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

Best Running Watch For Cross Country And Track

As a 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 your child has run.

Garmin is the industry standard when it comes to running watches. These two specific watches are fairly affordable and contain everything you need without having to pay for a more expensive running watch.

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

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 pre-competition season or training runs can be highly beneficial.

What Is 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 toy, a good GPS running watch can help your child improve their running if they know how to use it. 

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

(a) help them 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

A GPS running watch, like the Garmin 45, or Garmin 55, uses GPS technology to track how far your child has run. These are the current two watches I recommend, but any watch in the Garmin product line will work. Garmin IS the industry standard when it comes to running watches.

An Apple Watch is a good alternative to a Garmin. While it is not a true running watch (more of an activity tracker), it does keep track of pace and mileage. Kids love Apple Watches and may be likelier to wear them all the time.

The Garmin 45 has the basic features most kids (and adults) need, while the 55 has a few more intermediate features, like more advanced activity tracking (like HIIT – High-Intensity training, sleep tracking, etc).

Regarding kids, I prefer to keep the features simple and the ease of use simple. The last thing we want is for the watch to be a distraction. Either of these watches will work.

If you like data, then some of the more advanced metrics and data points can be interesting.

However, if I were purchasing one for my child, I would probably go with the Garmin 45 or 55. They are cheaper than their more expensive, top-end counterparts and contain everything your child will need.

The watch I own and use right now, myself is the Garmin 55. I also own the 45 and more recently the Garmin 265 which I wrote about here. The 265 is a lot more pricey, but comes with more features which may or may not be useful to a cross country athlete. It does have safety features built in like incident notification and live tracking (when used with a phone) for emergency notifications and peace of mind.

You can check out my comparison charts if you want to see more detailed watch comparisons in the Garmin line.

Final Thoughts

While a running watch can be expensive, and there are many options on the market, I have found that when used appropriately, a GPS watch can help your child train at the proper pace.

I don’t require the kids or adults I coach to use a running watch. But if one is available, verifying that workouts are done correctly can be very helpful.

I have also found that runners who record their runs using a running watch tend to have better accountability because they like to see workout data loaded on their training calendar and love to see improvement trends.