Around 18 months ago a very good friend introduced me to Strava, the phenomenon we all know and love. Like most cyclists who have jumped on the bandwagon, I was completely hooked. Every ride became a personal crusade, climb the leader board, dish out a cycling lesson to my buddies or simply collect as many cups (trophies) as I could. Who needs racing when I had a plethora of Strava "challenges" to feed my appetite for cycling stardom? In fact it almost appeared that the "real" world outside of Strava had turned virtual, as my riding partners declared; "if it's not on Strava, it didn't happen". Holy shit god forbid that I could ever leave the house again without my fully charged edge 800 (and the iPhone app, just in case).
In the past few months I have found myself questioning Strava. Don't get me wrong, I still love it, but I began to long for a ride where nobody was "watching" and searching for a balance where the ego could be fooled into believing that just this one time it didn't matter if I was 4 minutes slower up Springbrook. So to the point (finally) of this post, as with all technology, we need to find a way to maximise the benefits without becoming completely subservient to the system that was (I think) designed to help, rather than control us. The answer, as always, rests with the user exercising control and picking the moments to "have a crack".
Consider a national level 10km runner, he or she would be crazy (and wouldn't of course be national level) if they were to train by simply heading out 4-5 times per week and attempting to better overall and segments times from the previous run. Cyclists of course are no different in terms of physiology, but for some reason every ride seems to become a race, either against a group of riding partners or, dare I say it, the Strava leaderboard. I coach cyclists and in some ways Strava had begun to create some problems for me, athletes were finding it nearly impossible to stick to prescribed training intensities for fear of looking "soft" to the Strava community. My solution was to use that same motivation but in a more targeted way by building "Strava Peaks" into their programs. It goes something like this; plan a particular block (say month) of time where Strava PRs will be the goal (many cyclists I coach don't officially race) and then structure the training progressions to bring each rider to a physical peak in order to meet the challenge. It's no different to peaking for a race, just uses the "Strava Spell" to our advantage.
Let me say again that I think Strava is a cyclists best friend, it has created communities, links and even friendships that would have been impossible in previous times. It motivates people to get out there and provides unmatched goal-setting opportunities. As a coach, it allows me to watch & track the activities of all of my athletes and provide instant feedback, no matter where they are located. I even have a Strava friendship with an aspiring young Dutch professional, whom I met whilst cycling in France last year. But there is a qualifier (always is); just as continuous improvement (Strava PRs) can be extremely motivating, struggling to reach previous levels can have the opposite effect, who on earth wants to be getting slower? It is easy to accumulate "trophies" when new to Strava, but becomes increasingly difficult the longer one participates. This is because fitness and form plateaus and then regresses, once this happens, the harder you push, the slower you will go and the only answer is rest.
Like all technology, gadgets and tools, the secret lies in knowing how to use them for maximum advantage. Strava is no different and most have not yet figured out just how helpful it can be
Bubba's Bikelab, out in force at the Battle on the Border. Racing for results, not Strava segments. Well done boys!
Brian Bubba Cooke
Exercise Physiologist, coach & cycling tragic for 30 years. Love the freedom, reward and sense of achievement that one can only experience in our amazing sport.