Apple recently held its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), where it unveils new software for its computers, phones, and, of course, the Apple Watch. For the first time, it rolled out a number of advanced training features that might just rival the functionality found in GPS running watches from Garmin, Coros, and Polar.

Apple Apple Watch Series 7
Apple Watch Series 7
Apple Apple Watch Series 7
$439 at Amazon

WatchOS 9 is also packed with a ton of new daily usefulness, like sleep stages, new watch faces, and reminders to take your medicine. I won’t dive into all those details, but you can learn more here. Instead, let’s take a look at the running-specific additions that have me most excited.

apple watch running power
Apple Watches will soon be able to show your real-time running power.
Apple

Running Power

Apple now joins Coros and Polar by measuring power at your wrist, without requiring any kind of external sensor—Garmin’s Forerunner watches can display power but require a chest strap or waist-mounted pod.

More From Runner's World
 
preview for HDM All Sections Playlist - Runners World US

Power has long been a key metric for cyclists and it has slowly proliferated into the running world. Measured in watts, power is a gauge on how much work you’re doing. Say, for example, you did a tempo run over a hilly course and maintained a consistent speed the entire way. You’d have exerted much more effort on the inclines than the descents to keep pace, but your mile splits alone would not reflect the additional work from the harder running. Power, by comparison, shows how hard you’re working regardless of the slope of the road—lock in your watts and you’ll expend the same effort climbing hills as you will cruising flats. Heart rate training is a similar concept, but your beats per minute can be slower to adjust to changes, so it’s not as good when used as a real-time gauge of effort.

We haven’t had the chance to test this new feature from Apple yet, but in our experience across the other brands, the actual number is, at this point, kind of meaningless. That’s because we don’t really know how accurate any watch maker’s numbers are. But, the key thing we’ll be testing is whether the power readings respond predictably. For example, if I hold a steady effort over an undulating course, I’d expect to slow on hills but see my power number remain stable. Likewise, if I run hard up a steep hill and see the watts on the Apple Watch double from what it was measuring on flat ground, I’d expect to see the number double on one of the other watches, too.

apple watch triathlon mode
Apple Watch will support triathlons and duathlons.
Apple

Triathlon Mode

I love to see Apple Watch support multi-sport athletes. I’m not a swimmer, so it’s welcome news that this can be configured for duathlons, too. I also just recently praised Garmin for adding triathlon mode to the Forerunner 255—one of the best valued GPS watches you can get. In this implementation, the Apple Watch will automatically switch between the three activities as well as track your transition times. Of course, the 255 has a battery that lasts up to 30 hours and can make it to the finish line of an Ironman. The Apple Watch? Not so fast. The Apple Watch 7 lasts only up to 7 hours with GPS and significantly less if you’re streaming music, so it would only last for a sprint or Olympic distance tri for many athletes. If you’re in the long game, you’ll still want a traditional sports watch.

apple watch vertical oscillation
Apple Watch will record stride dynamics like vertical oscillation, how much you bounce up and down while you run.
Apple

Stride Length, Ground Contact Time, and Vertical Oscillation

Apple has expanded its list of data fields you can view in real time, and will be including stride metrics that are trickier to capture. Knowing these can help you fine tune your stride to become a more efficient runner. Garmin, for example, requires you to wear a sensor attached to a chest strap or your waistband, so it can measure the movement of your torso, but Apple is measuring this from the watch itself. Stride length is pretty common on GPS running watches, including the Coros Vertix 2 and Polar Pacer Pro. But those watches don’t supply ground contact time and vertical oscillation directly from the device. This is a feature I can’t wait to test against the Garmin Running Dynamics Pod when the software becomes available.

apple watch heart rate zones
Train by zones? WatchOS 9 has you covered.
Apple

Heart Rate Zones

I know I just wrote that power may be a better real-time gauge of your effort than heart rate, but HR-based training isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Many competitive runners can rattle off their HR zones as easily as their kids’ birthdays, and a lot of training plans are structured entirely around HR zones—pace is meaningless if the road veers sharply up or down, but staying in a zone can help you ensure you’re putting in the right effort for your workout. For example, if you’re going out for an easy jog or recovery run, and your Apple Watch says you’re running in zone 3, that means you want to slow it down.

The new software will automatically calculate zones for you, based on your resting heart rate and your max HR. But, if that’s not right, you can tweak them manually to zones you might already be using.

apple watch custom intervals
You can program your own workouts, including rep length and recovery time.
Apple

Custom Workouts

Another sign Apple is serious about performance running: It used the word “intervals.” That’s right, you’ll now be able to set up a workout of your own creation, like 10 by 400 meters with recovery jogs, plus the Watch will give you alerts for pace, heart rate, cadence, and power to keep you on track. This functionality is widely available on GPS running watches, even the entry-level Forerunner 55.

apple watch race activity
Apple Watch will give you a moving target to chase any time you feel like racing.
Apple

Pacer and Race Route

These are technically two different features, but I’m lumping them together because they work in largely the same fashion—helping you chase down a predetermined goal. Though, again, they’re very similar to features we’ve seen from Garmin for a long time now. Pacer is similar to Virtual Partner, where you tell the watch how fast you want to run and it essentially dangles a carrot out in front of you. In Apple’s case, you tell the watch a distance and time goal, and it will give you cues along the way to let you know if you’re ahead of or behind pace. There’s also an on-screen bar to show you where you stand compared to the moving yard stick.

Race Route may be a slightly different implementation. Unlike Garmin, which allows you to dig through your history to find any past activity, Apple lets users race against their “best or latest result on a frequently-used route.” That may be slightly more limiting, but we’ll see when we get to actually use it.

This content is imported from poll. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

So, When Can You Get All This?

Developers have access now and a public beta will be available next month. Most of us, however, won’t see these updates until a software update later this fall. It’s important to note that you’ll need Watch Series 4 or later paired with iPhone 8 or later and iPhone SE (second generation) or later, running iOS 16.

Should You Buy An Apple Watch?

This suite of features really boosts the usefulness of Apple Watch for serious runners. It’s the first real direct shot the company has taken at the established GPS watch makers. But, with a fairly dismal battery life, it still can’t be taken seriously as an option for those doing long outings. For example, you’re not going to track a 5-hour race using GPS and streaming music with the Apple Watch. If that’s your use-case, you need another solution—a GPS watch that plays music, or tote along your phone to offload some of the power-hungry functions.

Then again, for your daily life and ordinary jogs, I maintain that the Apple Watch is a fantastic solution. It still tracks mileage a little long from what I find vs. Garmin, Coros, and Polar (but, for vanity’s sake, it makes my pace on Strava look just a little sweeter!). And, it’s still impossible to beat the streaming music capability—get yourself a cellular-enabled model and, if, like me, you want to leave the phone at home, you still can have an endless library of tunes to call up whatever strikes your mood at the moment.

This content is imported from OpenWeb. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.