Garmin’s Forerunner

 Personal Trainer Series

Forerunner 201

October 10, 2005
Review By: Sam Penrod

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The Garmin Forerunner takes basic GPS navigation and turns it into a system for managing and keeping track of a fitness program.   Similar to Garmin’s Foretrex series, these wrist units are designed to allow for measurement and timing of exercise routines, through walking, jogging, running and even biking.  However they also include most of the features in a basic GPS unit, such as marking waypoints, reviewing track logs and could even work for geocaching.  This review is specifically for the Forerunner 201.  While all three have the same basic features, the differences in the 101 and 301 are found later in this review.  The Forerunner 101 lists on the street for $110, the Forerunner 201, for $150 and the Forerunner 301 for $300.  Check discount prices here.

The Forerunner is a wrist GPS unit, with a built in antenna and small screen.  It is lightweight, less than three ounces and can be connected to a serial port to upload and download information. (Cable is included with package)  It originally shipped with "Forerunner Logbook" software, a program which allows for data from the Forerunner to be downloaded, to keep track of your exercise routine. And as of the Fall of 2005, the Forerunner 201 package now includes the more sophisticated "Training Center" software, which was designed for the Forerunner 301.  However, users who bought a Forerunner 201 which did not have this software, can download the "Training Center" software free of charge. Click Here 

The Forerunner is also compatible with MapSource and can both receive and send information such as waypoints and tracklogs from MapSource.  (No MapSource software is included with the package, but if you already have it, the Forerunner is compatible.)  Tracklogs created on the Forerunner can also be seen on maps in MapSource.  (Although it will only download your last ten tracklogs, even though the Forerunner seems to retain track data for a much longer time.  Garmin claims it stores up to two years of training history.) 

Although the Forerunner itself is not mapping capable, it does have a map page where tracklogs and waypoints can be seen, in relation to your location.  The scale goes from 120 miles down to 20 feet. You cannot pan the map.  The Forerunner includes additional features from a basic GPS, such as the ‘Virtual Partner’, which helps keep you on pace, with a time and distance you specify.  There is also, ‘AutoPause’ which stops your timer when you stop moving, for example at an intersection or stop light.

Included in the Forerunner 201 package, is the Forerunner 201, wrist extension strap, A/C charger for the internal battery, serial data cable, training software, manual.

The Unit

The Forerunner is 2.75 ounces and has a wrist strap attached.  An expansion strap is also included.  The GPS has a built in antenna and the screen is about 2/3rds the size of the unit.  There are six buttons: power, mode, reset, enter and zoom in and zoom out.  Also, the reset and enter keys double as a lap key and start/stop, when the unit is in the specific data field mode.

Main Menu

The main menu page is accessed by pressing the mode key and it features four categories:


The history is basically the equivalent of a ‘tracks” page in a basic GPS.  What I found to be nice is that you can go back to a specific date and compare your time and distance, with what you did with your current run.  You can look at Last Run, Last Week, Last Month and History Totals.  You can see specifically your run time, distance, average pace (by mile) and calories burned.

Training Assistant

These features are unique to the Forerunner from other GPS units and are specifically for fitness training.

Auto Pause and Lap
This automatically stops the timer, when you stop or slow down to a user specific pace.  It is helpful if you have to stop at a stoplight or for traffic, but don’t want it to affect your moving average, etc.  You can also specify when to trigger a lap.  Default is set for 1.00 mile, but you can customize it for a marathon, 10K, 5K, etc.

Virtual Partner

This may be the most helpful feature in the Forerunner.  It allows you to set a goal, for how far you want to run and in how much time you want to do it.  It will give you a message on the screen telling you how far ahead or behind you are of your ‘partner.’  You can customize the distance and time.

Interval Training
This allows you to specify a distance to run and how long you can rest, before resuming.  Or how long you run and how long you can rest.  Gives audible alerts for when you have traveled the distance or time, when you are eligible to rest.

Pace Alert
This feature allow you to set a high and low pace, if you go beyond either level, an audible alert will sound.

Time/Distance Alert
You can customize this feature to give you an audible alert to when you run for a specific time and or distance.  Default is 30 minutes and 1 mile.


This is where the Forerunner doubles as a basic GPS unit, where you can create a waypoint or navigate to a waypoint.

Remove Map Mode
You can eliminate the map screen, in the rotation of screens in the Forerunner.  If it is switched off, this option switches to ‘Add’ Map Mode.  You can also Orient the map to ‘North’ or ‘Track’ up.

