I consider myself an obsessive runner, and most of my family and friends would no doubt agree, given how much I talk about running. I’m also, generally speaking, an Apple Watch fan, but those two things have been hard to reconcile in the past, as run tracking from Garmin and other dedicated sports watch brands has been much better than on the Apple Watch.
Third-party Apple Watch fitness apps like WorkOutDoors offered a workaround, but to train for the Berlin Marathon I went back to the awesome Garmin Epix 2 to track my runs because the battery life, the accuracy, workout analysis, and depth of recorded data were simply better than the Apple Watch.
The Apple Watch Ultra landed just before the Berlin Marathon, along with numerous upgrades to the native running experience, which I detailed in my Apple Watch Ultra review. So I used both the Garmin Epix 2 and the Apple Watch Ultra 2 to track my 2hr 28min PB marathon in Berlin and then my rather slower run at the London Marathon a week later.
Here are five things that stood out about the watch after using it for both marathons.
1. The Apple Watch Ultra’s overall GPS accuracy is excellent…
The Apple Watch Ultra and the Garmin Epix 2 both use dual-band GPS which promises greater GPS accuracy in difficult conditions, such as among tall buildings or tree cover. The Epix 2 was the most accurate watch I’ve ever tested, but the Apple Watch Ultra matched it in Berlin. The Apple Watch Ultra was actually more accurate in London – the skyscrapers and tunnels around Canary Wharf sent both watches into a tailspin, but the Ultra held up better.
In Berlin, the Epix 2 covered 42.57 km in total, while the Apple Watch Ultra covered 42.54 km, both probably very close to my actual distance traveled if you take into account the fact of passing in front of other runners and not being able to follow the official racing line. , which takes you beyond the official distance of 42.2 km.
In London, the Epix overshot considerably, recording 43.19km, while the Apple Watch Ultra recorded 42.55km and was significantly more in line with the mile markers on the course throughout.
2. … But the Apple Watch Ultra kicks off a weird beat
While the distance tracking feature on the Apple Watch Ultra is great, it has a weird quirk where the recorded split or lap pace is always very slow initially. So at the start of each mile in London it showed a much slower average pace for that segment than the one I was running, before gradually picking up the right pace by the end of the segment. It’s not ideal for pacing and doesn’t happen when using WorkOutDoors rather than the native tracking app, which is odd.
3. Optical heart rate monitor got worse
Previous versions of the Apple Watch have been some of the best optical heart rate trackers I’ve tested, but the Ultra isn’t all that impressive on that front, and during the Berlin Marathon it often didn’t. gave no heart rate reading. In fairness, wrist-worn heart rate monitors will always struggle (“a very unfriendly measuring spot” according to the heart rate monitor expert we interviewed), but you can pair them with an external monitor and I used a chest strap with the watch at the London Marathon for accurate heart rate data.
4. Apple Watch Ultra battery life is two days including a marathon
One of the big upgrades to the Series 8 Apple Watch Ultra is battery life. The Ultra is listed as lasting 36 hours, compared to 18 for the Series 8. In fact, I found that the Ultra lasted me 48 hours, even when that time frame included a marathon.
I wasn’t listening to music on the watch during marathons and ran them a bit faster than the average person, but even so you can wear the watch to track your sleep the night before and then head out for your marathon confident the Ultra is going to last the distance.
That said, the Ultra still falls well short of sports watches. Even the Garmin Epix 2, which has an always-on AMOLED display, lasts me four to five days, including a marathon.
5. The Apple Watch Ultra won’t help you recover from a marathon
One thing Apple has avoided with the Ultra is any type of training and recovery analysis, which is done very well on Garmin watches, as well as those from other brands like Coros and Polar.
In the days after the marathon, the Apple Watch Ultra always prompted me to fill my activity rings, while the Garmin Epix 2 showed that my training readiness was just as low and told me how many days I would need to recover from my efforts. It’s common sense after a marathon, but it highlights the fact that the Apple Watch Ultra is purely a tracker, rather than a device you can use to guide your training.