I have a problem. I think I’m addicted to Strava*. Every time I go out for a ride, whether on my road or mountain bike I can’t resist the urge to tap that little orange icon on my phone and hit go. But only just before I set off, of course. Any additional seconds could skew results. If I forget something and have to go back, which is not an infrequent occurrence, the activity has to be deleted and reset.
And that’s just the beginning. I’ve come to resent anyone or anything that slows me down, be that traffic, traffic lights, slow cyclists, wind… even children and dogs. Not that I would ever ride recklessly. I do manage to suppress the impatience and intolerance that burns inside, although I did take out a pigeon recently, which I still feel awful about.
It’s also got to the point where I feel loathe to stop at any point during my ride, just in case it ruins my chances of getting a personal best. This is fine if I’m on my own, but when riding with other people I find myself getting frustrated if they want to stop or slow down. Recently I was mountain biking with my other half and he stopped to sort something on his bike. Knowing that it was nothing serious I decided to carry on to the top of the climb and wait at a point where we usually have a break. When he caught me up he accused me of never looking back. Defensively I protested that I did and had seen him stop, before sheepishly adding that I’d just wanted to push on to the top in order to clock my time.
I’ve also become obsessed with getting a best time on the Spooky Wood descent at Glentress. Gone are the days when I can just blast down enjoying its awesome berms, jumps and drop offs, maybe stopping to do a bit of filming here and there. Now each descent is executed as quickly as possible in a desperate attempt to shave seconds off my time and secure a new personal best.
I’ve always been competitive when it comes to sport – apparently when I was little I’d challenge my siblings and friends to a race and then run with my elbows sticking out incase anyone got close. I would never employ such dirty tactics now but I still enjoy a bit of healthy competition. That’s what sport’s all about, isn’t it?
I do, however, draw the line at competing with virtual strangers on the app, although that’s not to say that I don’t find it interesting to see how I compare to other women who ride the same routes. As I mainly seem to ride with men and often trail at the back, it’s quite reassuring to know that I’m actually not doing too badly. I don’t ‘follow’ anyone on Strava and I don’t set out to beat anyone else’s records (except on Spooky Wood!) although it is always quite satisfying to get a ‘Queen of the Mountain’, even if it is on a completely random section of road or trail.
These days my competitive urges are generally satisfied by competing with myself, and I really only use Strava as a tool to measure and improve my own performance. There’s no doubt that being able to compare my performance with that of others makes it more interesting though.
However, fitness tracking apps do have their limitations and are nowhere near as accurate as using a computer. There are times when I know I’ve ridden a section fast and it doesn’t even register in my feed, and others where it hasn’t felt so good, yet I’ve apparently earned a PB. It doesn’t happen often but the odd glitch is enough for disillusionment to set in.
Interested to know just how accurate the data collected by Strava is, I got Dan to time my descent of Spooky Wood by stop watch and compared it to the time awarded by Strava. The stop watch time was 3.40 minutes whereas Strava clocked it as 3.18 minutes – quite a difference.
Perhaps the best example of its unreliability was when I forgot to stop the clock after a mountain biking session at Glentress and only realised half way through the drive back to Edinburgh, by which time my average speed had increased from 16 to 60 km/h, and I’d supposedly burned off thousands of calories. Needless to say I got lots of ‘Queen of the Mountains’ that day! Don’t worry though, fellow Stravaholics, I surrendered them.
I think a much better outlet for my competitive streak might be to enter more events. Despite having plans to enter an Enduro this summer and at least one other sportive, I’ve only managed the Bealach Beag sportive in May. I really enjoy organised events and definitely get spurred on by riding with other people. And, unlike my five-year-old self, I keep my elbows firmly tucked in, unless, of course, I’m on a mountain bike where elbow sticking out is acceptable.
Fitness tracking apps are a great way to log your rides and analyze your performance, but should never be taken too seriously. As with anything in today’s increasingly web-based society, competing against actual people is much more fun and rewarding than striving to beat a virtual stranger, especially when there’s every chance they’ve done it in a car anyway!
*Other fitness tracking apps are available.
What do you think of fitness tracking apps? Do you use them?