Mark Location
This is how you mark and create a waypoint.  It is also the only way to see your current lat/lon and altitude.  You can edit the specific lat/lon, the waypoint symbol and name, up to six characters.

Find Location
Navigating to a waypoint is done in this menu.  Options include ‘all’ waypoints, ‘nearest’ waypoints and ‘delete all.’    When you select a waypoint to navigate to, the map screen appears on the left and an arrow and distance to the waypoint, shows up on the right.  You can navigate to the waypoint on this page, including a geocache.  (There is no dedicated geocaching function, although the Forerunner is compatible with EasyGPS, a program used to upload geocaches/waypoints to a GPS unit.)  By selecting a specific waypoint, you have the option of ‘delete’, ‘map’ and ‘goto’ as well as editing the name, symbol, lat/lon, and elevation.

Back to Start
When you begin your run, the Forerunner can lead you back to your starting point.  It will use the internal tracklog to return you to the beginning.  Similar to Garmin’s trackback in other units.  

Orient Map
This gives you the option of ‘North’ up or ‘Track’ up in the mapping page.


The settings page is similar to other GPS units, where you can set time zone and units such as miles or kilometers.  The ‘Custom Page’ allows you to set a data page with the data fields you are most interested in.  I like the time of day, distance and total time on the run.  But there are several other options, such as calories burned, pace, elevation, grade (of up or downhill.)  ‘Set Profile’ allows you to enter your weight and then specify the desired pace times for running, jogging, walking, etc.  (This is to calculate calories burned.)  ‘Set Display’ is where you specify how long the backlight remains on and set the contrast of the display.  ‘Set System’ is for the beeps, either for a message or when you touch a key.  There are also numerous languages available that can be selected here.  

Data Pages

There are three data pages, the custom page, where user can set data fields, as well as the time, pace and distance page and another page which features lap pace, lap time and lap distance.  This is basically a stopwatch for your run/walk.  When you are on this screen, is where the lap and start/stop buttons are activated, which double as the reset and enter button in the other screens.  To reset your run, hold in 'reset' for three seconds, (it will countdown from three before resetting.)    When you have the timer running, is when pressing the lap key will start a new lap if you want to measure distance, for example on a track.  Otherwise the lap distance goes to the value set up in the system.  When you have a data page on, use the arrow keys to toggle between the different data pages.

Satellite Acquisition

The Forerunner with its built in patch antenna, seems to do a pretty good job acquiring and keeping a satellite lock.  We found it is best to wait until you are outside, before turning it on.  If you have it on inside and don’t get a lock, a message will appear within a couple of minutes, asking if you are indoors. 

This allows you to switch the GPS function to 'off.'  When we were outside, we typically had a lock in 30 seconds and once we had a lock, had no problem keeping it while we were on our run or walk.  There is no satellite page with the Forerunner, however by pressing the ‘mark’ key, you can find your current lat/lon and elevation.  A small satellite dish on the left hand side flashes while acquiring satellites and is steady, when you have a satellite lock.

Power On Screen

When you power on the Forerunner, it will show you the progress of getting a satellite lock, with a graph.  It also shows you how much internal battery time (listed in hours) you have left.


The Forerunner 201 and 301 have a built in lithium battery, with an average battery life of 15 hours.  It typically requires two to three hours for a complete charge.  The battery charger is included with the package.  There is a battery level indicator on the left side of the display to show you how much battery time you have left.   A message flashes on the screen while the battery is being charged and changes to say 'battery charge complete', when it is fully charged.  As with most Lithium batteries, you do not need to allow the battery to be completely discharged before re-charging.

Serial Connection

To connect the Forerunner to the battery charger and serial connection, a supplied bracket snaps on the back of the unit between the unit and the wristband.  You then connect the serial cable to the serial port.  The other jack is for the battery charger.


Yes, you can wear your Forerunner in the rain, if you really like to run in the rain.  Garmin says it is safe to keep it in one meter of water for up to 30 minutes.  This should get you through even the worst downpour.


There is a backlight available, accessible by quickly pressing the power key.  You can set it in the settings, to how long you want it to stay on.  Default is 15 seconds.  Once you activate the backlight, it will turn on each time you press any key. You cannot change the backlight level, it is either on or off.

