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.
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.
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?
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.
Admittedly, 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’?
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.