25 April 2014

Strava: A Better Way to Train

Throughout history, human kind has sought to perfect skills with repeated practice. All of us have at one time or another completed a challenging task and wondered "did I do better this time?".  Athletes training on a team benefit from the real time feedback of their coach or team mates, meaning focus remains on good form and proper pacing without staring at a clock. For those of use who do not train with a coach or trainer, the question than becomes "how do I know how I am doing?"

In the good old days, a mechanical stop watch dangling around one's neck was state of the art in terms of self-evaluation, assuming that one took the time to stop and read the watch. Thankfully, today we have something so much better!

The old fashioned way to train....

Meet Strava, a social training platform that provides personalized,  real time feedback and metrics during runs and rides. The premise is simple - capture GPS data of a run or bike ride and analyze that data to answer the question "how did I do?". In fact, I have been trying to do this for years using my cumbersome GPS unit. I'd collect the data, import a GPX onto my computer, view and edit, generate speed and elevation profiles, and ultimately attempt to publish my data. Unfortunately, this process was entirely too time consuming to do regularly, meaning my data piled up in a messy virtual junk heap. Thankfully, Strava's smartphone app and web platform provide a powerful training analytics platform where difficult data capture and manipulation processes have been elegantly automated.

I signed up for a free Strava account, downloaded the application onto my android phone, and set off for a ride on my trusty Univega. I was quickly impressed by how intuitive the application was to use, and how little battery power it consumed (a big issue for GPS-dependent apps). When I finished my ride, I was delighted to see my phone displaying a map of my route along with some basic stats: avg MPH, elevation chance, and distance. My route was automatically uploaded to Strava's cloud service where I can view more detail. Additionally, the application breaks a route into segments based on segments created by other Strava users, allowing users to compete against each other on the same segment, with the fastest riders listed on that segment's leader board. Additionally, I can track my progress per segment, meaning that a huge hill doesn't  bring down my avg MPH for the whole ride.

My recently ride was automatically broken into segments by Strava.

As a casual athlete, I find this app incredible exciting. It's super easy to use, and provides analytics which are useful for both casual runners and riders as well as serious athletes. Additionally, it's fun to know how you rank against other users. Because I know others can see my performance, Strava gives me the distinct feeling that every run and every ride count. There is no time to be lazy and take it easy, because now we have a virtual crowd-sourced team to encourage us during that last mile when things seem the toughest. Thanks to Strava, my workout routine is new and exciting again, and I can't wait for my next ride.

My (as of yet very limited) activity overview. Cool!