I never ran with anything on my wrist before, but the prospect of running with the Apple Watch was a major factor in me deciding to purchase one. I've been running with mine for a month now and it's been a fantastic experience thus far. The Apple Watch was designed with fitness in mind, and it certainly feels like a very useful fitness companion to me.
Remote Control for my Phone
I use my watch out on the trail primarily as a remote control. I realized early on that I was using both Overcast and the Now Playing glance far more than any other app except Runtime. I have always run with my iPhone for listening to music or podcasts. But my phone is never where it's easy to reach, making it impractical to adjust my music or podcast selection on the go. Controlling audio from the watch is much more convenient, which makes going for a run feel more fun.
Having a remote control for my phone is key, because for the last several months I've been running with my phone in a running belt. It's not really practical to look at your phone to check your stats when it's in a belt, so I just wasn't doing it. Some apps have settings to periodically read your stats to you over audio, but I've never liked that experience because it takes me out of the zone of listening to something or focusing on my run. Being able to quickly glance at my stats on the watch suits my running style far better. It's a huge part of how I use Apple Watch when I run.
Training with Apple Watch
As far as hardcore runners go, I am probably still on the more casual side, but I am trying to push myself to improve my long distance endurance. I've been focusing on maintaining my pace over the course of several miles. Recently I've built up to running 7+ miles at a 9 minute per mile pace. Before I started using Apple Watch on my runs, evaluating my data was a mostly post-run activity for me. Now I find myself checking my pace and split times every 5-10 minutes while I'm running to see how I'm doing. About half way through my run I switch from the stats screen in Runtime to the splits screen to gauge how my mile times are doing. It's been a fairly effective way to gauge my progress and keep myself honest on my longer runs. I wrote a previous article about Runtime for Apple Watch, and in practice I am really enjoying using it to train while running.
Apple Activity and Fitness
Of course, the Apple Watch is a very useful fitness companion even when not running. I keep the activity circles complication on my watch face, and I do generally try to fill it every day. Sometimes I take a day off after a long run the day before, but I like having a visual reminder to stay active. I'm not fanatical about filling the circles every day, so I wish I could configure my circles to act more like a weekly goal than a daily one. But for someone that has never used another fitness tracker, I feel like the Apple Watch is a very useful one.
I also experimented with using Apple's Fitness app to track my run, in addition to tracking it with Runtime. From my testing, the Fitness app felt very accurate. Distance and Pace were very close to what I was seeing with Runtime, which is using GPS to track your route. Of course, the Apple Watch also includes a heart rate monitor, so the Fitness app shows your current heart rate as well as those statistics.
Showing my heart rate is a nice feature for the Fitness app, but I've stopped using the Fitness app on my runs. Its interface for stats doesn't feel well optimized for the watch. I prefer the Runtime watch app that includes all of the stats I care about on a single screen. I don't like swiping between stats on the Fitness app. It feels redundant to track my run on both apps, especially since Runtime tracks my route via GPS and breaks out my pace into split times. Runtime also tracks elevation, which is something I'd like to see in the Fitness app.
My Apple Watch Setup
The key Apple Watch feature for making it a running companion is the Activate on Wrist Raise -> Return to Previous App setting. That means that either Runtime or Overcast remain in the foreground when I raise my wrist. This is critical to me so that I can check my distance with literally just a glance, or skip to a new podcast with a glance and a few taps. I usually launch both apps at the beginning of my run so that I can double tap the digital crown to switch between them. Between them I have everything that I need for my run.
I do occasionally get text message notifications when I am out for a run. I usually don't stop to read or reply to messages when I am out running, and would simply ignore them when my phone is in my running belt, but it is nice to glance at a notification and know immediately if I do actually need to stop to respond to a message. It's easy to glance at the notification without breaking stride, and in a few cases I've used a contextual reply to respond to a message, or let the person know that I'll message them back later.
Because I knew I'd be using it for running, I opted for the black sport Apple Watch with the black sport band. I'm glad I went with the lighter weight model, because I can barely feel it when I'm out running. I've also tried running with the milanese loop, and it's doable in a pinch, but I find the sport band to be better suited for exercise. I tend to wear the watch slightly tighter while running, and the sport band is more comfortable to wear tightly. I tend to wear the milanese loop a bit looser.
I've really enjoyed running with my Apple Watch. Even as just a remote control for my phone, it makes going for a run feel more enjoyable. But I think there's a lot of potential for it as a training tool, especially when it integrates more with other fitness accessories and developers have more access to the native sensors and taptic engine. And of course, when future models include GPS, then we'll really be off to the races. Running with Apple Watch is already great, but I am sure the best is yet to come.