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Dear Frank: Slave to the data

Dear Frank - Data
Frank Strack
23 Jun 2016

With so much information now available about every aspect of your riding Frank Strack reveals The Rules’ take on Strava.

Dear Frank

Like many riders I have fallen under the spell of Strava and now can barely ride without checking my placings afterwards. I kind of hate myself for it, but can’t stop. What do The Rules have to say about Strava’s influence on how we ride?

Stuart, by email

Dear Stuart

We went cat skiing in Whistler this past February. By sheer luck it turned out to be possibly the best snow day of the season, with champagne powder flying in our faces and coaxing whoops from our lips. The snow was fresh and deep, the sun was out and it was one of the most spectacular days I’ve ever had on skis. 

There was one fellow on the trip, however, who was obsessed with how much vertical we were getting. He enjoyed the first two runs before determining that we weren’t getting enough runs in the bag to achieve the total metres of descent he felt would constitute ‘a good day’. He started hassling the guides after every run and finally demanded a refund when we fell short.

The point is that this guy was so obsessed about numbers and stats that he was oblivious to the quality of the experience and lost sight of the reason he was out here in the first place: to enjoy the privilege of skiing bottomless powder with 10 people in an otherwise deserted wilderness.

Strava is a fantastic tool. The ability to store your workouts and track your performances objectively is an incredible technology that any serious cyclist can use to dramatically improve their training and measure their progress. But it is also easy to get sucked in like you’re describing.

The key to training properly is to put a plan together and execute it every day. Some days are hard days, other days are easy. You mix them according to your schedule. 

Strava lets you track this better than ever before. You have route and elevation data stored by ride date, not to mention all the stats relating to heart rate, speed, cadence, and power that you can imagine. It also slices those rides down into segments, allowing for laser focus into how you are riding specific climbs or sections of any ride. It tracks that data and compares it to your historical efforts and also against anyone else who has ever recorded their ride on that same piece of road. 

However, I found that very quickly after I began using Strava I was tempted to ride too hard every day, chasing KOMs and personal bests. Rather than it being a tool that helped me stick to my plan, it was becoming a detriment to my training, not a benefit.

The Rules don’t say much about Strava, but they do say a lot about enjoying the ride. Cycling is first and foremost about loving the sport, about the surreal feeling of defying gravity and flying along suspended a few
feet above the ground. We ride for the feeling of freedom, we ride for the feeling of the wind in our face and the sun on our backs. We ride to feel the awesome sense of accomplishment after finishing a big ride. We ride because we’ve learned to love pushing ourselves, to feel the burning in our lungs and legs while knowing we can process that pain and keep going. 

We ride because we love the sport, and there is no number that can measure what that love looks like. The moment Strava and the data start to overshadow your love for the sport, it’s time to take the computer off and put it in a drawer for a few weeks until you rediscover the reason you first threw a leg over a top tube in the first place.

Don’t become that guy on the ski trip who couldn’t enjoy an epic powder day because the statistics weren’t adding up.

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