…Long Live Strava
By now as a cyclist and or runner you have likely heard of Strava, which bills itself as a community of athletes from all over the world. The service is deceptively simple to use and I have a love hate relationship with Strava. Depending on the day, the circumstance and the athlete in question is when I have thoughts of deleting my own account. I have had this inner dialogue going on between my ears ever since Strava went live. I knew it was only a matter of time that I would write an article that would likely be controversial and land me in comments hell. That’s OK I am big boy and can handle it. Before you send in your flaming comments take the time to read the ENTIRE article.
All you have to do to get up and running on Strava is:
- Set up a free account
- Record your athletic activities using one of many supported GPS devices
- Upload your activity from your GPS device
- View your activities on Strava
So what will Strava show me?
- Track and Analyze
- Track your rides, your performances using various metrics we as endurance athletes are used to seeing.
- Compare and Compete
- Compare yourself to other athletes and see how you stack up
- Challenge Yourself
- Join monthly challenges such as mileage and or climbing goal-based challenges
- Find new athletes in your area, connect, chat and generally talk smack
- Find new routes and “segments”
- Manage Gear
- Track the mileage on your bikes and shoes
Doesn’t sound so bad what’s your issue with Strava?
I have several issues with Strava not unlike other social networks.
Change for change sake
In modern web and mobile-based applications, you get use to a group of features and then they change, usually suddenly. While as a technology consultant in my day job I get it. Change needs to be frequent to remain relevant. As a coach and athlete, I understand that there are going to be new and novel ways to measure performance but I often find that many of the tried and true ways of measuring performance are still relevant today.
Defining fair competition
One of the top used features in the Compare and Compete features is the oft-maligned Strava Segment competitions. Its highly likely if you live in a high to a moderately populated area that your favorite hill, mountain (climb and or descent) and flat stretch of road have one or more segments associated with it. Every time you run, ski, paddle or ride through this segment your effort will be stacked against all other athletes. Sounds like a great way to get started in a competition!
Strava to remain relevant has had to make changes to how it filters athlete data to prove fairness. Depending on your account you may be able to sort results, by year, all time, age, sex and even weight. Sounds fair until you realize as a cyclist that there is a difference between solo attempts and group attempts. Strava used to allow individual cyclists to claim their segment attempts were solo efforts. No longer is this offered. And let me tell you there is a big difference in performance between a solo effort on a flat, climb or decent than when you are in a group of 2 or more. This is where the sour grapes come out with me. When out of town or even in town cyclists get together in a group to crush your current solo efforts just plain sucks! You might say well Coach Rob go grab a few buddies and take it back. Yes I could certainly do that but the vast majority of my training is solo due to where I live and that I spend so much time on a TT bike outdoors. NOTE: DO NOT RIDE YOUR TT BIKE IN GROUP RIDES, EVER!
A tool that enables over training
I have known athletes that didn’t listen to their bodies and soon discovered they had become over trained due to chasing/hunting KOMs and QOMs. Also I am guilty of being in the middle of a training, ride and realize I am approaching a segment and drill it when I should be taking it easy or not going as hard. This in itself is not Strava’s fault of course. My beef is that with all the metrics available to athletes there really isn’t anything on Strava that tells them “You have been living in the pain cave to long”! The temptation to go knock out another KOM/QOM is incredibly tempting especially when you are feeling super strong.
Weak athletic performance analysis
While Strava offers several metrics that can be helpful I would never refer to it in its current state, as a service for analyzing training, predicting performance or managing training load. I have had athletes in the past that didn’t want to upload their ride data to Training Peaks because they were already using Strava “and that should be good enough”. As a coach its not! The nice thing is now many of the online training and GPS athlete services connect with each other. Now with the advent of bike computers that automatically upload to one service then by synched to all of your favorite services. Makes a coaches life MUCH easier!!!
Unrealistic challenges for “Competitive” athletes
Strava has all kinds of challenges that you can sign up for monthly such as mileage or climbing challenges. While this sounds like a great motivator it too can lead to over training. When I see Ride or Run 30 day challenges a voice goes off in my head that says “That’s going to hurt someone!” I don’t mean that they are going to wreck their bike or automatically going to get runners knee. What I mean is it going to hurt their performance by taking these types of challenges. Athletes need a mix of active rest; passive rest and interval based training to reach peak fitness safely.
Sounds like you really dislike Strava! No, not really…
Motivational tool when used properly
I frequently use Strava to look at competitor’s recent results. Its fantastic when I can show an athlete that their dreaded competitor is human. By showing my athlete that there competitor at there current weight can regularly do x watts up x type of climb for x distance is one example. Then my athlete has an epiphany that they are indeed as strong or even possibly stronger. I have even used it to show athletes where their competitors maybe stronger than them and how to apply tactics to mitigate their competitors strengths when possible.
Find new routes
When I visit a new area or am vacationing I always look for new routes with services like Map My Ride but will also break out Strava to find out which of the routes has the most segments. Not because I am hunting for KOMs but instead trying to find new challenging routes.
Great for making new social connections
I have met new athletes and dare I say made some friends on Strava that have led to some memorable face-to-face rides or meet ups at races. I like the fact that athletes can now share pics from their rides. While many of these pics are selfies or the ubiquitous bike shots, every now and then athletes post helpful pics showing road damage, dog alerts and even trail closures and unforeseen obstacles.
Fantastic for checking out potential racecourses
I love using Strava to check out racecourse I am not familiar with. Established racecourses in parks, trails, and open roads will have a wealth of information. Such as speeds for descending and ascending segments, grades and how they impact performance across a broad list of competitors. I can even utilize the information from segment leader boards and with a little spreadsheet, magic determines how well an athlete will stack up against the regular competitors.
To sum it up…
I realize the title of this article was “Click Bait” but I wanted athletes to understand how they can use it and what to watch out for when using tools and services like Strava.
If you are a competitive endurance athlete and want a detailed analysis of your prescribed training and performances please use tools such as Training Peaks, WKO, PerfPro, Golden Cheetah and others before leaning on Strava. I will admit that Strava has been doing an admirable job of catching up to the analysis applications and an even better job of explaining performance to non-competitive athletes than the established apps.
If you want to have an app/service that allows you to connect with other like-minded athletes in your community or to explore new routes, check on your competitor’s abilities, set challenging goals for your self then I think Strava is great!
So join us on Strava by searching for PPCstrong!
I look forward to the comments, maybe…
God help me if I ever write an article about Crossfit.
Train Smarter Not Harder,