This week I competed in a 10K race with 4349 other people, even though I was running alone, and could pick my own route and start time. Most of my competitors weren’t even in the same country as me. This was a new experience for me, and a good one. Before explaining how it worked I need to introduce you to my favourite bit of running/cycling geekery: the mobile phone app Strava. It’s not an exaggeration: this app has revolutionised my training, and has really motivated me. The app uses the phone’s GPS to record speed and distance during my runs and cycles: while there are other apps that do this I’ve never found one that works as well as Strava.
So why is it so good? Below is a Strava screenshot showing a run up Arthur’s Seat that I logged last November. It was my first time running this route, and you can see I got four Strava ‘trophies’ (the image gets larger/clearer if you click on it). As well as giving you information about your distance, time, elevation and pace Strava will compare this with all your other rides/runs to tell you how you compare over set distances. For example, in the next screenshot you can see that I logged my 2nd fastest 1 km and 3rd fastest 0.5 mile during the Arthur’s Seat run (i.e., two Strava trophies).
So that’s pretty helpful in terms of gauging your own progress, but the genius bit is Strava’s use of ‘segments’. Segments are route sections that can be created and made public by any Strava user, and there are loads already established (or you can set up your own). If your run or ride has covered any public segments you’ll be able to see how you compare with everyone else who has ever logged that segment (using Strava), and you’ll be added to the leaderboard. This is all checked automatically: you needn’t have known that you were running/riding a segment at the time. As an example, the bottom part of the screenshot above shows that I unwittingly got the female course record for two segments during this run (another two trophies)! I like to take a moment to savour such accolades, because when I start investigating just how wonderful my performance actually was, I tend to discover that I’m the only female that has Strava’d it. I also don’t tend to keep these course records very long as faster ladies join up to Strava and steal my trophies. But once I’m informed by Strava that someone’s nicked my trophy I’m motivated to go out and get it back… those little crowns make me so very happy! Strava has the potential to make even the least competitive of us into trophy-hungry maniacs.
Strava was developed by athletes who were training alone much of the time, but found that they missed the friendly competition of training with others. They developed a virtual way of competing with others: logging their training using GPS devices or smartphones, and then sharing and comparing this data online. They say “Strava makes fitness a social experience, providing motivation and camaraderie even if you’re exercising alone”. And they’re spot on.
So that’s how I came to run a virtual 10K race: Strava set a challenge called the ‘Any Way 10K’ that had to be run on the 15th or 16th of June, as fast as possible. Having not run a 10K in ages I didn’t know what time to expect, nor did I have a run that I knew to be 10K. So I just set off for an hour’s run, and left all the calculations to Strava. It was a good run and I managed at 50:23 10K, which put me in overall 1890th place, out of 4350 runners, but a more impressive 76th out of 579 females, putting me in the top 15% of the female finishers. Can’t complain about that. So I missed the usual crowd support of an organised race, using other competitors for pacing/competition, and the tacky medal/t-shirt, but on the flip-side it was free, I didn’t have to worry about getting to the start line and from the finish line amidst 1000s of other runners (bad memories of the Great North Run!), I didn’t have to eat breakfast at a time when I should’ve still been asleep, and I could run along my favourite bit of local seafront. All in all, I’d say this was a great experience, and I look forward to my next virtual race.