18th Jul 2013
Strava is a a piece of software that’s quite literally revolutionised my running and biking. I’ve had a smartphone for a while and had experimented with various GPS tracking devices which tell you during and after exercise how far you’ve gone, how fast, how many calories you’ve burned etc. However it was after a friend tipped me off about one called Strava that things really got interesting. Whilst the others all have web based interfaces for logging your activities, letting you see patterns as the weeks, months and years go by, Strave goes one logical step further, by comparing you to others! As you are running or biking along paths and roads it automatically compares your performance with others who have run and ridden the same sections before you. Now, when I get back in, usually before I shower (!), the first thing I do is upload the data to my computer and check out how I did compared to my previous efforts and to those of others. For example a few miles away from the house is Froggatt Hill. There are various Segments that have been automatically generated, and others that have been user-generated, up the hill, and each time I ride it I am ranked alongside (currently) 1214 people who have also ridden the hill. The segment has actually been ridden 4,619 times by 1,214 people which indicates that it’s a fairly popular one. I’ve ridden it 10 times and I can list all 10 of them to compare my times. Like Facebook you can follow other Strava users and they can follow you so you can develop a community of like minded individuals and training partners which makes things very competitive!
That’s where it gets interesting. I accept the fact that it’s not for everybody, and that some people prefer to keep themselves to themselves, or just to pootle along without any outside influence, but for me it’s been fantastic. I get a daily digest email from the 25 people I am currently following, telling me what they’ve been up to, how they did, who put in good times etc etc. It’s the best motivator I’ve ever had for getting out myself so as not to be left behind! It does have its downsides though. A friend who lives locally and commutes over Houndkirk Tor Drive last week found himself in a little push and shove match with an old guy who had been hogging the path and wouldn’t budge to let him past. The said friend realised a hundred metres down the road that he’d acted a bit of a wally simply because he knew he was on for a good segment time. He did the right thing and returned to apologise and shake hands with the old time who’s probably been walkng the track for decades and can remember a time when bikes wouldn’t have been able to cross the rough track, let along be hurtling along trying to break persona; records. I’ve even read of a couple of cases where families are suing Strava over the deaths of their relatives who were apparently chasing down good segment times and came a cropper. Pushing speeds of 50mph at times on a bike is clearly pretty dangerous and it is indeed tempting to squeeze an extra second or two, especially on downhill descents. Then there’s the issue of prevailing weather conditions, something which the software takes no account of, and which can have a dramatic effect on your performance. It’s certainly not unheard of for folk to head out to specific segments to make good use of a prevailing tail wind, which, whilst it isn’t strictly sportsmanlike, is very tempting!