** WARNING - this gets a little messy **
I first heard about Strava through the most predictable of places - the grimy ball pit of type-A peter-measuring known as the Slowtwitch forums. It's right up the typical forum user's alley: using the app to record your ride or run gives you a bunch of data about your workout and posts it to their social network (plus any others on which you choose to splash your training stats, like twitter or facebook), and you get to claim KOM (King of the Mountain, or QOM/Queen of the Mountain) status for any running or cycling route or section on which you've posted the fastest time. Others can offer comments on your training sessions and try to beat your best splits, which is the "social network" aspect. They even developed their own metric called a "suffer score" for each workout, which is basically TSS (Training Stress Score) but with more chest hair and possibly a trucker hat.
|None of my training or racing will ever have happened, then.|
I'm sure there are nice people on Strava, but all four of them of them are likely to be drowned out by the legions of faster-than-thou jerks whose sole purpose in life is to crush their "competition" in pursuit of a personal validation in the form of a little crown icon beside their name. There are articles published just for people who are desperate to have their name at the top of the leaderboard on a segment. The internet is rife with tales of people cheating the system by doing anything from riding straight through a red light at an intersection on a segment (at least one has died in the attempt) through straight up hopping in their car and driving it in order to claim a KOM.
|It doesn't come with the shirt, but maybe it should.|
Now, the folks who have asked me if I use the app aren't like that. They're good-natured folks, but they're also very strong runners. Strava is unapologetically geared toward the pointy end of the endurance field, whereas I amble along gracelessly at the blunt end, looking more to enjoy a lovely day on the trail when training than to deliver a message about my (lack of) physical prowess. Nowhere was this more apparent than last Sunday, when I attended the sanctioned Sulphur Springs training run at beautiful Dundas Valley Conservation Area.
There were about 50 people there to run the course, so it seemed like I might have some company along the way instead of my usual solo excursion. Nope - I spent the entire morning basically by myself, way behind the rest of the runners. This was partly because I started a little late (paused to smooch my sweetheart and had to re-start my GPS watch after it decided to time out), and partly due to a lineup at the portajohn in the parking lot near the 3k mark (which lost me about 5mins, but I had no choice about stopping). However, I'd also pause here and there along the way to take photos of the stunning scenery: the -11c/12f air had covered everything in a thick layer of frost and iced up the edges of the winding streams that glinted in the bright morning sunlight. So very different from the overcast, windy and snow flurry-filled afternoon/evening I'd spent there the Saturday beforehand!
|Too bad some dork got into one of the photos.|
If taking a moment here and there to appreciate a gorgeous place I'm privileged to have so close to home is wrong, I seriously don't want to be right. I'm good with being slow and alone, and still feel fortunate to have the health and ability that allows me to explore most of its beauty in just a couple of hours or so.
I'd also shot myself in the foot if I held any hope of keeping up with some of the speedy folks who came down to Dundas Valley to run that morning. I'd just finished a 3h20m run at Huron Natural Area at 6:30pm - about 13.5hrs before the Sulphur Springs training run began, with a whopping 6hrs of sleep in between. I was exhausted before I'd even taken a step, but that was part of the idea (well, except the lack of sleep): back-to-back longer runs with the second on very tired legs in an effort to prepare me for the 100km I'll be trying to cover at the end of May. I wanted time on my feet and to emphasize some power hiking, because I'll be doing a lot of that in my next couple of races. I also had to take my time through a few sections of frozen mud with deep footprints in them, as I have a damaged ankle that I can't afford to mess up any further by rolling it on the uneven footing. In the Strava world, none of that matters - my caution, fatigue and specific aims for the workout don't matter, and I'll be directly compared to someone who may be coming off a rest day that was there for a tempo run.
|EVERY WORKOUT IS A RACE|
Even assuming I wanted to get sucked into comparing myself to others and competing with them day in and day out, I'd lose almost every damn time. The areas where I live and train are home to many elite-level runners who are faster while ticking along at their easy, long trail run pace than I'll ever be in a stand-alone 5k road race. I'm perfectly capable of denigrating my own performance without having it shoved in my face daily that I'm far from speedy - I have races to do that for me, or (for a Strava-esque experience) I can just look at the Segments page in Garmin Connect. My odds on ever grabbing a QOM anywhere that I run are near zero, with about 100% chance I'd receive an email within 24hrs telling me that I'd lost it to someone who ran it so much faster there would be no point in trying to win it back.
