The last couple of days I've felt absolutely shattered. However, on reflection it is not difficult to see why. On Sunday, I had decided to embark on a longer ride and set off with the intention of covering 100 km. Not really that far, but after concentrating on my power and speed training for the past three months, it was a feat I had achieved only four times this year. What is more, the roads were wet and the skies were jettisoning ample volumes of precipitation, making the early going tough and, at times, with speeding cars all around, slightly unpleasant. On reaching the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, the rain and traffic eased and I began to relax and enjoy the experience. If the rain had continued I would have shortened the ride from the intended 100 km. But now, another thought enveloped my cerebrum. Strava had started a new challenge - A Gran Fondo requiring the rider to complete a 100 mile ride. Despite the conditions, I decided that this was now my goal for the day. Six hours later, I had ridden 168 km and climbed 2,500 metres.
I felt satisfied with the achievement and all would have been fine if I had allowed my body to recover the next day. A recovery day does not necessarily mean a day off the bike, particularly for a highly-trained cyclist, but should be a relatively easy day in the saddle. My usual 40 km commute that Monday morning transformed into 75 km. By riding 168 km on Sunday I had not only completed the challenge, but I was now high up on the Strava Monthly Challenge Leaderboard where the goal is to complete the most distance in that calender month. In fact, I was Top 50 in Australia out of 4600, and 150th out of over 39,000 worldwide. On two of the road sections I had sprinted to earn two Gold Cups for the ride for being the 2nd and 6th fastest rider ever on those sections of roads. Tuesday brought another 50 km of riding and a visit to the Cycle Studio for some Power Training with James Lamb 'Chops'. These indoor power sessions have become a major part of my training (and will be the subject of a later blog) but today I was exhausted. The short two km ride from my home in Manly to the gym in Balgowlah had hurt. My legs were ridiculously fatigued and I knew I would be unable to produce any quality training. 'Chops' was forgiving, but the session was still tough, and I was now seriously questioning my training regime.
As a Sports Scientist, graduating from Loughborough University, the United Kingdom's finest sporting Institution, and with further qualifications in Physical Education and Personal Training, I feel I have more than an adequate knowledge of training principles. With an IQ that has been regularly tested over 140, I don't think that I'm lacking intelligence. But, sometimes, my stupidity beggars belief. I realise I need to rest in order to recover but I'll overide this knowledge by riding further than I should, or attaking a hill when I should be coasting up one. A dark force has entered my psyche, and is infecting my brain cells like a virus. And that virus is Strava.
For the uninitiated, Strava is a social fitness site that connects to a GPS, most commonly Garmin. Think of it as 'Facebook for Fit people'. Cycle rides, runs and walks can all be downloaded with more data than most mortals can reasonably handle. In the past, ride data would consist of a time from origin to destination recorded on a stopwatch. Bike computers brought in speed, distance, heart rate and cadence (leg speed). Now, it is feasible to record, among many other measurements, power, stress levels and GPS data. It can be linked to your friends data to promote friendly competition or you can follow Pros and World Champions. Like status updates on Facebook, riding information is instantly shown on a dashboard and it is possible to know exactly how far and how well others are riding. Kudos and comments are regularly exchanged and the world's riding community is inextricably linked.
I bought my Garmin 510 just over a year ago and, I admit, I wish I had invested in one much earlier. As an information geek, I relish the fact that so much data can be derived from one ride. I sadly admit to downloading my rides as soon as I return home so that I can immediately pore over the mountain of data provided (much to my wife's annoyance when she was in Sydney)! The buzz from achieving a KOM (King of the Mountain) or even a Gold Cup (Top Ten) is priceless. If that wasn't enough, I even download my data onto Veloviewer that analyses the data even further. The positive influence of all this, is I now find myself riding a variety of routes, exploring new areas and generally opening up whole areas I would never have dreamed of riding before. I attack hills with gusto, not unwillingly grinding up them. Strava's rallying slogan is 'Prove It', to show yourself that you can achieve fitness and health and challenge yourself and others. There are millions of challenges out there and Strava has brought those into the realm of millions of riders of all levels.
However, like all great innovations, there are drawbacks to Strava. Riding can transform from fun to an unwelcome battle against others. The constant comparison means a casual ride no longer exists and every ride is a race against the clock. The desire for Personal Best times, KOM's (QOM's for girls), Gold Cups and bettering others is relentless. The Strava challenges can result in overtraining and fatigue. Most cyclists would be aware of the American rider who died pursuing a KOM on a downhill road segment. Others have endangered their own lives or the lives of pedestrians while trying to finish a Strava section, oblivious to the environment around them. For me personally, I have had to rethink my riding in order to realign my training to allow me to peak for the races that are far more important to me than any KOM or Monthly Cycling Challenge.
Despite these issues, I believe strava has enhanced the cycling experience for almost everyone, and I for one, am really pleased for the richness it provides to the daily cycling experience. Like Facebook and similar innovations, there will always be detractors, and the product itself will have imperfections while other people will continue to abuse or misuse it. Nevertheless, I feel the world is a better place for having Strava.
As a final point, I would like to address the issue of Strava basically rubbing our noses in it when someone else takes our KOM. A message is sent to your email informing us that we are no longer the fastest on that particular section. I'm sure that those people who have experienced this dreadful feeling will be able to relate to the following video, which had me crying with laughter while at work, nearly resulting in a subsequent visit to the job centre.
I am a Level 3 Cycle Coach with British Cycling & the Association of British Cyclists.
7 hour Enduro Series
12 hour Enduros
6+6 hour Enduros