watchOS 9.2 adds new running features and longer Ultra battery

Technology

watchOS 9.2 started rolling out today along with the iOS 16.2 update, and with it comes two new running features: Automatic Track Detection and Race Routes. The former uses Apple Maps and GPS to detect the exact lane of a track you’re running on, while the latter lets you race against your past self on your favorite routes. Additionally, the Apple Watch Ultra can now get up to 17 hours in Low Power Mode during multisport activities.

Automatic Track Detection can tell whenever you arrive at any standard 400-meter outdoor track. Runners will be prompted to select the lane at the start of an Outdoor Run workout. (If you have to run to the track itself, you’ll be prompted during the workout after arriving.) During track workouts, you’ll also be able to receive lap alerts. If the watch isn’t able to detect the track for whatever reason, users can manually submit that information later in the Fitness app.

Race Routes are a bit different. If you run the same route at least twice, you’ll see an option to race your last or best time on that particular route. Users can access Race Route by hitting the three-dot button in the upper right of an Outdoor Run workout. You’ll see two suggested routes, but you can also use the “Routes” filter to view all the possible Race Routes. During the workout itself, the watch will alert you if you’re running faster or slower than your previous performance. This particular feature isn’t limited to runners, either. Cyclists can do the same with Outdoor Cycling workouts.

Both Automatic Track Detection and Race Routes were teased earlier this year alongside the Apple Watch Series 8, second-gen SE, and Ultra. The features are part of a larger push in watchOS 9 that brought advanced running metrics 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 newest watches. You can try them out so long as you have a Series 4 or later.

While I haven’t had the chance to test out Automatic Track Detection yet, I did try an earlier version of Race Routes when it was part of the watchOS 9 beta earlier this summer. It can be both a motivational and humbling feature, especially if you’ve got a competitive streak. That said, I wouldn’t recommend it for every run or bike ride on a particular route. For me, it was most useful when benchmarking my progress or on days when I felt like I could potentially PR.

There’s some good news for Ultra owners as well. In Low Power Mode, the Ultra can now get up to 17 hours of continuous use during a multisport activity without sacrificing GPS or heart rate accuracy. Battery life highly depends on individual usage, but previously, Apple said the Ultra should be able to last the entirety of an Ironman in this mode. The average Ironman time is roughly 14 hours, so this adds a bit of cushioning for slower triathletes or slightly longer races.