So really, Strava would just be somewhere that people can see my rather mediocre training. Frankly, I think everyone has better things to do than read about the ins and outs of my day to day running. I'm painfully aware that I don't do anything epic - everyone else is running up mountains or having massive Bruce Trail adventures while I run in circles at some little nature tract nearby, mostly because I'm clumsy, weak and scared. It's not even about seeing how fast other people are - it's being shown just how tiny the efforts are that still leave me shattered afterward. Someone else's 60k mad training run with 15,000 feet of elevation change and gorgeous mountain range views? That's freakin' awesome and I'd love to be able to do such a thing, but I can't, let alone run it at their blistering 5min/mile pace. Seeing it just makes me feel even more inadequate as a runner. That's why I try desperately to avoid just rambling about my training in this blog, rather making an effort to write about something a little more meaningful and hopefully useful. I also don't really post my workouts on social media - because I don't honestly believe anyone cares about the details of my paltry training.
|This is the closest I generally come.|
From time to time someone will make a kind comment on Garmin Connect or Endomondo (which I still use as a backup in case my GPS watch fails, and because I have records there going back to May 2012), but it's just in some people's nature to be generous with their praise, even if it's undeserved. I know Strava has a system that lets users provide encouragement and "kudos" while you're out training, but that's not something I desire; if I'm having fun out there it would just be a distraction, and if I'm having a rough day it'll just feel like I'm being patronized. I know that's my problem and not the system's, but this is about why I choose not to use it.
|Also: Strava cat is a jerk.|
I don't mean to deride anyone's use of Strava - if you enjoy it, fill your boots! I, however, know it would be bad for my mental health. I already struggle a lot with self-worth and impostor syndrome, and I always feel like the lamest, most awkward runner out there in almost any situation - this article about Anxious Recreation Syndrome might as well have been written about me. I'm not jealous of other people's ability - I just feel rather worthless when I see how poorly I stack up against them. It feels like everyone I know has run at least 1 hundred miler; most many more and longer races, plus badass mountain races that would leave me in a crumpled, broken heap in the first few miles when my clumsy arse fell off the side of some gorgeous, technical trail. Every time I manage to cobble together a bit of confidence or pride in my runing it's almost immediately dashed when I see the amazing feats others are pulling off. My huge back-to-back weekend? I covered a lousy 26km on Saturday and 20km on Sunday. 46 whole kilometers. Most of the people I know are easily capable of running that total on back to back days, but I'm simply not strong enough. Three hours of even our tame, local trails is enough to beat me up a bit and make the next day difficult - sometimes just getting out the damn door is a huge win, or running on my lunch break instead of taking a nap, let alone kicking my arse out for a second run on a Monday evening after those back-to-back "long" runs on the weekend.
I know I should find the strength and talent of others inspiring instead of it sucking away my own self-worth, but that simply isn't how my brain processes the information. I'd change it if I could - believe me when I say the inside of my head is often a place I'd love to escape! I'm not looking for pity or praise, either - just to be left alone to wallow in my own little world, free of any exogenous negativity from comparison with the badass runners I'm lucky enough to call friends. As you can see, my brain supplies more than enough criticism all on its own without having an app shove my mediocrity in my face daily. So, I'll politely leave your Strava feed free of my meagre exploits (and studiously ignore my Garmin Connect and Endomondo streams) while I go and try to enjoy the wee adventures I'm capable of having.
|In the loveliest places I can find.|
Much as I feel horribly inadequate as a runner, I do love the challenge of ultras, not to mention the time I get to spend in the woods in all sorts of conditions to see the ever-changing natural beauty around me. Strava would only suck some of the fun out of what is usually a wonderfully fulfilling pursuit for me. So, don't ask me about my training, because I know it's not interesting or special in any way...but if you follow me on twitter or facebook I'll share some of the pretty photos I take along the way, ok?