Bicycling Magazine recently ran a lengthy article about the dangers associated with Strava. Founded in 2009 as a social network for cyclists, Strava allows athletes – support for runners is now included – to connect by posting their run and cycling GPS-enabled workout results to the web, where they are viewed by “followers.” Strava also supports route competition. If you have a favorite 20-mile bike loop, not only does Strava keep track of your time and congratulate you on PRs, it offers the ability to make routes (and climbs, descents, and other segments) public. This means others can compete against and try to top your time, earning them a “KOM” (King of the Mountain) title. Strava will automatically keep you posted on how your time stands up to competition, even sending an email to let you know when someone else betters your time.Bicycling‘s excellent piece discusses a couple of extreme cases as it examines the problems that Strava poses: one where a cyclist was killed trying to win back a “title” on a descent, and another where a cyclist struck a pedestrian (who later died from injuries sustained in the accident) while descending dangerously with the same motivation. It is a sobering read, and goes on to discuss various lawsuits that filed against Strava seeking damages for irresponsible behavior on the part of the website.
Obviously, I wish nothing but the best to families affected by loved ones involved in Strava-related accidents, but I think their blame is misplaced.
For the uber-type-A personalities that make up competitive endurance sports, Strava strokes that all important motivator: ego.
Strava provides terrific motivation for some people, adding an element of competition to hum-drum workouts on the same old course. It allows you to gauge yourself against athletes of similar age and ability, and see how you compare. For athletes who choose to train on their own, Strava provides a means to set goals and compete.
The problem comes in when someone places too much stock in a fictional title that earns them nothing but bragging rights, and those mostly against people they barely know.
That motivation is what causes the cyclist to injure his knee overexerting on a hill sprint for a made-up Strava title. It’s the same as the runner who pulls a hamstring trying to catch someone in an early season sprint workout. It is no different from the CrossFitter who injures his back because he just won’t scale the 21-15-9 dead lift/box jump workout that he can’t complete with proper form, or the guy who half-reps his bench press so he can have 315 on the bar.
It’s all about ego.
Those accidents and injuries come back to harm the reputation of Strava and CrossFit alike. But it’s really all about ego.
Prestige motivates many people, and some of it is purely imaginary. Quite simply, the desire to win back an internet title or have the fastest time on the CrossFit board is something of egregiously inflated value. In the moment, I doubt that enters someone’s mind… but it should.
As a rider that experienced a serious accident two years ago while engaging in a group ride sprint, I understand the mindset. I learned the hard way that it’s just not worth it.
I jeopardized the ability to dance at my wedding trying to impress a group of people I barely knew. When I had an unexpected equipment malfunction, I hit the road at 30 miles an hour. My head skipped on the road (I kept the helmet as a reminder), and I left more skin there than I care to recall.
I missed three weeks of work, several dance practices with my then-fiancé (just a few weeks before our wedding), and my training and race season ended before it ever got started.
I’ve seen what my hip flexor looks like.
I still don’t have feeling in the tip of one of the fingers on my right hand, and I doubt I ever will.
I was damn lucky there wasn’t vehicular traffic nearby, because I probably would have been hit (I skidded to a stop in the middle of the road), and I may not have survived.
All that, for imagined prestige. These guys will be talking about me!
All that, just to satisfy my ego.
It’s not worth it, and few days on the bike go by that I don’t feel foolish for it.
I have goals for the length of races I want to do, for age group results, for race splits. More important, I have goals for retirement, travel with my wife, career aspirations…
It was never a goal of mine to win a group ride sprint.
When measured against what I lost – and what I risked – even considering participating in that sprint was stupid. I know that my participation wasn’t the cause of the accident, but it was still an unnecessary risk taken for unimportant reasons.
There is a hell of a lot more in all of our lives than a title on Strava, having the best time or an “RX” (as prescribed) on the board at the CrossFit box. Every single one of us has things more important than this imagined prestige. Unfortunately, too few of us, me included, learn from the ego-driven mistakes of others, and have to learn our lessons the hard way.
This isn’t to discourage anyone from pushing themselves to their limits. That’s an important part of life.
But when pushing yourself to a limit puts your goals in jeopardy through risk of injury or worse, you have to ask yourself: “Why?”
If the answer is solely ego-based, it’s time to seriously reconsider.
When other people are involved, it’s that much harder. At the start of your next training session, workout, or Strava-fueled ride or run, take the time to recognize your motivation, and recall your goals. Does this workout fit? Is it going to get you where you want in your real world? Or are you trying to impress people on the internet?
I’m sure that the two cyclists described in the Bicycling article felt invincible, and the chances that they’d have those kinds of accidents were small. But the cost of their actions was immeasurable, and that should trump everything. But it didn’t for me, and it didn’t for them.
I was lucky.
Living life to its fullest, with no regrets, is admirable. Like many others, I don’t want to lie on my deathbed thinking “I wish I’d _________.” The fact that I impressed someone I barely know or never met won’t enter my mind.
More than that, I want the opportunity to recall a long, full life. I want the opportunity to reflect on the goals that I set as a young man, and accomplished through dedication and hard work.
We should all be so lucky.
Coming soon: Fearless Tri Race Report and a Season Wrap-Up!