Gear Review: Garmin Forerunner 405CX (Part Two)

fig 1.

fig 1.

Having given the new Garmin 405CX rave reviews a couple of weeks ago when it arrived, I thought it would be a good idea to write a follow-up review now that I’ve got a bunch of training runs under my belt with it.

I’m pleased to say that my opinion hasn’t changed: this is an incredibly clever piece of kit. But more important than the clever design and ease of use,  it really has made my training more effective.

Training smarter with the 405CX

Now, as the Garmin website itself give comprehensive details of all the many, many clever things that this thing can do, I won’t waste your time trying to regurgitate them here. Instead, I’m going to focus on just three screens that I’ve been using on the Garmin 405CX, by way of illustrating how even I, of all people, can finally make the claim that I’m ‘training smarter.’

Figure 1, shown at top left is the screen that I now use most on training runs. As previously noted, the little chap at the top is your ‘virtual training partner’, the little chap at the bottom is you, and the ‘you are ahead by’ numbers relate to exactly how you’re doing in relation to the pace you’ve set for yourself, which is shown in figure 2.

fig 2.

fig 2.

Here, I’ve set it for 8 minute mile pace, but you can easily adjust that by simply stroking the bezel either up or down. Then, once you press the start button, the screen changes to show your virtual partner.

Should you wish to change to a simple stopwatch mode, you simply tap the bezel once. And if you want to see what your heart rate is doing, just tap it again, to go to the screen shown in figure 3.

(Could I also point out at this juncture that as a finely honed athlete in my mid 40s, my resting heart rate is a healthy 60 beats per minute. The somewhat higher reading on this shot seems to be due to the cafetiére of Columbian Roast I had imbibed just before taking these pictures.)

(And while we’re talking in brackets for a moment, I might also add that if, like me, you always struggle to run in the heat, the heart rate function on this thing has proven to me how big an effect the heat has on you, as my heart rate is a staggering 15% higher when running in 24 degrees than it is in 18 degrees of heat when moving at exactly the same pace.)

Training smarter by running slower

As you may know, training at full pelt all the time isn’t the cleverest way to go about it. So for some years now, I have attempted to mix ‘slow’ runs with tempo runs, and fartlek sessions. Yet running slowly all the way through a run (as opposed to just in the last mile or so when I’m knackered) is a skill that has always eluded me.

But with the Garmin, you can tell it just how fast or slow you want to go, and even a total incompetent can run at exactly the right pace to get the most from their training runs.

fig 3.

fig 3.

Listen to your heart…

Another fancy training technique that has always seemed like far too much trouble is ‘running at 75% of maximum heart rate’ which is, by all accounts, the optimum fat burning zone. Yes, I know. Seems like an incredibly nerdy thing to aim for, doesn’t it? But not if you’ve got a Garmin 405CX.

I used it to establish my maximum heart rate by the simple expedient of running up and down sand dunes until I felt sick, before dividing the resulting heart rate by 75%. So now when I go for a slow run, I simply use the heart rate screen shown in figure 3 to make sure that I’m burning fat rather than rubber.

The upshot of all this is that in just three weeks of using the Garmin in this way, I’ve dropped two pounds in weight, I feel fitter than I have in a long time, and I’m performing dramatically better on my tempo runs.

So while I’d love to return to the ‘jumpers for goalposts’ simplicity of my youth, I have to say that if you’re at all serious about improving your fitness through running, you really do need to have a Garmin 405CX.

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Gear Review: Garmin Forerunner 405CX – (Part One)

forerunner 405 CXHaving recently rubbished the abilities of the iPhone 3G as a GPS-enabled training tool, I was delighted when the brand new Garmin Forerunner 405CX finally showed up here at Jelly Baby Towers; the first one that was dispatched to me having, somewhat ironically, become lost in the post…

Nevertheless, having taken the frankly gorgeous unit out of the box and attached the rather nifty ‘clip on’ charger, I set about to read the manual, and quickly realised that attempting to review this thing in one go was slightly pointless; as not only do I want to see if it really is the state of the art as a GPS unit, I’m also keen to see if it’s any use in making my training any more effective.

So this is just Part 1 of the review, where I’ll probably make fun of it’s gadget value a fair bit. But I’ll also be posting Part 2 in a couple of weeks, discussing the heartrate-based calorie counter, followed by Part 3 detailing all of its technical wonderfulness a couple of weeks after that.

