By Christopher Cudworth
So you tuck your smartphone in your running jacket, pop it into a sleeve holder or mount it to the handlebars of your bike and off you go. With Strava turned on, you’ll know everything you need to know about your effort. How long you ran or ride. How many hills you climbed and total elevation. Average pace per mile and if you purchase the deluxe version Strava can probably measure your sperm or egg count and measure the brain waves in your head to let you know if you’ll someday fall victim to Alzheimer’s.
Yes, Strava and other measurement softwares are amazing. But they can’t tell you everything. And the things they leave out are sometimes the most important information about your run or ride.
For example, Strava does not measure snowfall. And if you live anywhere north of St. Louis, this year, you’ve been knee deep in snow at times. Which really slows you down. But Strava doesn’t care. You get home and check your pace per mile. With ice clinging to your eyelashes you stare through the haze and see your pace per mile and go, “What? 10:35? I was running at least 9:30s.”
And you might have been. Yet the snow slowed you down. But Strava doesn’t care.
Or puddles. Who likes to run through those in the late winter or early spring? Talk about a cold shower on a hot pace. You either have to run through them or around them. Either way they’re going to cost you time in terms of pace per mile. I once ran in a rainstorm so intense the drops were big as golf balls. I’m serious. A hurricane blew up to Illinois from the Gulf Coast and the rain hit and kept on hitting. I gave up trying to run around puddles and just tromped through the ankle deep runoff. That’s called taking your liquid lumps. But does Strava give you credit for winning the war agains water resistance? Not on your life.
When puddles turn to ice, as they often do in late winter or early spring, the skating can be interesting for those who go out running and don’t anticipate the slick conditions. You skid and slide with that crazy feeling between your ears that says “I’m going down!” so you flail your arms and skip your feet like a cartoon character and somehow you stay upright. When you get home, Strava ignores all the theatrics. It blandly notes that you missed your PR on that final segment by 1:30. F You, Strava. You have no idea what it was like out there.
Then there’s dressing for the weather. When the temperatures go below zero you know it’s not safe to go out the door without proper layering to protect your skin from frostbite and your vitals organs from turning solid from the cold. So you dress as thick as the Inuit on the Bering Ice Shelf and head out the door for a run. Along the way you notice that you’re not going that fast. In fact you think you just saw an old lady pushing a shopping cart pass you by when you cut through the grocery store parking lot. Strava gives the lady with the cart credit for beating you on that segment.
Or perhaps you’re more of the cycling type and you use Strava to measure your rides every time you go out the door. It’s nice to have empiric feedback, is it not?
Well, Strava can be a nice feedback mechanism if your road and weather conditions are calm and stable. But try riding on a country road with lots of tarsnakes on a hot summer day. If you crank your pace up into the low 20s you are taking your life into your hands. Tarsnakes grow thick and deep when the weather gets stifling. Put your skinny tire into that murky, twisting slot and you’ll be scrambling to keep it at 90 degrees, and that means vertical, not the temperature.
We know you do it. Go out and ride competitive Strava segments when you know the wind will be at your back. You little cheater. Putz along for 30 miles into the wind. Save your energy until you arrive at the segment starting point and then you hit the proverbial gas with the wind at your back. Because guess what? Strava don’t know crap about the wind. So the segment in which you normally struggle to ride 22 mph turns out to be an easy-breezey 26.6 mph with the wind at your back. You smugly climb the rankings and whisper a quiet “F-U” to the riders who earned their ranking the hard way. Tough luck, dudes and dudettes. You’re Number 14 now and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Of course 99.9% of the time the wind is not at your back. It is blowing straight into your face, or else it is whipping with such a wicked crosswind that you spit and the spittle lands in the next county. But you tarry along pedaling with mad fervor trying to keep your workout in line with your stated objectives. But you get home and the average pace per mile reads 14.6. Now that’s just not fair. Last week you rode the same route and averaged 18.4 mph? How can that be. Strava don’t care. Strava don’t care one bit. In fact you think you just heard a little Strava voice cynically squeaking from you phone, “Nice try wimp. Better luck next time.”
It’s a rather pathetic game we play, is it not. Trying to beat a software at its own game, which is telling you that you suck? Last summer you rode to that steep hill in the forest preserve where everyone does repeats. You’re psyched and in shape but when you get there, it’s obvious the previous nights rain has not evaporated from the north side of the hill. When you hit the bottom and try to stand up in the pedals, your back tire spins like a prize wheel at the school carnival. Strava? It gives you no record for the extra revolutions your tires make on every loop.
But there is one way to beat Strava with a stick. I’ve seen it in action. Granted, it was obviously an accident that one rider kept his Strava on while driving home from his ride. But the fact that he clocked 57 mph on a Segment where the top riders did 31.1 mph for 5 miles is pretty obvious that he was enjoying the advantaged of motorized assistance. Even Fabian Cancellara can’t claim to go that fast that long even though some video dude accused him of riding a bike with a motor in it.
The one really great thing about Strava is that it measures your ride and gives you a little map of your route. It’s so fun to look at that map and recall where you’ve ridden or run. But when you get lost, as riders and runners do now and then, you’ve also got a record of your stupidity to deal with. Yes, your smartphone has a GPS app in it, and you should never get lost. But honestly who needs those when your sense of direction is so superior to technology. That’s when you’re rides end up looking like a puzzle on Strava. Pretty funny too.
It would be pretty fun to simply ride up one side of a mountain and down the other, and see the elevation map that Strava produces from your effort. If you could find the ride set of hills, you could actually draw yourself a big set of boobs, which might be joyous for guys if they prize that type of build, or women if they’re thinking of getting implants. Strava boobs are much, much cheaper. And they don’t bounce, slow you down or cause men to ignore your pretty eyes, nice smile and smart quips.
Which brings us to the fact that it can be pretty nice to leave the Strava at home sometimes. Just run and ride naked, without all that worry about how fast you’re going, or why. Lose the Strava. Leave the smartphone back home. In fact leave your clothes by the side of the trail and head out into the prairie with a willing companion and see what feedback you get from nature. You might be pleasantly surprised how good it feels to be free of all that technological stress, segments and all that crap. Let the air blow between your cheeks and try to keep your tender parts from chapping or slapping too much.
And when you get home and someone asks, how far did you run or ride today? Just smile and say, “I don’t know. But it sure felt good.”