I previously reviewed the Microsoft Band as a running GPS. The takeaway is, well it really isn’t one. It gets the job done, but the data is stranded inside Microsoft’s “Health” servers somewhere, visible only to your phone, with a bare minimum of analysis available. The Band itself has a decently accurate GPS chip, but the screens visible while running aren’t really geared toward real runners. You see worthless information like calories burned on the main view. To get another view with actual, important information like distance run, you must pull down a little windowshade. This only stays down for a little while, and the touchscreen doesn’t work at all if you’re sweaty, so make sure you run in the arctic.
I bring my Microsoft band on nearly every run anyway, despite the suboptimal use as a running GPS, because I like having all my walking and running mileage together in the Microsoft Health cloud (and on the phone app), and I can get alerts, texts, emails, as well as dictate texts to Cortana right from my wrist while my phone is packed away behind me.
So, I figured I’d give the Microsoft Band a real trial, and see if it could get me through an entire marathon.
I wore it early last November in the Richmond Marathon. This was my 3rd marathon in 5 weeks, and I was trying to make it my third sub-3 marathon in those five weeks. (The first two being Steamtown and Marine Corps Marathon).
GPS is a battery killer
If you’ve ever used your phone to navigate a strange city in a rental car and watched the battery drain despite the phone’s getting a charge while you’re driving, you know what a batter sucker GPS is. My previous experience with the Microsoft band (a dozen or so runs at that point) suggested to me that the battery might go 3.5 hours with GPS tracking.
November 15th, I found out.
It was cold, about 25 degrees, at the start. I’d let the band charge the night before and left it off until just before the gun went off. I also turned off Bluetooth to stretch the battery as much as possible. The gun went off, and I went out running 6:40s, and the Microsoft Band dutifully buzzed for me every 6 minutes and 40 seconds or so, alerting me as the miles went by. I had my trusty Garmin Forerunner 305 on my other wrist, since I knew that unit could get the job done no matter what. (It’s been through more than 60 marathons with me.)
By mile 20, my slowest mile, into a nasty wind that made me feel hypothermic (I started to get stupid and dizzy and cold.), the Microsoft Band was hitting the wall. It began buzzing me to tell me the battery was low. I figured it would never make it, since at that point, I had a good 38 minutes or more left to run, and that was assuming I didn’t hit the wall.
Luckily, I didn’t. After I got out of the wind, I was able to pick up the pace again and finish fast, and the Microsoft Band made it all the way.
Final time here is accurate, 2:56:25, though the distance is a bit long. I had plenty of elbow room to run the course correctly (not swinging wide on the corners) so I’m pretty sure I didn’t add 2/10 of a mile to the distance. My Garmin recorded 26.31, which is a little bit closer than it usually records a marathon course. (The noise in GPS signal reception that puts points zig-zaggy on the route instead of in a nice straight line is usually enough to add about an extra quarter mile when I run a marathon.)
I was sort of surprised to see that this effort was not just my longest effort with the band, but also by far the fastest. Of course, I haven’t been running much speedwork (besides sub-3 marathons) for November because I don’t want to fall apart.
I should also note that, thanks I believe to the Hokas I used in this race, Richmond was the fastest of my 3 fall marathons. It was actually my 2nd fastest marathon ever.
Other good news, after I stopped recording the run, the band continued counting my steps as I wandered through the finish festival and a mile back to the hotel. Clearly, GPS is the battery killer, with Bluetooth coming in next.
Why the Microsoft Band Won’t Get You Through Your Marathon
I’m not very fast, but I was around 50th at this marathon. And there are undoubtedly many of you out there thinking, “I can kick your ass, dude, so the band will get me through a marathon.” This isn’t really meant for your ears. The average marathon time in the U.S. is something like 4:20. With my Microsoft Band barely getting through 3 hours, and alerting me to an impending dead battery the entire last 6 miles, I feel confident in saying it will never get an average runner through an entire marathon. At least not with GPS tracking running.
But then, that’s not what this device is really for. It’s aimed squarely at the average fitness type, not pyschos who run marathons. But it’s nice to know that, if you are speedy and stuck without your Garmin, you could use the band and it would probably be OK.