Training & Racing

The Power of Strava

The Power of Strava

I grew up staring at the backs of baseball cards, reading box scores and scouring the newspaper every Sunday looking over the league leaders for Major League Baseball.  It would become what would start my mild obsession with numbers and over the years it has only grown more and more.

So when I started running I naturally wanted a way to incorporate statistics into my new passion.  I’m not one of the fastest guys on the block so often I would have little to pull from the end result, a single number stating my finish time.  I wanted more, and knew there had to be a way to determine more than just the finish time when you have so many variables in trail running such as elevation gain, loss, distance and pace.

At the time I was a regular member of Daily Mile (www.dailymile.com).  I loved it and looked forward to posting about my runs because I knew the feedback was always encouraging and positive.  I looked forward to seeing how people’s long runs went, how their first half marathon, marathon or whatever race went for them and seeing how excited they were when they reached the goal we’d all watched them train, virtually as it may have been, for.  Daily Mile tracked your weekly, monthly and annual stats and had a sidebar showing where you stood on the weekly mileage “Leaderboard.”  I’ve never been a high mileage guy, I’m far too lazy to put up those kinds of numbers, so I rarely was near the top. Yet just seeing those numbers accumulate while I sat home not running, well, it got me back out the door if for no other reason than to accumulate more mileage so my little blue progress bar wasn’t at that dismally low level anymore.  (It would later just get to the point (see: Lazy) where I’d just start deleting my friends that put in major mileage.  My ego is fragile…:-) )

Through my experience with Daily Mile I realized that by posting the pace and distance and then seeing the comments by each runner there is a great disconnect with what is “hard” for one runner and “easy” for another.  Runners would post, “Easy recovery run” and it was 6 miles at 6:22 min/mile pace.

So either they are ignorantly arrogant at how that appears to those of us not running on that level or they are simply in incredible shape.  The latter which is perfectly fine and understandable.  However, if I were to go out and run ten miles a 7:30 pace I’d be pretty stoked about that but by sheer numbers nobody would fully understand just how hard that would be for me personally.  When you throw in the variables of running those same ten miles on trails at the same pace, with climbing and downhill, well that 7:30 pace starts to look very impressive.  Yet, to dailymile.com “friends” it’s just 7:30 min/mile for ten miles.

I wanted more.  I wanted a way to show just how hard I went on any particular day and compared to the next guy/girl, how hard was it for them to run the same thing?

Enter Strava. www.strava.com

I was first turned on to Strava by a good friend who is a competitive mountain biker.  He told me of this great website to upload your Garmin stats and it tracks your every statistical angle while providing leaderboards for different segments of a trail.

I was hooked before I even opened the page.  It was exactly what I had tried to design myself but what Strava had already thought of, devised, implemented and 100% trumped me in every aspect.

So what is Strava exactly?

It’s essentially a social network training site.  You upload your run/ride via your Android app, iPhone app or your Garmin stats onto the website.  The run/ride then feeds into the feed on the main page which shows the map of your run/ride, general stats like distance, time, pace.  There is an option to “Give Kudos” and leave a comment and next to that icon is possibly a small icon designating any segment awards you may have been awarded.

These are the real draw of Strava to me.

I don’t know that I will ever outright win a race of any distance.  Getting first place isn’t my goal in running anyway but with so much time spent training, and often those training runs alone at 4:30am before work.  Motivation can be in short supply.





In comes Strava Segments.

Say you regularly run a seven mile trail in your neighborhood park.  Say at mile 2 the trail goes up over 1,000 foot ridge and then straight back down and loops back to the car.  For the simplicity of the explanation let’s say its two miles to the base of the ridge, a mile up the 1,000 feet, mile down the 1,000 feet and 3 miles back around to the car.  With any other training program out there previously this was just your personal route you maybe brought some people on in person but there was no way to really match up with someone else on that same route.

Well, now there is.

With Strava you can take those first two miles and create it as a segment on the Strava website.  Another segment for the 1,000 foot climb, another one for the descent and a fourth for the 3 mile round trip.  Then another for the entire thing straight through.  Now, every single time anyone using strava.com goes on ANY of those segments it will place them on the leaderboard for those specific segments.  You are awarded PR’s when you over time start chipping away at the best times on those segments personally and the Course Records for individual segments against everyone.  This to me is where Strava really has its value.

In trail running, just as in mountain biking I’m sure, some are excellent at flat speed, others at climbing, and still others, are strongest on the downhill’s.  Strava pulls out your strengths and allows you to apply them in a field of everyone, in a friendly competition to push each other to the top of the leaderboard.  Even not reaching top it push’s you to simply see that little trophy icon designating that you at least had your top ten or the overall top ten on that particular segment.  It gives you the excitement after a run where you knew you absolutely crushed a particular hill, flat or downhill and as soon as you get home you want to upload to see where it put you.  It’s like Christmas every time you put a Garmin on.

