Get Stravafied!

Posted: October 26, 2015 in Equipment, Lifestyle
Tags: ,

When I first started “seriously” training for triathlon I kept meticulous track of my daily workouts.  I would pencil them in on a kitty-cat calendar that hung on my kitchen wall.  This was about as high tech as I got back then.  I would calculate all my distances out afterwards by plotting my routes into the mapmyrun.com website, and then used the kitchen clock as my sole means of timing.  If I ever cared enough to figure out my pacing I would have to do all the calculations by hand and seeing as how I have the basic math skills of a chimp, I never bothered.

My first brush with “technology” came on a trip to the Philippines (which is funny unto itself given that the place is a literal black hole for anything modern) where one of my coaches at the time, Coach Bill, loaned me his GPS tracking system to bring with me as my goal was to continue my long run training while there (click HERE  for a recount of some of those training sessions). Remember though that was back before the little sports watch-sized Garmin’s that are common now.  This thing was freakin’ huge. It looked like something a marine might carry into battle to call in air support on, meaning I ultimately ended up lugging around 3 lbs. of stone age electronics around on my hip on each and every run I did.  Furthermore, it took about an hour to connect with its satellites in orbit.  But, still, I thought this was some pretty slick shit.

A year later I saved up a few months (which, unfortunately, meant that I inevitably had to go without my usual morning muffins on the way to work) I invested in my own GPS tracking system, a Forerunner 305 that I still use today.  I felt so guilty for having splurged on a (then) $300 piece of equipment but I was excited nonetheless.  The 305 is practically obsolete now, but as long as it continues to track my progress and then transfer it to my “training center” on my computer and the Garmin.Connect website, I am a happy guy.  Sure, this might make me the Fred Flintstone of the triathlon world but I give absolutely zero fucks of what other people think as I am not one to play “Keep up with the Jones’” when it comes to technology.  Hell, I might have been the last cyclist on the planet to actually get a bike computer.

The benefit of this upgrade was that now I had a more modern way to track my progress as the Garmin automatically kept track of all my workout particulars like heart rate, calories burned, distance, pace, time, as well as a whole host of other stats and measurable that I never, ever, paid attention to.  Shit, I could program it to race a virtual training partner and tell me if I was ahead or behind that partner based on how fast (or slow) I was running.  To me, this was the total shit and I had now gone from being Fred Flintstone to Bill-fucking-Gates.  Suddenly, I loved my new technology like the Russians love their suicidal authors.

Yay me!

I even invested in a Garmin Swim last year specifically to enhance my swim workouts (click HERE).

“One small step for a poor, starving, fat triathlete wannabe; one giant leap for mankind.”

Well, something like that anyway.

Fast forward a few more years and I have now been introduced to another popular training tool that other have, apparently, been into for a while now.  As ever, I’m just catching up.

I’m referring here to the Strava website.

I’ve been an active member of the Strava community for approximately two years now.  Primarily, Strava is a free website in which you can upload all your workouts to and then compare your results with other athletes with whom you are connected.  It’s kind of like the Facebook of athletes and sporting types alike.  Actually, it’s exactly like the Facebook of athletes and sporting types; a social media outlet for triathletes, runners, cyclists, and swimmers alike.

Initially you can join Strava for free.  There is a premium upgrade as well that you can pay a monthly or yearly fee for that then allows you to take advantage of other perks like being able to upload photos, power analysis, detailed heart rate analysis and something that’s known as a “Suffer Score” because, yeah, that  sounds like fun.  There’s other stuff too but, really, I’m cheap, so I just stick with the basic bare bones.

However, I have begun to recently notice that, well, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows on the Strava site and there can be a rather dubious, even nefarious side to Strava if you’re not careful.  At times it can be a great place to be motivated and inspired by.  But therein lays a dark side as well. If you’re not careful you can become totally consumed by it and it will end up being a total detriment to your meticulously planned out training regimen.  In other words, you might try to go all ham only to end up with a fistful of bologna instead since, as with anything in this life, you have to be careful.  Allow me then to try and review a few of these features – both pros and cons – that I think you need to be conscientious of before considering using the site, or maybe how to use it a bit more intelligently and effectively.

First of all, it’s kind of nice being connected to the other athletes in your area and seeing what they’re up to on any given day and, yes, there does come a sense of satisfaction when I’ve done something a bit longer, or maybe – on rare occasions – even a bit faster.  There’s nothing wrong with a little friendly competition is there?

Hells no!

To this regard, Strava features ‘Segments’  that will automatically compare not only your own efforts, but also to other local athletes who might also have happened to run/ride the same route.  In this way, these segments allow you to track your progress as you proceed through your training program.

It’s funny to pause here for a moment to recognize now that I tend not to think of my routes by the actual names of the roads I run/ride, but by their broken up Stravafied aliases with names that sound like they have lept off the pages of a Marvel comic book.  Names like ‘The Monkey’s Knuckle’, ‘The Quad Killer’, ‘Death Hollow’, and my favorite from my area: ‘The Wheel Suckers Attack from the Tracks…Ridgemont’.

