Oi, Strava… NO!

Look at how awesome I was yesterday. Social media meltdown!!!!
Look at how awesome I was yesterday. Social media meltdown!!!!

Imagine my surprise yesterday evening, when having been on one of my ‘come back from injury’ runs, I uploaded my run to Strava and saw an influx of ‘crowns’ sitting beside my run.

‘Wow’ I thought to myself. Was I really going that quick? I’ve just had six weeks of no running and to be frank, I feel as though my athletic ability resembles that of someone who eats fried chicken most lunchtimes and regards exercise as walking to the fridge for a beer. In short, my run was a pile of dog shit and I rightly named it so – I called it ‘Farking Slow’ for those interested.

On closer inspection I noted a subtle difference in these crowns. I had been newly crowned the 2015 GVG Leg 3 course record holder, along with leg 10 and a whole host of other sections where to be honest, I’m just about scraping for top ten overall in what I regard ‘the real standings’. Now we all know Strava is just a bit of fun and shouldn’t be taken too seriously (just like this article!), but it got me thinking some more…

What the hell is going on? I’ll tell you what’s going on, Strava is allowing us to celebrate mediocrity. It’s giving me permission to say to the whole world via social media that in 2015, I am the man. That in my own little world of self-glory and ego, I am the champion for that 300m stretch of trail.

NO!

So I sat down and thought about this some more. You see Strava, you’ve got this horribly wrong. In doing this, and judging by my reaction, there now appears to be two types of Strava users coming to the fore. There are people like myself who feel that only a true podium actually means anything, while any personal achievement should be done privately or with a massive pinch of salt and irony. Or those that love to humble brag, celebrate and revel in their own mediocrity. Let me explain further.

Willy knows best - what he says goes.
Willy knows best – what he says goes.

While on the face of it, this seems like an innocuous and somewhat trivial thing to be debating, I do think it has some deeper undertones and raises some (lighthearted) concerns for me.

In handing out yearly crowns, what we’re effectively doing is dumbing down achievement. We’re basically saying that everyone can be a winner and that it’s good to share things and provide an equal sense of opportunity. There’s a time and a place for that, but it’s not in competitive sport. It reminds me of the stance of some schools back in the United Kingdom some years back where races didn’t have winners. Everyone who took part was a winner. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against individual and personal achievement, so before you all jump on the ‘hate Dan’ bandwagon, I do celebrate individual achievement. I celebrate my own performances, I just try to make sure I do it in private, in my own head.

If you want everyone to be a winner, then don’t have a race and just let everyone head out for a jog… it’s called a ‘Fat Ass’ in the running world. If you have a race, then by its very definition you’re creating a competitive playing field whereby the goal is to beat your fellow competitors.

If we start handing out medals to everyone, where does it stop? We already have the established ‘age group’ categories in races, which for me, already borders on the lines of acceptability. I can see why this is done, but you don’t see the Olympics or Tour de France handing out age group prizes now do we? So why does running, and in particular trail and ultra running have this insistence on creating a ‘shared winners’ mentality?

Winner

But there is another, deeper level down on this. While the industry has created this playing field, ultimately it comes down to the individual in terms of what they do with it, or rather don’t do with it. The move by Strava to offer up 2015, or even yearly crowns is just another extension to play to people’s narcissism and desire to post their shit all over social media. This is where I start to vomit.

10906039_10155129983025613_7063425315149371811_nAdmittedly, in my circle of friends and in the running world in which I participate, most people take this stuff with a massive pinch of salt. We know that ultimately, our 3rd placed age group down at the Sri Chinmoy 7kms is just a bit of a laugh. We’re mature enough and honest enough to realise that while we came 3rd in our age group, 74th place overall just doesn’t cut it. So we take the piss out of ourselves for it, along with our friends. That’s good fun. All that really matters is whether or not you’ve done justice to your own ability. And that bit is the important bit.

Where this becomes a concern though is people’s own sense of moral compass on these things. Taking a massive broad brush stroke and finger in the air approach, I estimate that 99 per cent of people in the running and cycling worlds have a good sense of reality and grounding in life.

But, there is that one percent of people who take these things and run with it – they believe their own hype. Before you know it, their email signatures are longer than the emails themselves, containing a list of every achievement they’ve received since they started school aged five. We’ve got Grand Master Trail Runners, Elite Master Trail Runners, UTMB finisher – 13th place and so on and so on… how long before “2015 Strava GVG Leg 10” Crown starts finding its way onto the resumes of ‘professional athletes’?

Group hug everyone?
Group hug everyone?

