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Garmin Forerunner 201 GPS Personal Training Device

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Even though this isn’t quite as amazingly cool & useful as I thought it was initially (due to inherent limitations in GPS technology), I love this little gadget. I just started training for a marathon (I will run it very slowly, but I *will* *finish*!) and I live in a very hilly rural area. It’s always been very difficult for me to know my pace, plan runs, do intervals, etc., but the Forerunner changes everything!

I’ve had a Polar heart rate monitor for several years and it’s been great for timing my runs and monitoring my progress (my average heart rate is much lower when I’m in training, which is gratifying). Still, there are only a few measures it covers, it can only hold one past run’s data, etc. By comparison, the Forerunner is just amazing! 2 year’s worth of runs, a dozen measures on multiple screens, etc. The user interface is very clear & well-designed, although there’s a bit of a learning curve (inevitably, since it has so many powerful features). Nice documentation too.

I was shocked at how small and light it is–even though the screen is huge and very legible. I love that you can see where you run (or bike, or walk) on a map. I love the automatic pause. I was initially very excited by the instant pace, elevation, and grade measures, but they’re what turns out to be too good to be true. Due to the time lag & difficulty of locking onto 4 satellites at once, those quick-changing things don’t work very well. So when I slow down or speed up, it takes a while for the pace reading to reflect that. Now that I think of the pace shown as being what I was doing 10-30 seconds ago, it’s still somewhat useful. Grade is useless, and elevation doesn’t seem to be much better. (I want to try just standing still at the top and bottom of hills I run to see if I can get a more accurate reading).

I’ve had some problems with losing the satellite signal under trees, etc, but wearing the Forerunner on my bicep instead of my wrist and giving it at least 5 minutes to lock on to the signals before starting my run seem to help.

I debated between the 201 and 101 (quite a bit cheaper, uses AAA batteries instead of a rechargeable built-in, can’t hook up to your computer), but the main thing that decided me was someone’s comment that if you can’t upgrade the firmware, it’s a dead-end product (and the 201 has already had several firmware upgrades). I haven’t yet downloaded Garmin’s logbook software and sent data to my computer. It sounds like the software’s not so hot, but you can take the data points and feed them into better programs like TopoFusion.

Very soon there will be similar gadgets that use WAAS for higher GPS accuracy (the Foretrex already does, but it sounded tough to adapt to training needs) and fold in a HRM too. (The Timex Bodylink combines GPS and HRM, but it’s expensive and clunkier, from what I hear). But I’m glad I didn’t wait!

You can read more about my adventures with my Forerunner and other gear at my marathon blog: www.salticid.com/marathon/

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About hcethatsme

  • John in Minnesota

    I purchased a Garmin Forerunner 305 about two months ago, and while I really liked the idea of having the GPS and HRM and tracking data, my experience with Garmin and this particular product has not been good.

    When I first got it, I followed the instructions, got it plugged in and went out for my first run with it. When I got home and plugged it in to my computer USB bus, the computer froze and required a reset to reboot. Once the computer came up again, the USB bus didn’t work. I realized that the likely problem was too much current draw on the USB bus, and was going to need to get a new motherboard 🙁 Darned disappointing, but being a computer and electronics person, I went and purchased the new motherboard and a powered external USB hub and about 12 hours later I was up and running again.

    So, this time I plugged the Garmin Forerunner 305 into the powered USB hub instead of the computer. As soon as I did this, my computer blue screened (crashed) and it did so nearly every time I plugged the Garmin in. At this point I decided it must have been a problem with the Garmin Forerunner and got on their support system. Here is where the real problems happened.

    Their support person told me:
    1. Check for chipset names that are INTEL, NEC, etc. These are compatible chipsets with our devices.
    2. If you have a chipset name that contains SiS, Via, OpenHCD, Ali, or Alr,
    these chipsets are not compatible with our devices and may not allow the USB Card Programmer to function.

    That wasn’t on the package, or in the instructions, but regardless I learned that I had a compatible chipset from the manufacturer. So after letting them know that and that I now expected some compensation for my loss and that something definitely caused my motherboard’s USB bus to go bad they asked that I send the unit, cable, charger, etc back to them so they could determine what might have caused the problem, which I did. After a week or so I asked if anything had been determined about what had happened but they didn’t have any answers. I told them at this point that I expected some compensation for my damaged motherboard – another unit maybe? Something. They offered to send me a new unit and a cadence unit (for my bike) but I indicated that I already purchased the $60.00 cadence unit and that it didn’t work on my bicycle due to the frame/pedal design and that a new unit would help since I really wanted to start using the new toy I bought.

    After getting the replacement unit which didn’t cause any blue screens (after a couple weeks) and seems to be functioning as well as the rest of the ones I’ve read about (not good), Garmin refused to compensate me in any way for my motherboard – I offered to accept the unit that I sent in back as payment – Garmin’s response:

    “Unfortunately, it appears as if we are unable to determine why the failure occurred given the information you provided. Thus we question whether the Forerunner 305 had anything to do with the failure on your PC. The device you provided does meet all specification standards. I apologize we could not provide a more conclusive answer. I will no longer respond to questions regarding the previous unit.”.

    Unfortunately, I had already sent the bad Forerunner 305 back to Garmin along with the crash dump files from my PC and offered to send them the motherboard several times as well – they were never interested in what brand/make/model of motherboard I had – so I was no longer able to determine if a component had failed in the charging circuit of the Garmin and was out of luck.

    And that has been my experience with Garmin. Great idea, but a bad company. There are a lot of problems with Garmin’s products, unlike many better manufacturers like Canon and Apple computer, they don’t deal with the problems in an equitable manner.

    Be ForeWARNED!

  • Still lovin’ the Forerunner. I wouldn’t run without it now! Another reason to choose the 201 over the 101 is http://www.gpsvisualizer.com/forerunner where you can do tons of cool overlays–and it’s free! (Donation recommended)

  • Update: the problem with the Forerunner hooking up to the computer was just that the plug needed to be FORCED into the base unit. Properly seated = no problem. (Thanks to the Garmin Yahoo group for that tip). And there’s already been a firmware upgrade, which has helped accuracy a bit. The logbook software is primitive but cool, and there are many other options.

  • Well, I’ve spent a few hours wrestling with the Forerunner, trying to get the data to the PC, and I’m going to give up for now. It uses a serial port (why the heck not USB???) and I’m assuming it’s some kind of port/irq problem. I used to deal with those all the time and have a good success rate, but I’m rusty now! Anyway, the logbook has a Users menu with a grayed-out Edit Users entry, but now that I look at the Help, it says it’s for “multiple users with multiple Forerunners.”

  • There’s no way I can see to keep multiple profiles, no. Although when you download the run data, you could export them to different files. I plan on installing the logbook software today, so I’ll let you know!

  • Eric Olsen

    excellent! ask and ye shall receive!

  • Thanks! One question. Can two people share it? Can I walk one day and my husband walk the next, and keep two sets of ongoing records?