The race to the top

It was a beautiful, crisp, dry October morning when I left the house with my rucksack packed, bike lights flashing and Fitbit ready to go. I travel out of the city centre towards my work, avoiding the main roads but consequently having to deal with sleepy pedestrians and impatient drivers on their own commute. Half way through my 3 mile journey, I am at risk of encountering the A bus and knowing where I meet this bus is important as it impacts the remainder of my commute. On this second half of the commute, I approach a certain hill through a residential area where families walk along the footpaths to school/work, cars are parked along both sides and of course, the A bus goes up and down, resulting in the traffic coming to an absolute halt some mornings. Every day, I cycle along in quite a care-free manner, mindful of traffic and courteous to other people however, when I approach this hill I feel like should be wearing a polka-dot jersey. As soon as I take the right turn on to this road, I immediately drop down through the gears as the road inclines and I give it all I’ve got. The gradient steepens as the road veers left and I’m off my seat, absolutely smashing it. At the top of the hill the road veers right again and flattens off but I keep pushing, often shouting out in pain, to make sure I make it to the end of the road. My exhaustion is not in vain, however, as it is not just a road I’m travelling along but a Strava segment and my Fitbit has been timing my efforts. That particular morning, I raced up the hill in 1 minute and 56 seconds, which keeps me at 2nd place on the leader board for all-time females, a position which I have held for a few weeks but have fought for over nearly 60 attempts at this segment.

Each morning I arrive at work, telling my colleagues how fast I cycled and how close I am to the number 1 spot. In case you are wondering, I need to knock off another 10 seconds, which doesn’t sound like much but it has taken me months to get to where I am right now. I have friends commenting on my commute on Strava each morning telling me that they look forward to seeing how close I can get and when I phone home, I will tell them about the car that reversed out in front of me, or the strong wind that prevented me from achieving a new personal best. I am thankful for the friends that listen to me explain the daily struggles of Strava segment battles.

This fight for number 1 has made me think about whether Strava is a helpful training tool or becoming an unhealthy addiction? Of course, I am going to say it’s the former, but I have definitely thought about it.

When I’m running, I don’t worry too much about segments but that could be because I’m not near the top. I do like to see improvements on my own times for 1 mile, 5K, half marathon etc, but that’s competition on a completely personal level. Strava is great for breaking down your runs to how fast you ran each mile/km and to map out where you have been and it’s fun to connect with friends and give kudos on their runs.

For me, cycling is different. I don’t really know what a normal time to cycle 5K is and I don’t think that really matters, so personal records for distances seem a bit pointless. I didn’t realise I was in the running for a top 10 position on my morning segment battle for weeks. There is also another segment on my route, which I am in number 1 position for but I maintained number 4 for ages because I just didn’t realise the segment existed. It’s not as exciting anyway as it’s pretty flat (where’s the fun in that?!) Competing for the number 1 spot makes me cycle more often and encourages me to go faster which improves my overall fitness and therefore also helps my running. Sometimes it can seem like cyclists/runners are bit Strava-obsessed and yes, we probably are but we’re also better athletes for it!

It can be liberating to run (or cycle) without knowing your pace and split times (another blog post maybe?) but for now I’m quite happy logging my times as it’s a way I can record my progress each day. Sometimes I do forget to sync it all up but hey, it’s not the end of the world! No matter what, I’ll be back on the road again the next day, trying to knock off another second or two.

What do you think about Strava? Leave me a comment if you have any similar segment battles!

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