Tuesday 21 October 2014

New sponsor: Ultimate Direction

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of their products, so I'm honoured to be an ambassador for Ultimate Direction.

Designed by athletes for athletes, they are well thought out packs and belts.  The look and feel different and fit perfectly.  

You can read more about the products on the the UD Blog, follow them on Twitter @UDhydrates or find them on Facebook.

Friday 3 October 2014

I admit it. I'm a Strava addict

I guess my downward spiral to addiction started like everyone else’s.  Innocently curious. I didn’t think it would happen to me.  I looked on in pity – and almost distaste – at those dependent.  Those modern-day junkies. How it controlled their every step. Ravaged their minds.  I didn’t even want to do it.  The peer pressure just got too much.  They made it sound so fun and glamorous. “All the cool kids are doing it”: They said. I thought I would just try it.  Dabble a bit. Recreationally, I suppose.  I even did it privately, so no one could see what I was doing.  But, before long, it quickly enveloped my life and now I have to admit I have an addiction. It started with the soft drugs, like Garmin Connect.  Just monitoring miles and occasional checking previously results for progress.  But now I’m an A-Class user.  I’m addicted to Strava.

For those of you who have not been drawn to the dark side, Strava was founded by Michael Gainey in 2009 and allows members around the world to track their runs and rides via mobile and GPS.  Strava - from the Swedish verb “to strive” – has been dubbed social fitness, as you can connect and compete with other athletes. I’m not so sure about the “camaraderie” it claims to evoke, but it dishes out gallons of motivation.  There’s nowhere to hide or slightly exaggerate the pace, time, elevation or mileage.  Let’s be honest, we’ve all done it. It’s black and white and totally transparent.  You’re forced to “prove it”.

Sounds a bit OCD, right? Well, don’t judge me until you’ve tried it.  I’m not a speedster and I don’t obsess over stats, but it sucks you in with its special little community feel and its nice Americanised dialogue that makes you feel so warm and fuzzy inside. 

If someone follows you, the message is “Whoa, you're kind of a big deal. Mr/Ms ABC is now following you on Strava.  Let's show him what you can do. Go get 'em”.  Of course, evoking said camaraderie?  Not likely. 

You receive kudos – which is similar to a Facebook “like”, but so much more – from your followers.  Kudos is my new favourite thing. Strava sends the admiration with a “great job out there…keep it up”.  A big thumbs up from your running companions – and competitors! – what’s not to love about it? Like a needy child seeking approval and praise, I thrive on those digital pats on the back.

The leaderboards open up a whole new level of a competition. And obsession. As well as potential overtraining and injuries.  Each club you join has its own leaderboard, ranking athletes by mileage, time and climb. As an ultra-runner, a distance board is like porn, but even I look at some people’s training and think WTF? Why?  Not you, Paul.  You need to up your game.  I do have a bit of friendly rivalry with mileage with my Centurion team mate, Paul, but that’s healthy.  Unfortunately I will always win on the time spent running leader board - and that’s not a good thing.  Sonic won’t admit it, but he’s also thrown down the mileage gauntlet.  Either that or he doesn’t like hanging out with me. 

The key ingredient in the fanatical cocktail that is Strava are the segments.  The mini courses with invisible timing mats that turn easy runs into eyeballs out.  Each segments has its own course records (CR) and a leaderboard.  And if you don’t make the record, you’ve got personal bests to beat.  So even if you’re not competing at the sharp end, every run is a race against yourself.  I find myself uploading to Strava before I’ve taken my shoes off to see if you’ve added to my virtual trophy case.

When I’m in segment territory, there no messing about.  One morning I was jogging to work and wanted to have a crack at the “Great Western ShortRun”.  I stopped at the lights and removed my jacket.  OK, I was already a little warm.  Then absolutely whored it along the road…only to get to the end and realise I hadn’t started my GPS.  Ahhh!  I had a concealed meltdown on the pavement, which may have looked like some kind of fit.  I’ve still not got close to the CR.

Last week, I was running through Glasgow’s west end when an elderly lady fell on the road. The knock-on effect of an impatient twat who honked his horn, she panicked, tripped and split her eye open.  The wee soul was 96-years-old and weighed less than a small child.  Of course I stopped to help and used my snotty hankies to hold the wound.  After the ambulance appeared and she was in the capable hands of the paramedics, I pushed on and restarted my Garmin.  First thing was: “Feck, I was so on a PB on that segment”.  It crosses over three sets of traffic lights.  To have the lights in my favour during rush hour was a massive thing.  Too much?  You’re probably right.  I mean, who creates a segment that goes across three main roads in a city anyway?

I’ll admit that Strava does make me act in inappropriate ways and do things that may some a little crackers to the naked eye.  Maybe it’s the universal code for an endurance athlete’s apology.  One morning, The GM and I were prancing about on the Kilpatrick Hills, when a biker passed us.  He ignored our friendly greetings and continued on - hanging over the handlebars, panting and on the cusp of combustion.  How rude? As he reached the brow of the hill he about turned and meandered down in a calmer manner.  As he passed again, he smiled, rolled his eyes and muttered: “Strava”.  We understood and all was forgiven. 

I’m not so forgiving when I receive the dreaded email with “Uh oh! Someone’s stole your CR”.   That’s never a good start to the day.  Frantically checking to see if said thief did it on a bike and loaded it as a run. And if they did, I jump on that “flag” button like a possessed vigilante protecting the food soldiers from those pesky two-wheeled villains.

Like all records though, they’re there to be broken.  You win some and you loss some, right? Wrong, you just set up your own segments.  I’ve set up a few on my usual runs, under the pretence that I’ll use them to gauge where I’m at. We all know it’s just feeding the addiction though.

It may be cheating a bit.  But it really does unearth the real cheats.  There’s a segment which I often frequent on my Monday lunch run, which has a local lady sitting in pole position with her run titled “Matt’s Half Marathon PB”.  Yes, she wasn’t even wearing the GPS at the time.

It's game over if I've forgotten my watch, or worse it's out of battery.  I mean, why even bother?  I went out for my first speed session 10 days after the Lakeland 100.  Stupid, I know.  But I was gutted my watch ran out half way into the session.  Granted, I wasn't exactly pulling up the trees, but how was I supposed to brag about my superhuman recovery? (Said with tongue firmly in cheek)  Manual entries just don't cut it.  You can't "prove it".  While we're at it, neither does anything that's not running or biking.  Especially skipping. I've seen it, no joke. 

The best are those who leave on their app or GPS in the car.  Check out this chap. He’s got the CR on one of my local segments – courtesy of a 400+ mile “morning run” that covers the length of Britain! The face has been covered to protect the not so innocent.

Love it or loathe it, there’s no doubt that Strava provides masses of motivation.  People try harder when they’re being watched.  It’s called social facilitation. How many times have you upped the pace or perfected your form when you see another runner approaching? Well, Strava does that digitally and relentlessly.

Although it is comical that everyone seems to do easy/steady/recovery runs, even though they probably vomited at the end.

Earlier this year, I was toying with the idea of a coach.  Something to stop me plodding about aimlessly or focus on quality rather than quantity.  Now I’ve got my spark back.   I may end up on the scrapheap, but at least there will be fire in my belly.  Just give me kudos when I bow out.