Apple watch for an Ultra-marathon

Hi all.
I am an ultra-runner and do mountain running and long distance stuff.

I currently have a series 2 watch and am very much hoping to get a 4 in the next few weeks.

Using an Apple watch in the ultrarunning world isn’t very popular. Mostly because of the battery life when compared to some of the top end Garmin and Suunto watches that are able to do GPS tracking and still give 48-72 hours of use.

Heres the thing: I am looking at watches, but hardly feel tempted to get one of those vs the Apple series 4. There is just no… ‘enjoyment factor’ in getting those others, whereas I am super excited about the series 4.

So, among apple users, I have 2 questions:
-At what point should I be looking at practicality over the enjoyment of the product?
-Does anyone have any bright ideas about how I can best make use of the apple watch while running for 24-30 hours at a time?

I welcome your views and ideas.

Most GPS watches on the market, regardless of brand, max out at around 8-10 hours of battery life. Garmin and Suunto watches can be charged while tracking. Not Apple Watch. If you’re doing ultrarunning the Apple Watch is not the tool you want.

To extend battery life, you can use an external HR monitor. I would look at this blog about running an Ironman with an Apple Watch The Apple Watch Triathlete

I hear you. It what I mean is, Apple Watch is what I WANT, even thought it doesn’t make sense practically. The balance between practical gear vs the enjoyment factor.
The upper range Garmin and Suunto can give up to 72 hrs by using ‘smart’ tracking. The gps pings once every few minutes instead of every second so they can really get a lot out of the battery.

Yes, that plus being able to charge while running, if you are carrying a little power pack (or have someone who can hand one off to you for a few minutes). You might find this useful:

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Thanks for sharing. Looks like I have some reading to do!

Is there any way to have 2 or more watches and just swap out for the hot/charged one periodically? No clue, thinking outside the box.

Has crossed my mind. Thanks for the suggestion. Has anyone paired two watches to one phone? Im wondering how seamless the activity tracking is if you did that?

I guess it depends on which platform you use for your data: Apple’s own activity / exercise apps does not look to be easy to tinker with.
Your best bet is to export the data (gpx + HR data) via some other app to a platform that allows you the merge.
All of this IF you can pair 2 watches to one phone.

IMO this is too much hassle over using a dedicated watch for the ultras…

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CGPGrey has lived the multi-watch lifestyle, as has Federico Viticci.

I imagine you’ll end up recording multiple workouts (one per watch, and possibly multiple per watch if you have to switch watches a few times). The net results should work out OK, but you won’t have a single contiguous workout through the whole event - just a handful of shorter workouts.

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I am far from an ultramarathoner (I run a just-under 40:00 5k :grinning:), so I’ve never encountered your exact problem. I do have a couple of perspectives for you to consider, though.

First, there is something to be said for getting what you want vs. getting what would be practical. When it comes to automobiles, I’m an Audi enthusiast. I’ve had more than several over the years, and I love them. For a couple of years, I drove a VW New Beetle after thinking that a more practical (and less costly) car would be acceptable. Objectively, the Beetle was a fine car, nothing wrong with it. Even fun to drive. But I really didn’t like it. It wasn’t what I wanted and that made me dislike the car somewhat. My experience might have been colored by the fact that I absolutely loved, loved, loved the Audi I had right before the Beetle. Considering you own a Series 2 Watch, you could end up in the same place I was.

On saving battery life, would it be possible/practical to run mostly in airplane mode and turn it on once in a while (or as often as you want) to check distance, pace, etc.? My guess is it would not, but just in case my guess is wrong I thought I’d mention it.

Of course, if funds are unlimited, there’s no reason you couldn’t buy both the Series 4 Watch and the dedicated running watch. :sunglasses: I wouldn’t know how to explain that to your spouse, however.

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And of course there is always the “get the AW, go for a few runs and, if not satisfied with the reality, return within 14 days.”

Having read all of the above and being a half marathoner and up, I’d get a Garmin/Suunto for the Ultras. The hoops you’d need to go through to get the AW to work would do my head in. :slight_smile:

Of course, you could get both! :smiley:

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I think there are some great points above. First, in my experience, you can get a marathon in one charge, but not too much more. I would also say that if 90% of your runs are under 4-5 hours, and you want some of the other niceties of having an AW, then I say go for it. But, if on race day, you want more than a timer/hr monitor, I’d make special plans for race day.

Second, I wear my watch 23/7–one hour for charging. I did the same when I had a Garmin. The Garmin was significantly bigger and tended to get in my way more (fitting under shirtsleeves, hitting doorways—for real—and while working out). I really, really liked my Garmin, but I’m sticking with the AW for several other reasons: answering phone calls, responding to texts, etc.

Lastly, who knows, maybe the AW Series 5 will have more battery life—pure speculation of course.


I have a series 1 but I’m not a runner. Currently my watch goes all day on a charge and usually has 50% power when I put it on the charger at night. I have used it two days without charging and still had some power left. You might try measuring battery usage while training to get an idea how much drain there is while running. Putting it in theater mode will reduce battery usage by keeping the display off.

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I am not as extreme as that but have a 75km mountain trail coming up in less than 2 weeks. Estimated time is in the range of 12-13 hours.

First of all I noticed that the watch lasts a lot longer when I use iSmoothRun as my tracking app instead of the standard activity app. For the 12 hours my estimate is that it is on the border. So, yes I have also been thinking on what contingency actions I can come up with.

Last year (50K, 8 hours) I had taken a power bank, but that was mostly for my old iPhone 6. I expect the iPhone XS to last me the 12 hours now. Maybe I’ll take the power bank again just for the watch and using a sport loop that I can adjust such that it clamps the charger to my wrist as well.