Anyhow, when I upload my results from my Garmin to the Strava site, it will automatically tell me how that particular effort compared to other results I’ve logged in the past and will even reward me with a new PB (Personal Best), or a 2nd and 3rd effort, depending on how awesome it was – or not at all.  I think this is kind of cool and I have a few routes I follow semi-regularly as well as a few segments that I’ve created to test myself along on occasion when I’m feeling up for it.  The top overall ranking along any of these segments is then calculated and a KOM/QOM (“King of the Mountain”) classification is then awarded to the top performer.  I admit it, I do enjoy that sense of accomplishment when Strava tells me, basically, in no uncertain terms, that I just kicked ass along the ‘Devil’s Breakfast’ segment and set a new personal best by 5 seconds.  I enjoy that.

Who wouldn’t?

Well, the potential problem then becomes when this ever-constant quest for a new PB, or to be the new KOM (“King of the Mountain”) for each and every segment in your area becomes the sole focus of your workouts, as it tends to fuel that all-important alpha-male ego.  Remember, people have died in search of this all elusive PB. Such was the case with the story of William “Kim” Flint II, the Berkeley, CA cyclist who was killed in 2010 when he careened into a car while chasing the elusive ‘South Park Drive’ KOM downhill segment. In typical American fashion, a lawsuit quickly followed, filed by the family of Flint claiming Strava as the liable party.  Although many believe the lawsuit to be frivolous, it has not yet been thrown out of court. As much as I think Strava can really suck at times, trying to blame Strava for an individual’s irresponsible behavior sucks even harder.  To say that Strava is itself bad because some people behave badly when using it is akin to saying beer is bad because some people drink too much and then wrap their car around a telephone pole.  We all know telephones poles will remain forever endangered, but I certainly don’t want to outlaw beer.

There is a popular Strava joke:

“What do you call two people going for a bike ride? A race.

What do you call two people with Strava going for a bike ride? A race that never ends.”

At this point, Strava has become an unhealthy obsession where every workout becomes a “do or die race”.  This isn’t healthy, physically or mentally.  But what can you say?  Human beings haven’t always proven t be the smartest creatures otherwise Honey Boo Boo wouldn’t be a household name.  I have learned from experience that I need easy workouts (I actually look forward to them) in my routine and these are not the times to go seeking Strava PB’s. These are typically known as “recovery workouts” and they are important.  I have learned therefore to keep this quest for PB’s to a minimum, or at least to only the harder workouts throughout the week when the focus is ultimately to test myself.

Others, I’m sure, don’t quite get this concept and become what is known as “Strava holes”, where if anyone should be so bold as to claim a new KOM classification in their general area; it becomes their new ultimate mission in life to knock that perpetrator off the throne.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m for friendly completion but, geez, let me enjoy it for at least ONE day will you?

I have also heard of something called “Strava doping”, where an athlete will actually fudge their results and, basically, “cheat”, in order to gain the KOM classification.  Seriously!  I have even heard of people driving in their cars along segments at a specific speed with their Garmin hanging out the window in order to capture and record their falsified results and, therefore, their ill-gotten KOM.  There is even an app called ‘Digital EPO’ which will help falsified your results to help you accomplish this.

How fucked up is that?

I suspect that this has even happened in my little town of Ridgeway.  There is a segment that runs along Thunder Bay Rd. that I run, easily, 2-3 times a week.  The current KOM along this segment suggest that someone ran all 4km’s at a pace that couldn’t match on my bike.  So, it’s forever “So long KOM!”  along this particular stretch of road for me, meaning I will never sip from this particular gauntlet of success despite the how many times I run it or how fit I get.

The bastard!

Then there are those people that track absolutely everything, and I mean, EVERYTHING!  Walk to the corner store for hot pockets?  Better track it and upload it right away to Strava.  Going for a ride to the park without step-daughter?  Better track it.   Now (as Kelly is apt to quickly point out) I myself have been guilty of this on occasion.   But I will defend myself here that I now have my Strava linked to my Garmin site so that any uploads to one will automatically result with a syncing to the other – it’ not because I’m tracking “progress”, per se.  I do like to record my “healthy lifestyle” decisions and activities and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  I do wonder though to what end someone else might log their activity whilst they cut the lawn.

Who the fuck knows?

So what did I aim to accomplish through this point? I dunno really.  It was just the culmination of the conversation that played out in my head during yesterday’s long run (click HERE).  As far as Strava goes, I will remain a firm fence sitter on the subject.  There are times when I think it can be a valuable, even fun, tool to supplement my training. Other times it can be a nefarious detriment.  But, like anything else, you just have to be smart in how you embrace it and then incorporate it into your life.

Everything is good in moderation after all, right?

Be smart.  Train safe.

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