And the worst bit of all, is when these so-called athletes start to use these meaningless titles and ‘crowns’ to con ignorant brand managers as to why they should start receiving sponsorship. That my friends, is when this gets dangerous and wrong.

So like I said, the good news is that 99 percent of us take all this with a pinch of salt, which is how you should take this article too. A humourous little rant that we can laugh along to and revel in the irony of how mediocre we are. It’s called being grounded and having a sense of reality in life. But for the 1% out there thinking of ways to exploit their new-found fame on Strava, I say this… Strava… NO!

There are only four things that matter in a race as far as the results are concerned. They are OVERALL first, second, third and your own performance and whether you did justice to your own ability. The rest is just numbers and times.

Dan on Twitter
Dan
I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

17 thoughts on “Oi, Strava… NO!

  1. Hey Dan. I totally get where you are coming from. But, you are referring to races in your article and Strava is mostly used for people to log training and track progress. I agree having annual section course records is a bit dumb and if you are striving to beat a CR you should be going for the overall positions anyway. But anything that can be used to motivate people to push themselves a bit harder or reward accomplishments has to be positive.
    Perhaps Strava should offer an option to turn these notifications off individual profiles.
    Oh, and let’s see what you think at the end of the year when you lost your 2015 crowns!

    1. Sure thing Paul, I do flip from races to Strava, but both are competitive in their nature so I think comparisons are fair and can be drawn. To be honest, crowns mean nothing to me… I like the competitive nature of Strava as I feel it pushes me harder in training, but do I care about crowns on a really deep and serious level? Not one iota! Theyre a nice to have, but my life still functions without them 🙂

      1. Dan,

        Nice post that does a good job of summarizing how things like this (and Strava in particular) can trivialize competition. I do think that your 1% is much larger, like 20-40%, at least in my experience.

        Also, placing is actually somewhat meaningless unless the race is competitive. Utilization of percentage back from the winning time is much more informative. At 58 and having only once lost my “age group” category in numerous endurance sports, this so-called “accomplishment” is hollow at best. Rather I look to my percentage back from the winning time. Over the years I have become calibrated as to about what value of percentage back from the winner qualifies as a good performance. This varies according to who shows up at the race but, at my age if there are National/International-level competitors then 20% back is a good performance, if just regional-level competitors are present then 10% back is a good performance. If I place overall (which happens on occasion), then the race is, by definition, not competitive.

        When someone tells me they were second or third or fifth (or whatever) I respond by asking how far back were they from the winner and the others between them and the winner. The placing (other than winning) tells me nothing. Even winning can be meaningless if there was no real competition. There have been high profile ultras where the winner won by over 20% e.g. Matt Carpenter at the 2005 Leadville 100; although this performance was outstanding (and still stands as the course record), this race was really not competitive. This happened again at Leadville in 2007 when Krupicka bested the field by over 20%.

        This makes all of the Strava stuff even more trivial and also highly circumstantial, neither of which qualify for any sort of serious consideration- it can be fun however. But then we have your 1% (or my 20-40%)…. that convince themselves that these “awards” have real meaning. To each their own!

      2. Thank you Robert for your well informed and balanced comments, much appreciated. I agree with your notion about percentage of time back from the winner – much more relevant as a benchmark.

  2. I get your Strava points, but comparing the Olympics and TdF with trail and ultra running in your argument about age categories is missing the obvious point that they are exclusive competitions, not inclusive. Who needs to achieve such a standard to be able to just enter TNF100? You rightly point out about doing justice to your own ability, but should we only define achievement as something you can only do when you are young? Why should only the true podium places be allowed to shout about it when all others must keep their own achievements private like you do?

    What defines the separation of achievements. On your argument, you should combine the Olympics and Paralympics. Not everyone is Oscar Pistorius and can cross that divide, but so what if you’ve only got one leg – you didn’t get on the podium… tough mate!

    I guess we should also ignore Max Bogenhuber’s achievement in 2014 of coming first in the 70+ age group at Six Foot?

    Surely these achievements are an inspiration to others, if not to you and should be celebrated publicly!

    1. Hi Anthony, I think I stated in the article that there is a time and a place for celebrating. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the achievements of what certain people do, particularly Max – I know his endeavours well and I find them an inspiration. But I also know Max is an extremely humble and grounded individual, and that is the point of what I was saying in the article, which I made very clear too in conclusion. I also asked people to take things with a pinch of salt too… while it’s a rant, it’s just in jest and good humour… the people we have to worry about are the narcissists who believe their own hype. Most people are big enough to remain in their own sense of reality… that was the underlying point here… Thanks for your comments, much appreciated, I like debate… it’s an art that is rapidly being lost.

