Strava, and the Virtual Race...

Strava has been all the rage for a while now, a useful training tool, or at the least a way for your everyday Joe-on-the-road (or trail) to grab some bragging rights to share around on the next group ride, or bike forum. Sometimes it seems as though I may be the lone holdout, the one rider not competing in the virtual race. Yes I, thus far, have avoided the Strava lure, and all the talk around me has led me to an examination of the reasons why. I mean it could be as simple as "gee Mike, isn't it obvious? You're just an old retro-grouch, anti-technology, old school sort." I could buy into that explanation, and happily accept it if not for the fact that I know I would readily become an addicted Stavaite were I to join in. So no, there must be more.

No, I disagree. Witnesses, or it didn't happen.

As I see it there are two primary reasons for my avoidance of Strava. First would have to be overuse. It is a simple case of cause and effect. If I have it, I will use it. Every day would become a race. All my normal routes would become raceways, which would lead me to search out new ones (not necessarily bad); every insignificant stretch of roadway would become another excuse to try for a personal best. The world would become Stravatized. The occasional weekend donut ride would be forever changed - leisurely pace usurped by competition (this again, may not be bad considering donuts await at the end). The work commute, the grocery run, even the short ride over to the meet up spot for the local group ride would become timed challenges. The quickest time with two bags of groceries hanging from the handlebars would become a new event category. With a little imagination, the possibilities are nearly endless. My palmares could use a little bolstering - significant results are looking a little dated right now - but really, I don't need that much competition, and I don't want that much competition.

It is only July, yet all around me I hear riders say they are tired, they have ridden too much, and need some time to rest. Too much Strava? Hmmm? The old school way is basically mileage based - ride a lot, maybe even every day, but mix in easy days with others of hard effort. Strava won't allow me to do that, not with road section, group, and personal best times on the line.

The second reason I have kept clear of Strava has to do with the nature of competition. The idea of competing in a virtual race, honestly holds little attraction. It seems like a video game played in the real world. If I am competing against someone, or better a group of riders, I want them to be right there. I want to be able to glance back and see that I am a bike length ahead (or preferably more) at the city limit sign or KOM point. Worst case senario, I want to watch as the competition blasts by as I attempt to minimize the gap and my legs go increasingly wobbly. I want the group dynamics to play its inevitable part in the outcome, whether that outcome is in my favor or not. Excusing those who excel at time trials, the rest of us know that head to head competition pushes us to greater heights, expending greater than 100% effort is more likely to become reality in the group. 

The group dynamic is an important part of competition lacking in the virtual race. So many factors, both mental and physical, come into play within the group with the ability to affect the outcome on any stretch of roadway. These obstacles, and the strategies we as individual riders calculate to overcome them, are what make competition within the group so compelling. Since everyone within the group is likewise engaged with the same calculations, from their own perspectives of course, individual strategies are forever shifting from one second to the next. The end of a race is like a whirlwind of competing strategies, of calculated actions and split-second reactions, everyone vying for what only one can have. If we could consider the thought process of each rider in the group, both over the course of a race as well as at the finish, it would be a jumbled mess; everyone with a different means of achieving a goal, a different method of reaching the end on top. It would be hopelessly chaotic if not for that common "end" providing an ultimate direction to all those thoughts, all those strategic actions. It's fascinating.

So there you have it, that is my Strava spiel. You will agree with it, or not, as your own experience dictates. I freely admit that Strava can be a useful training tool, or at least provide some interesting statistics and possible insight into our progression, or regression, over a period of time. For someone who does as many solo rides as I, Strava would seem to be a no brainer. The program collects many of the same statistics (and far more) that I do in my handwritten log books, and does so more efficiently. I must say though, that looking back over the years, the most memorable competitive moments have all come through interactions with the group, in which the competition has been impacted by the dynamics of the peloton. That is something that no collection of KOMs or personal bests, no matter how extensive, will ever be able to compare.