Strava – which mean ‘to strive’ in Swedish is a website and mobile app used to track athletic activity via GPS. It was created in 2009 in San Francisco. The most popular activities tracked using the software are cycling and running but they are exploring how to extend the service to other areas of sport.
The basic service is free but there is an optional pay component which allows access to even more statistics than the free version. Strava will not disclose how many members it has but it has grown 30 times since 2011 and now 75% of its members are outside the US.
I have resisted signing up for Strava. I’ve had a Garmin for as long as I have been cycling and have enjoyed timing, discovering and mapping rides. The Garmin is also an essential tool for me to find my way on Audax rides and also to submit evidence for Audax DIY rides. Nowadays I rarely go out for a ride or a run without the Garmin on my wrist or the bars.
I innocently signed up for Strava when Parkrun became associated with Strava in November 2014. However it wasn’t until March 2015 that I actually started looking at my rides and runs on Strava. When I upload my ride or run from my Garmin onto Garmin express the data is automatically uploaded onto Strava as well. Strava operates a virtual competition for recreational athletes, and it’s not just for cyclists. It’s also a great running partner. What was a handful of avid cyclists is now a global army of millions (how many millions only Strava knows and they’re not saying) of athletes like you and me.
Strava has brilliantly tapped the power of GPS and the egos of men (mostly) and women such as me, to change the way we ride and run. Strava works by allowing athletes to upload exercise data recorded on the GPS or phone app. Routes are mapped alongside times and data such as heart rate. You go out, do your thing, come home and upload. Like Garmin Connect, Strava analyses your distance, pace and elevation and shows a map of where you’ve been. But it goes a few steps further.
The first thing that’s unique about Strava is its social features. Users can follow other members, comment on, and give accolades (kudos) on performances. There are also virtual (and some are actual real life ones too) clubs to join and there is a weekly competition and leader board for each of the clubs: not just distance but longest ride, average speed and elevation.
Strava’s most intriguing feature is the ability to create ‘segments’ out of specific parts of the route. Segments can be sprint distance or ultra-distance and they are great motivators. Knowing that there are ‘invisible timing mats’ ahead can turn junk miles into punishing interval sessions. I am still learning where the segments are hereabouts but the ones I do know about I make sure I give a good effort to see if I can get a PR (Personal Record) CR (Course Record) or ultimately QOM (Queen of the Mountain) and improve my position on the rankings.
Uploading after a ride or run is a bit like unwrapping a present – you never know what you’re going to get.
Members may follow each other and create segments’ turning stretches of road into virtual race tracks. If a route takes in a segment, Strava automatically ranks a rider’s time.
The cyclist with the best time wins King/Queen of the Mountains (KOM/ QOM) a name taken from the Tour de France where the pros fight to be awarded the polka dot jersey for best climber. It is possible to just rank yourself against other women and Strava does order my achievement rankings against other women. However, I mostly ride with men so they are always a target to beat too. It’s a pretty effective, and yes, addictive way to analyse and improve your effort while getting a look at what your friend – or nemesis – is up to.
Racing against myself has always worked well for me in the past but I am enjoying this virtual competition against others that Strava provides. I got very excited when I achieved my first QOM even if I did go out and target a segment that would have a strong tail wind! (All’s fair etc). Incidentally Strava sends you a helpful ‘uh oh’ e mail when another rider steals your QOM title and encourages you to go out there and get it back!
QOM titles are not only for going uphill. Segments can be flat and even downhill. I have QOM for running down the side off the cliff into West Bay which is a segment local to me – it stands at 50 seconds but the KOM is 32 seconds so I will go faster next time providing it is dry and no ‘Broadchurch’ tourists get in my way.
Another feature I use is to ride or run the same route regularly. Strava recognises this and keeps all the efforts in one place and analyses them. I am so easily motivated that having Strava flash up ’trending faster’ is enough to get me out there for another try – I know I can go even faster!!!
As performance enhancing substances go Strava is pretty delectable. It is a great motivator and I can almost guarantee that I will make myself hurt in pursuit of a PR (or even a CR or QOM) or at least the avoidance of defeat. On this score, it really can’t be beaten.
The problem is of course, that I can.