  3. Always enjoy your articles Dan – I don’t necessarily agree with the concern around Strava though. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being a local hero (even if its to yourself). I think its great to see people motivated by Strava to get out there and run their ”course records” even if they save themselves for that random 200m stretch of forest path where they are for a moment no.1 at something. With regards to sponsorships, I would applaude anyone that managed to convince a brand manager based on their strava performance… As we all know and enjoy about running is that ego’s tend to dissipate quickly in the opening km’s of any ultra and I can imagine it being somewhat embarrasing carrying the weight of a sponsorship over the many unforgiving miles ahead.

    Thanks for the ongoing relevant posts!

    1. Cheers Mark, good to see you’ve taken this in the spirit that it’s meant 🙂 There’s always an opposing viewpoint and good to debate things… even if in the grand scheme of things, they’re minor. Thanks for reading.

  4. My kids nippers on a Sunday don’t have winners, it really bothered me, but then I thought well they are just 6. But then I asked my kid why he wasn’t really trying(it was quite obvious) his instant answer was “dad there is no point in trying everyone wins”. I agree it good to include everyone but how do you create competivness when none is provided. Noy a fan of the yearly records either for what it’s worth.

    1. Nice comments Hunter. I agree with what you’re saying entirely. What this debate also uncovers is a narrative about the virtues of competition. It’s also an area of conjecture I feel. When discussing competition in this light, particularly with children, people tend to focus on the negatives, such as the fact it could breed arrogance, disrespect and rude behaviour. But people also forget about the positive qualities that competition can bring, such as humility, understanding and an appreciation for others. The problem at times, is that our professional sportspeople play the negatives a fair bit, exacerbated by the media, portraying all too often, negative images.

  5. Good rant Dan. Each to their own I suppose. I love Strava! It really does inspire me to put a little bit extra in to my training and keep track on all my awesome achievements!!!! I admit I do rely on a bit of self glory even if no one else thinks I did ok. I don’t really see the point of the 2015 CR crowns either – overall leaderboard means everything! I can’t wait till I’m in the over 50 Old Hack Age Group! Still plugging away to hopefully get that Zimmer Frame sponsorship deal soon. Gotta go – segment smashing to do!

  6. I’m amazed that you’ve given so much thought to something you and your peers take as “a pinch of salt”.

    In reality, 15 years ago, people said of blogging, it’s not proper writing, it’s just noise on the internet, and yet here we all are making noise, and in some case money from our opinions.

    So to the meat of your argument, that an annual time check is narcissistic. How is a 2015 accolade on Strava any different to winning UTMB in 2015, but not getting the CR? Does holding an annual race devalue the achievement of the course record? In modern Kilian speak, the overall Strava crown is FKT, and virtual acknolwledment in my view goes to both.

    And social media sharing is a personal choice, or a matter of education, surely? In most cases social media is about self promotion, and Strava is a vehicle for ‘athletes’ too. Just like all the stuff on the internet if you constantly ask me to play Candy Crush, or share your Strava stuff, that noise gets tuned out.

    The great thing is that if you don’t like Strava there are heaps of other platforms to log your runs.

    Finally, Kudos to you, for getting me to bite on something so trivial.

  7. Here’s a spin: having 3 places in a field of 10 is excessive. 10 places in a field of between 300-1000 is woefully inadequate. Especially so given the former races are all over in minutes, the latter in hours and days.

  8. The inflated ego of that 1% who is the first to match the segments in an area for 2015; that’s a concern! These CRs aren’t relevant in January. But for those that do care, perhaps attaining or still holding the annual CR in December has a much worth as winning the yearly version of any race (to those people). I get why Strava have done this, however, the execution has been poor.

    Note: One must remember Strava is many times bigger for cycling where smaller margins separate CRs on segments.

    1. Hey Ben, I get it too… but like you say the execution has been really poor. There is a good idea in here somewhere, it’s just been rushed through and not thought through properly / executed to the right audiences. Like I said so many times in this article, it’s meant to be a humourous piece with a semi-serious undertone. At the end of the day, does it really matter? Not much, this is a fun piece, but hopefully through debate there are also some learnings too, not only for Strava, but for me as well… I do it so I can learn…

  9. Strava is just Strava and shouldn’t be taken that seriously ever. It’s not a race on a level playing field. There are too many variables from day to day on any given course or segment. Then there is the fact that you can just create your own segment tailored to your strengths and probably take the KOM. 2015 achievements – whatever. If Strava motivates you then awesome! I think anyone who is the cream of the crop in there sport can go out and prove it on race day if they so choose, and yeah they might own a ton of KOM on Strava, but the races are what really show their true talent when competing against others. Yada yada yada…

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