watchOS 9.2 rolled out today along with the iOS 16.2 update and includes two new running features: automatic track detection and race routes. The former uses Apple Maps and GPS to detect the exact trajectory of a track you’re running on, while the latter lets you race against your former self on your favorite routes. In addition, the Apple Watch Ultra can now go into power-saving mode for up to 17 hours during multi-sport activities.
Automatic lane detection can tell when you arrive at a standard 400m outdoor lane. Runners are prompted to select the track at the start of an Outdoor Run workout. (If you need to run to the track itself, you will be prompted during training after arrival.) You can also receive lap alerts during track training. If for any reason the watch is unable to detect the track, users can manually enter that information into the Fitness app later.
Race routes are a bit different. If you run the same route at least twice, you will see an option to ride your last or best time on that specific route. Users can access Race Route by pressing the three dots button in the top right corner of an Outdoor Run workout. You will see two suggested routes, but you can also use the “Routes” filter to view all possible Race Routes. During the training itself, the watch warns you if you run faster or slower than your previous performance. This particular feature is also not limited to runners. Cyclists can do the same with Outdoor Cycling workouts.
Both Automatic Track Detection and Race Routes were teased alongside the Apple Watch Series 8, second generation SE and Ultra earlier this year. The features are part of a bigger push in watchOS 9 that brought advanced running stats to the Apple Watch, as well as more detailed workout views, the ability to create custom workouts and heart rate zones. That said, the features aren’t limited to the latest watches. You can try them out as long as you have a Series 4 or newer.
While I haven’t had a chance to test out Automatic Track Detection yet, I tried an earlier version of Race Routes earlier this summer when it was part of the watchOS 9 beta. It can be both a motivating and humbling job, especially if you have a competitive streak. That said, I wouldn’t recommend it for that each running or cycling on a particular route. For me, it was most useful when benchmarking my progress or on days when I felt like I could potentially make a PR.
There’s also good news for Ultra owners. In power saving mode, the Ultra can now be used continuously for up to 17 hours during a multi-sport activity without sacrificing GPS or heart rate accuracy. Battery life depends heavily on individual usage, but previously Apple said the Ultra should be able to last an entire Ironman in this mode. The average Ironman time is about 14 hours, so this adds some cushioning for slower triathletes or slightly longer races.