Basically what I’m saying is that I agree with wanting to run with the AW and going out of my way to make sure it survives. What helps of course is that I am not planning on winning the race or coming anywhere close to a podium place. :smirk:


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Yes, both my wife and I have two watches paired to each of our iPhones (we each have a SS watch for dress, and a Sport for workouts). The Auto-Switch feature works pretty fast as well, and syncs the Activity data in less than a couple minutes after changing watches.

Your watches share Activity and Workout information, so your progress automatically updates after you switch. If you put on a different watch to work out, you can still see all your steps, stand credit, and exercise credit for the day. Depending on how much information needs to sync, it might take a minute for you to see all your progress.


I’m an ultrarunner too. I got an Apple Watch 4 last October and I love it. I use it for my weekday runs of 1-2 hours, usually listening to podcasts or music. I use either the Workout app, or the Strava App, and use RunGap to upload runs recorded with the Workout app to Strava and Garmin’s Connect site. I have to say I enjoy the watch more for its integration in the Apple ecosystem and I would not have bought it as my sole running watch due to its limitations, primarily the battery life.

I also have a Garmin Vivoactive HR (2nd gen I think) that I got a couple of years ago as a refurb. I use that for anything longer than 3-4 hours. The battery lasts around 11 hours and during 100 milers, I put it on a charger and put it in my pack while it’s charging. I’ve used this method several times in races up to 35 hours.

This approach is working well for me. I don’t wear the Apple Watch in trail races because I’m afraid I’d trash it if I fall, which happens – I have nice scratches on the crystal and bezel of an older Suunto when I did just that.

I plan to keep using the Garmin until it dies, and then look at something similar from Garmin, or perhaps the Coros Apex.

Hope this helps.


I think that’s a great point. The ultra marathon itself is 30 ish hours, once a year (let’s say). While the training for it is in the region of 1 hr to 6 hrs, over the course of 6 months (or more). So, the AW will work for 98% of the runs in I’m doing, and simply leaves me with a logistical problem for the 2% of the time, I.e, the race.
What’s more is with the AW, I get to take advantage of all the other cool stuff the rest of the hours in a day when not running.
This helps me with some perspective.
I have also tried something on my last training run. I didn’t use any tracking app. Just wore the watch and let it do it’s usual thing tracking steps. I packed my handheld gps in my running pack to get a good measure of distance. The AW, just by tracking steps, was very close to the actual distance, and the battery obviously did much better than it would with the gps running.
So, this is helping me come to a solution. I think I’ll move forward on getting the series 4, and plan on carrying my handheld gps, which lasts 20 hours on 2 changeable aa batteries, to give me the total dist and, and draw me a seamless track of my whole run! How’s that sound!


I do a lot of endurance events and am in the same boat as you. Unfortunately for what you want to do you’ll likely need a dual training/race setup. This is only for now as the technology catches up. This would involve having an Apple Watch for every day use, and almost all training sessions under 6 hours (fully charged device).

1.) you should definitely wait until the new Apple Watch comes out in 10 or so weeks because the battery life may be a non issue at that point (but I doubt it). If you decide to get the 4 anyway it will then be discounted.

2.) The Apple Watch will be fine for your training sessions that are under 6 hours (for the Apple Watch Series 4, again- wait).

3.) For events (races and long training sessions) you should look into getting something like a used Garmin Fenix 3 which can be had for maybe 50 dollars. I have one and use it for adventure travel, long distance hiking (30+ miles/day), long distance biking, etc… The tracking can be set to ‘economy mode’ and it makes the battery last days with periodic charging. Note this option requires an external heart rate monitor but you’ll have all of your metrics, albeit on another platform. You could also look for a cheap Fenix 3 HR. I think the key is to minimize the times you actually need to use it so you can use your Apple Watch as your main device and not have to manage so much external data.

4.) look at getting a sapphire watch face vs the sport model, since it dramatically improves the screen durability (within reason). You’ll be amazed how many times you bash your wrist into branches and rocks on a long trail run until you start keeping track. This won’t matter cost-wise too much if you consider adding the cellular model which somehow doesn’t hurt the battery life too much.

Again this is an issue of having to wait for technology to ‘catch up’. I preordered the first Apple Watch and stopped using it for these types of activities almost immediately. The battery life was unfortunately not up to par, and it was not durable for the environments I needed to bring it into. Now the tech is much better and the benefits are great with the introduction of the cellular options, automatic calling of emergency contacts for detection of things like rapid heart rate/arrhythmia while not moving (I’m a doctor and actually trust these functions), and longer (relatively) battery life : most importantly when you’re doing something like surfing, or are out on a long run without your phone you have recourse if there is a medical emergency. This finally pushed the pluses ahead of the minuses for endurance/adventure athletes. Once the battery life is improved to >24 hours of continuous tracking then we’ll finally be in a place where we can go down to a single device. Durability could also stand to be improved.

I can’t tell you how much it drives me crazy to have things divided into Apple Health and Garmin Connect (the workouts do get logged into Apple Health but they don’t have any details, just workout duration). My ideal setup would be just the Apple Watch, my automatic analog dive watch for ‘nicer social events’ (and diving!). For now it’s those two plus the Garmin for when I know I need the data and/or it’s going to get bashed around.

Good luck and let’s hope the iPhone/Apple Watch event brings us good news!


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I am so amazed.
Yesterday I did 12 hours of running with the series 4 in workout mode, with power saving turned on, and it only went down to 50%. Thats way better then I expected. Very happy with that.