Setting up the Garmin 405CX

Well, OK, so after reading the manual, it all sounded pretty straightforward. You control the 405CX’s functions by tapping the relevant words on the bezel, and scroll through the function menus by ‘stroking’ the written part of the bezel in the direction you wish to scroll. The ‘Start/Stop’ button acts as an ‘Enter’ key, and the ‘Lap/Reset’ button acts as a ‘Go Back’ key. So far, so straightforward? Well, yes and no. Even after following the setup ‘wizard’ that makes you try each technique in turn,  I really struggled with this system for about 45 minutes, as it was entirely new to me. But having now lived with the unit for 24 hours, and run with it earlier today, I’m already completely comfortable with it. In fact, it’s very, very clever once you get the hang of it; a bit like the scroll wheel on an iPod, but without the moving parts.

Going for a quick run with the Garmin.

garmin virtual partner modeThe 405CX is just about as high-tech as things get. Not only will it wirelessly sync with your PC or Mac using a USB dongle called an ANT stick, it also comes complete with a wireless heartrate monitor. However, I didn’t bother with the HRM today, as, still struggling with injury, I was only planning on a slow 5.5 miles, at around 8 minute mile pace. So I entered the ‘Training’ mode, noted that the unit acquired satellite reception in 5 seconds flat, selected ‘Virtual Partner’, scrolled the target pace to be 8.0 minute miles, pushed the ‘Start’ button and set off.

I found the display to be easily readable, and it was also easy to tap the bezel and switch to other views including a standard stopwatch. But apart from the GPS measurement function, which is great for analysing your run afterwards, I think that Virtual Partner is the really crucial tool, especially for unsociable weirdos like my good self. The little chap at the top is your partner, the little chap at the bottom is you, and the large display shows exactly how much you are ahead or behind your intended pace. Simples! And an absolute boon to those of us who don’t like running with a real training partner…or, who simply have no friends who run…or simply, have no friends…

The only small flaw came when I got back home and pressed the ‘Lap/Reset’ key button instead of the ‘Start/Stop’ button, which meant that another minute and ten seconds had been added to my time before I realised my mistake and pushed the’Start/Stop’ key.

garmin run pageOnce indoors, the Garmin uploaded the data to my Mac without even being asked, and I was then taken to the Garmin Connect website, where I could view not just a map of my run, but splits for every mile, average pace, quickest pace, and a whole raft of other data. It was quick, seamless and well laid out.

My only quibble is that I couldn’t edit out the 1:10 added to my run by my own clumsy stupidity. However, another quick read of the manual allowed me to alter the Garmin’s settings to ‘Auto Pause’ the timer whenever I stop running in future, so this can’t happen again. And, if I’m honest, this was my fault rather than the unit’s.

So is the Forerunner 405CX any good?

Well, let’s see. It looks great, and is far less bulky than any other GPS unit I’ve ever tried. It acquired a satellite signal in about 5 seconds flat, using something called, if I’m not mistaken ‘HotFix.’ Once I’d gotten over my initial ham-fistedness, the controls turned out to be spectacularly clever and easy to use. It even set the clock to the right time of day, all by itself, using satellites.

Best of all, the ‘Virtual Partner’ function meant that I was able to set a sensible goal for my run, and meet it exactly, which would suggest that this thing really will help me to increase my currently appalling level of race fitness,  by helping me to meet further, slightly more ambitious goals in the not too distant future.

Naturally, it remains to be seen if that will happen. And goodness knows what I’m going to make of the heart rate monitor and calorie counter function when I have a go of that over the weekend.

5 jelly baby ratingFrankly, with an RRP of £329.99, or an Amazon.co.uk price of £281.77, this thing really has to be very good indeed. But in the interests of honesty, my first impression of the Forerunner 405CX is that here, finally, is a GPS unit that gives runners everything they need, including simplicity of use.

So if you have that sort of dosh lying around, this could be exactly what you’re looking for. And so, having failed to find anything wrong with the 405CX that isn’t actually my own silly fault, and which Garmin have a fix for anyway, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to give the Garmin Forerunner 405CX a resounding 5 Jelly Baby Rating. Though in fairness, it probably deserves the whole bag…

Product Specification

• Advanced heart rate-based calorie computation

• Fits most wrists with either the original strap or the included fabric wrist straps

• High-sensitivity GPS receiver with HotFix™

• Touch bezel interface

• Training and motivational features: Virtual Partner®, courses, workouts, goal

• Battery life: up to eight hours (training) or two weeks (power save mode)

• Water resistant to IPX7 (1 meter of water for 30 minutes)

• Weight: 2.11 oz (60 g)

• Display: round four-level gray FSTN, 124 x 95 pixels

• Size (mm): 45.75mm x 70.5mm x 16.4mm

• Distance accuracy: 99% with clear view of sky

• Temp range: -4oF to 140oF (-20oC to 60oC)