Once you upload your run/ride there becomes this myriad of data to look through, anything from your run mapped against your PR while simultaneously against the CR time to lap by lap breakdown, to specific traditional distances best times for that run (400m, 1 mile, 5k, 10k, etc.).  If you are wearing a heart rate monitor you get a boatload more data including a Suffer Score (just as it sounds, based on your intensity of the run built around your listed max heart rate for a 10K) and Points in the Red (amount of time spent in Zone 4 & 5 of your heart rate threshold).  These two factors here allow you to compare from one friend to the next, of varying ability and endurance levels, just how difficult a specific workout was.  It may take more or less for someone to get an “Epic” Suffer score, but at least there is some level of tracking here.  Next time on that same course it will show the same distance but you’re now able to track in real numbers, your perceived intensity level and with that, some measurable way of determining how well your training is paying off.

It doesn’t end there.  Once you are at the top of the leaderboard, the Course Record holder for any segment out there, you’re now just a target of someone you toppled and received this email:

Uh oh! DMETZ :) just stole your CR!

Hey Jeremy,

You just lost your CR on Gonzalez 24 HR Start to Wash to DMETZ :) by 22 seconds.

Now get out there, have fun and be safe.

-Your friends at Strava

Subtly motivating isn’t it?

I’ve finished runs since joining Strava and gone back to the car and picked up my phone only to receive this text message:

“Be sure to check your email…”

Which of course followed by the discovery that my friend had gone out and destroyed a segment I had held the course record on.

Others still will go after a course record, lose it, take it back, lose it, take it back, and it goes on and on until the climb up a particular ridge is so much faster than it was two months ago, it would never have been imagined it would have reached that level.  Yet those two, three, four, ten people kept pushing each other, through these emails and friendly banter, until they put up some incredible times.

However, with that exact mentality brought on Strava’s detractors and what is today a sticky situation with two current lawsuits filed against Strava.  Strava, it would seem, was/is predominately a road cycling and mountain biking dominated website.  When I started using Strava in the spring of 2012 there were few trail runners in the Phoenix area signed up and very few people I personally knew.  We’ve since grown the network considerably with local runners to expand the segments for running but it has been a stronghold for the bikers since the sites inception several years ago.  And nowhere more prevalent than its hometown of San Francisco.

In 2010 a young man was killed riding a road segment downhill going 10 mph over the stated speed limit when he tried to avoid a vehicle and was killed.  Another man was killed when he hit a parked car, also cycling, and was discovered to have the Strava app running on his phone.  Both instances have raised questions of liability on the part of Strava and the first example goes so far as to hold Strava accountable, at least partially, as a “race promoter.”  Their claim is essentially that they promote their users to push themselves and do not check the user created segments for safety (dangerous intersections, red lights, etc.).  Strava on their behalf have labeled these lawsuits as “meritless” and will vigorously defend themselves against these claims.  More info on the cases here:  http://bicycling.com/blogs/roadrights/2012/08/13/suing-strava/1/

I’ve heard stories of mountain bikers taking over the trails and going after Strava segment records, even screaming, “STRAVA!!” as the approach people along the trail.  Sadly, I don’t doubt it but I also don’t blame Strava.  People were bombing down mountains long before the internet and people have been doing stupid things long before bikes.  It’ll continue to happen, but Strava isn’t any more responsible for it than Jack Daniels is for a teenagers alcohol poisoning.  But when looking at the future of Strava as a runner, with a decidedly lower risk to anyone else on the trail, little exposure to street intersections (especially for trail running) and the inherent “dangers” that come with cycling on a road or mountain biking, there is a lot of potential for training and improving as a runner using Strava.  There is a massive depth of analytical data, mapping, comparison, social networking interaction, it just continues to improve and none of which is reserved for the elite, upper echelons of the running or biking community.  It’s useful if you are a 2:30 marathon or 5 hour marathon.

Some features however, such as the heart rate options, are available only for Premium members, either $59 a year or $5.99 a month.  The vast majority of the program is free and includes possibly the best running app for the iPhone or Droid out there.  Strava’s app is incredible and cross references their

Seriously.

Strava is constantly improving, asking for feedback, making adjustments and adding new features such as the latest options in adding in your weekly time or mileage goals for a trackable goal throughout the week.  More are on the way I’m sure and for a numbers guy, it only keeps getting better.

So check it out and let us know if this is something you find useful in your training?  Do you already use Strava?  Did you use to and stopped using it?  If so why?  If you are interested in Strava look me up.  I love seeing how other people train and encouraging them along the way.

Just don’t get too comfortable with that CR and remember…don’t forget to check your email…


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2 Responses

  1. Mike S says:

    I moved from Endomondo to Strava a few months ago and I love seeing how I rank on the segments. Great motivational and training tool. Highly recommend.

  2. Jeff says:

    Great post. Thinking about making the move from Dailymile to Strava, as I’ve found DM lately to feel more like a chore but without any real benefits.

    Now that I’m running strictly trail instead of road, the pace stats are totally irrelevant. But when a friend recently mentioned the ‘segments’ thing on Strava, I was blown away.

    I’m curious – do you no longer use Dailymile at all? And what do people do with their Garmin Connect or MovesCount accounts – do they use both one of those and Strava?

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