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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
These features are unique to
the Forerunner from other GPS units and are specifically for fitness
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.
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.
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.
This feature allow you to set a high
and low pace, if you go beyond either level, an audible alert will
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The Forerunner with its built in
antenna, seems to do a pretty good job acquiring and keeping a
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
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
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.
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
serial cable to the serial port. The other jack is for the
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.
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
have a serial port and cannot be connected to any program to upload or
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.
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