When Dorothy Beal, a 41-time marathoner, looks back at her first races, she sees many things she would have done differently. She lacked community, feedback, and any sense of whether she was training the right amount. Apps like Strava, which has tons of features designed specifically for optimizing your training, didn’t even exist yet. Over the years, the 37-year-old mom of three has learned some valuable lessons.
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Experienced marathoner Andrew Dearling had a similar experience. “I didn’t understand what the training was all about,” says Dearling, a 33-year-old digital marketing manager. “I thought you could just go out, put in some miles, and then run the race.”
Beal and Dearling are not alone, of course. But over the past decade, Strava has developed easily customized tools that allow you to optimize your training and join a community of kindred spirits, whether you’re preparing for your first marathon or are looking for a new PR. Here's how to make the most of Strava's best features as you train to finish with a kick this fall.
Find Your People
Meg He, who’s 31 and lives in New York City, discovered the Brooklyn Track Club after running her first marathon and has found that connection invaluable ever since. “But I often can’t make their training sessions due to my schedule,” she says, “so I use Strava, Instagram, and forums to reach out to other runners when I’m facing a challenge or a lack of motivation.”
She especially likes Strava’s club feature, where she can chat with like-minded athletes, swap tips, or just bond with others after a tough week.
Check Your Speed
While training for his first marathon, Dearling tapped into local races with the New York Road Runners. The only downside: he sometimes got caught up in other people’s paces. “I think I could have been fresher for both my training and my race if I hadn’t gotten sucked into keeping up with faster friends,” he explains.
As a Strava Summit member, Andrew Dearling has access to a collection of Strava's best features for training, analysis, and safety. He’s particularly fond of the Pace Analysis tool, which allows you to drill down into splits, distance, and pace. Following a hard progression workout, Strava instantly crunches all the data and then sends him a graph of his pace zones, making it's easy for him to analyze how well he stuck to the plan.
Beware the Comparison Trap
If you’re following other runners in a virtual community or training with them in real life, it’s very easy to use them as benchmarks. Resist doing this in a negative fashion, says Dorothy Beal. “Follow people who can inspire you in the right way,” she says. “I follow faster runners who actually run their easy days easy, and it helps me remember that if they can do that, so can I.”
Take Advantage of New Tools and Technology
Back when Beal started, most runners were still using old-school paper and pen to log mileage and training. “Now we have tools like Strava to track our runs,” she says. “But it’s important to take advantage of the features. I use the description feature in my activity to make worthwhile notes to myself. ‘These shorts are great for 5 miles, but not 20’ or ‘The heat made me feel sluggish’—that kind of thing.”
Beal, who is also a Summit member, loves the filtered leaderboards, which allow you to compete against runners in just your age group. You can also create custom goals for yourself and get a full-on analysis of your race when it’s over. If she’s heading out alone, Beal also uses the Beacon safety feature, which shares your location and sends live signals to loved ones, friends, or training partners while you log your miles.
And, like Dearling, she’s a big fan of the analysis tools, which breaks down data from her GPS and heart-rate monitor and provide relevant and actionable performance analytics. “Seeing my run by the numbers helps me push myself faster than just knowing I need a certain pace,” says Beal. “I just focus on how far ahead or behind I am, running at an effort level that makes sense.”
The Going Will Get Tough—and That’s OK
Training for a marathon is a long endeavor—12 to 16 weeks in most cases. All those alarm bells and wasted legs. We get you. But here’s the thing: you’re going to learn more about yourself than ever before, you’re going to connect with like-minded runners, you’re going to realize new goals and distances—and you’re going to crush it on race day.
Strava is the #1 app for runners and cyclists. Millions of active people from all over the world use Strava to stay motivated and make the most of the sports they love. Join the community and find your personal best at strava.com.