key features to look for when shopping for a multisport GPS watch

While you might think any waterproof watch will do for participating in a triathlon, there are some key advantages to buying a tri-specific watch. Multisport watches are built with specific features that athletes will find useful for triathlons.

A basic watch will time your activities. A GPS watch provides time, your speed or pace, and measures distance. But triathlon watches track swims, work with cycling accessories, and ultimately provide additional data to make training more efficient.

Here’s what features to look for when selecting a triathlon watch.

Swim Tracking

The best triathlon watches can measure and track swims in both the pool and open water. Like a running GPS watch, these watches track time, how fast you’re swimming, and how far you’ve swam. In the pool, the watch counts laps and uses that information to calculate speed and distance. When open water swimming, the watch uses GPS to do the same.

Beyond tracking basic data, many of the higher-end watches count swim strokes, determine which swim stroke you’re using, and calculate SWOLF (a measure of swimming efficiency).

Cycling Accessories

A good tri watch will also sync with cycling accessories. This lets you track pedal cadence and bike speed (more accurate than GPS) with a bike sensor. For more experienced athletes, power meters measure how hard you pedal. The best multisport watches record this data as well.

Multisport Mode

This feature, found on some tri GPS watches, allows you to mark the transitions between swimming, biking, and running during a tri or brick workout. With a single button push, the watch marks where you switched from swimming to biking and automatically updates the screen to display information key to that activity.

Quick Release Strap

When cycling, it helps to have the watch attached directly to your bike handlebars. This makes it easier to see in the aero position. Foam blocks can be used to strap the watch to the bike as if it were around your wrist.

But some watches – like the Garmin Forerunner 935 - have a quick-release kit. This allows you to quickly remove the watch from your wrist strap and attach it to the handlebars.

Thin Design

Finally, a good tri watch should be thin enough that it doesn’t get in the way when removing your wetsuit during a triathlon. Thick watches make pulling the wetsuit sleeve off your arm that much more difficult.


You’ll be in the best position to excel in your triathlons and training with a good watch. While the best watches are quite expensive, you can often find older, discontinued models for a reasonable price online. Even though these models are not the latest models, they will often have these key tri features.

Ben Drew is an avid runner and cyclist. He also writes for The Wired Runner, a website about GPS watches for runners and triathletes.


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date: November 29, 2017


Running, cycling, craft beer


Running, cycling, craft beer

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