best running watches for cross country and track - showing runners in a cross country meet

Best Running Watch For Cross Country And Track Athletes

As a sports performance and run coach, I am often asked what is the best running watch for cross country or track.

For Cross Country and Track athletes, I like and recommend the Garmin 45, or Garmin 55. These watches use GPS technology to track how far each athlete has run and monitors their intensity levels during training.

However, for athletes who prefer to wear a regular watch, the Apple Watch is a great alternative. I coach several athletes who use and are happy with their Apple Watch.

Why Garmin?

Garmin is the industry standard when it comes to running watches. I have been using Garmin watches exclusively since 2010 and every model I have ever owned has been a happy purchase and useful tool in my training as well as the athetes I coach.

These two specific watches (the Garmin 45 and 55) are fairly affordable. They contain everything you need the most common training metrics without having to pay for a more expensive running watch.

Do not use GPS watches during Track or Cross Country meets

First and foremost, please understand that most organized cross country and track meets do not allow athletes to wear running watches during competitions. Wearing one during a competition could get you disqualified. Please make sure you fully understand the rules going into the competition.


Using a running watch as a training tool during your practices and pre-competition season can be highly beneficial. Running watches take the guesswork out of what is really going on during your training by providing useful feedback such as heart rate, the need to recover via recovery scores, and more.

Garmin Forerunner 55, GPS Running Watch
Best for: Those looking for an affordable running watch that has all the needed features without all the feature bloat that comes from high end watches.
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Why use a running watch?

A running watch is a specialized watch that can track a runner’s pace, level of intensity, and distance, as well as a whole lot of other useful metrics for analyzing one’s training. While it may seem like a luxury item or even a toy at first, a GPS running watch can help your athlete improve their running.

All running watches keep track of pace and mileage, which can:

(a) help track and cross country athletes track improvements in their running speed and distance, but 

(b) more importantly, ensure they are running their training runs at the right level of training intensity.

In some types of runs, we want to run fast (to build speed and stamina), and in other runs, we want to run slow (to build endurance).

A GPS running watch can help your child maintain a steady pace at the right level of intensity in order to get in a good quality workout without fizzling out towards the end because they started their run too fast. 

We have a saying among the athletes I coach. Anyone can go for a run. We want to train so we get the appropriate training outcome. A GPS running watch can help.

My Running Watch Recommendations

My current recommendation for those seeking an affordable, introductory watch is the Garmin 45, or Garmin 55. Each uses GPS technology to track how far you run. Any watch in the Garmin product line will work and some of the more intermediate level watches provide even more capability, but with an added cost. Beyond the Garmin 45 and 55, I would look at the Garmin 245, 255, or 265.

Note: The Garmin 45, 245 and 255 are back models. They will be phased out over time. The current entry level watch model is the Garmin 55 and the current intermediate level watch is the Garmin 265.

My recommendation if choosing a Garmin alternative

Garmin is not the only player in the sports/running watch industry. An Apple Watch makes a great alternative. While it is not a true dedicated running watch (more of an activity tracker like the Garmin 55), it does keep track of pace and mileage and has gotten a lot better with their latest models.

The big advantage of an Apple watch over the Garmin is that kids love Apple Watches. Since it is an all-purpose watch (with activity tracking added), they may be more likely to wear them at all times, whereas the Garmin is usually just worn during workouts.

Other things to consider when selecting a Cross Country or Track GPS watch

When it comes recommending a running watch for kids and teens, I recommend that you keep the features list to the basic needs. Mainly tracking distance, heart rate (intensity) for the reasons of keeping things simple and ease of use. The last thing we want is for the watch to be a distraction. Either of these watches will work.

While some of the more advanced metrics and data points on more expensive watches can be interesting, they can be more difficult to use and interpret what the watch is trying to tell you.

If I were personally purchasing one for my child, I would go with the Forerunner 55. They are cheaper than their more expensive, top-end counterparts and more than capable. In fact, the Forerunner seems about the same level of quality than some of my more expensive models.

When I researched for my own purchase, I found that new electronics and software in the latest Garmin 55 is updated and newer that the more sophisticated models that came out a couple years prior.

I myself own the Garmin 55. I also own the previous 45 model and more recently purchased the Garmin 265 which I wrote about here. The 265 is a way more pricey and overkill for middle school and high school track and cross country athletes, but it does have some amazing features for adult runners.

For example, the Garmin 265 has safety features built in like incident notification and live tracking (when used with a phone) for emergency notifications and peace of mind. And, I love the built in heart rate variability which is used to calculate a recovery score.

Final Thoughts

While a running watch can be expensive, I have found that when used appropriately, a GPS watch can help your child train better.

I also found that as athletes tune in to their training metrics, it creates a boost in accountability and program adherence when it comes to sticking to their workouts. I also found that athletes like to share their runs on Strava and follow their teammates.

In my coaching practice, I don’t require the kids or adults I work with to use a running watch. However, if one is available, verifying that their workouts are done correctly is extremely useful. So useful, that many team coaches I know use a running watch combined with Strava to ensure their athletes are training during the off-season.

I also use the training metrics to set up age-appropriate workouts and as a way to coach athletes to do the workouts correctly. This way I can show tangible results over time because we have a data trail and can graph progress.