Forerunner 101

Is more of a basic unit and does not have an internal battery.  It runs on two AAA batteries and is slightly thicker and weighs more with the batteries.  It does not have a serial port and cannot be connected to any program to upload or download data.  

Forerunner 301

The 301 model is the optimal unit,  but at almost twice the cost of the 201.  But for those who are serious about using the Forerunner in an exercise program, this model may be worth it.  There are several additional features, including a heart rate monitor. The receiver is integrated within the Forerunner 301, but you have to attach the heart rate transmitter around your chest. Garmin uses a transmitter with an individual digital code, so you can exercise in close proximity to others, who also are using these kind of heart rate monitors, without any interference. The unit also recognizes your heart's ability and will allow you to match your exercise to it, if you so desire.  The heart monitor includes alarms, if your heart rate goes beyond levels you set.  The 301 also has USB capability, for both faster data transfer and charging the internal battery.  The history and tracklog also has more capacity. There are three 'sport' modes, for running, biking and other, which can separate your workout histories. Your custom settings are kept separate for these different modes, since you may want to monitor different data when running, compared to when biking, for example.  And there's an advanced training assistant, which has far more capabilities than in the 101 and 201 models. It's possible to program not only a certain speed for a certain distance, but to make complete workouts, where the distance or time for the different segments can be set individually. Within each segment, you can then set targets for a certain speed, heart rate or energy consumption, whichever you prefer. Loops are allowed in your programs, so you can repeat certain parts of it any number of times. By using the Training Assistant program on your PC, it's also possible to schedule these different workouts you've composed to certain days, and then transfer the schedule to the Forerunner 301. After doing that, you can then get the task of the day by just looking at the Forerunner 301. The simpler models allow you to navigate to a certain point, if you need help finding your way around your exercise track. This comes in handy if you frequently are away from your home turf, but want to keep your shape up anyway. Unlike the other models, the Forerunner 301 can assemble a selection of the stored waypoints into a route, for you to follow. Sequencing through the waypoints then works just like with an ordinary GPS unit, like an eTrex, for example. With the 101 and 201, you have to manually change your destination each time you pass a waypoint. You can also look at Garmin's own specifications on the 301 here.  (Thanks to Anders Persson for sharing his insights about the 301.  He has written a review on the 301, however it is only available in Swedish. )  


Can I use the Forerunner on a bike?
Yes, there is a setting ‘set units’ where you can set the pace/speed mode to ‘biking.’  (Default is set to ‘running.’)

Can I use the Forerunner in a car?
Yes, but the unit seemed quite confused like Superman was wearing it, when it comes to speed, lap and pace.  It seemed to mess up our averages of actual exercise.

Would you say the Forerunner is a suitable unit for basic GPS navigation?
Yes, for basic navigation, such as what you would get out of the basic eTrex or Geko models.  I have not personally compared it to the Foretrex, but from reviewing the Foretrex capabilities, the Forerunner seems identical, with the added features of the Training Assistant.  However, there is no “tracks” page in the Forerunner, like in the Foretrex.  There really is a tracklog however, but it can only accessed by downloading the data in MapSource.

Other Observations

I have not really used the Forerunner for its fitness training, however my wife uses it almost daily and trained for several 5K runs with it.  She reports that the Forerunner made it quite convenient to know at anytime where she was distance-wise in the run along with her pace.  It also allowed for her to take a different route anytime, without having to stick with the same pre-measured route for her run.  As far as accuracy, the Forerunner seems to be pretty good, as compared to a pedometer or odometer in a car.  Although she did report that when taking the same route, the final destination would vary, but usually less than 200 feet in a three mile long run.  This can probably be attributed to variations in GPS accuracy.


The Forerunner product seems to do a good job for what it is designed for, as an electronic personal trainer.  Using the added software of Training Center will help those who are really trying to get into shape. While I have used the Forerunner more for GPS applications rather than for exercise, my wife who has never really cared about my interest in GPS, does like the Forerunner and says it has helped her keep track of her progress.  It is lightweight, easy to read and the virtual partner is the feature she likes the most.  And it has been quite easy for her to use the basic features she is interested in.   Overall we would say that the Forerunner 201 seems to be a good product for the money and we have found few problems with using it.  If you want it to help you with an exercise program of walking, jogging, running or biking, the Forerunner seems to fit what you need, while also offering some basic GPS functions.

Questions?  Comments?  Corrections?  Suggestions? Email Sam Penrod

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