I was hesitant to try Strava at first: Everybody’s heard about some jackass who almost ran over a kid on the trail because they were racing against invisible riders for King Of the Mountain—and nobody wants to be That Guy. But I was trying to train for a long running race—not to necessarily run fast, mind you, but to get in enough training miles that my legs wouldn’t fall apart before the finish line. And I already had an idea of what didn’t work: Not keeping track of it.
I am, maybe like you, one of those people who needs a firm commitment in order to get anything done. I can’t say “I’m going to try to eat more vegetables,” or “I will try to work out more often this year,” because then I eat more vegetables a few times and then I’m back eating mostly pizza within a few weeks. Or I resolve to work out more, and then five weeks after the resolution is made, I can easily go five or six days without doing so much as a pushup or going for a jog around the park, and I don’t feel the least bit guilty.
A few years ago, I was visiting my friend Tony, who has started and grown several successful businesses and completed an Ironman triathlon, and I noticed a quote from management consultant Peter Drucker on the white board in his home office: “What gets measured gets improved.” I somehow paraphrased it and remembered it as “What gets written down gets done.”
I found a training plan (in Bryon Powell’s book Relentless Forward Progress) and copied the mileages into my phone calendar so I’d get reminded on Thursday to run eight miles, and on Saturday to run 22 miles, and so on.
After a few hours of trying to retroactively map my long runs using a website and realizing how inefficient it was, I finally downloaded Strava. Not to race anyone, or even interact with anyone. Lacking a GPS watch, I took my phone with me on long runs and kept track using Strava.
It was wonderful. It kept track down to the tenth of a mile, and let me know how many vertical feet I had ascended and descended on my trail runs/shuffles. I even used it skiing uphill to track my vert. But I kept all my workouts private, and when people found me on Strava, I ignored their follow requests. I already feel like I have 40 different social media/email/messaging apps to update; I didn’t want one more. Plus I am about the least competitive person you’ll ever meet. Think you’re faster than me? You’re probably right. And I don’t mind.
I have zero followers. No, I do not want to connect with you on Strava. Nothing personal, I just want it to keep track of my stuff. I hope you’re having fun out there and getting whatever you want out of Strava-ing your exercise, but I am not going to follow you. I don’t care if we’re good friends or have never met, my interest in your running and cycling times remains at 0/10.
After a few months of running with my phone, I got a semi-fancy GPS watch that uploads directly to Strava (but still keeps my workout data private). I’m psyched. I love being able to check my stats and see that I’ve run 40 miles in a week, with 5,000 feet of elevation gain. I love being able to quantify my training before a race, and tell myself, for example, that I ran 1175 miles over six months, so I’m ready. I love knowing that I did something, rather than fooling myself that “I’ve been running a lot,” or that “I’ve been doing a good amount of training.” I’m geeking out on the data, and I am not ashamed of it. My girlfriend is not nearly as excited about it as I am, but she at least acts like she’s listening.
It’s an old business maxim that “what gets measured gets done,” and psychology studies have shown that the more often you check in on progress toward your goals, the higher your chances of success. So it’s not just me.
I still have zero KOM’s, unless you count being King of a Mountain of nachos after a long run. Which I find very satisfying.