Anyone who has been a part of endurance athletics can testify that the social bond created while out on the road or trail, running, riding, or suffering in general will tell you more about the character of a friend than just about any activity.

Those of us coming from a competitive team background, be it in running, cycling, or swimming can miss the camaraderie present in our youth when being able to push ourselves, earn our spot, or best a teammate not only helped us feel great but benefitted the group.

But, as life changes and training partners ebb and flow, it can be easy to find yourself alone on the trail or road in the dark at 5am wondering “Why am I doing this?”. These are the times when real motivation is needed; not the kind we find looking at romantic mileage stats on the blogs of famous athletes or sitting on the couch looking at the upcoming season’s race calendar.

Real motivation comes from the drive to compete against yourself from yesterday, last month, last year.

This is where Strava comes in.

“Strava is a community of athletes from all over the world. We are a tribe. Alone or together, we strive. Strava lets you experience what we call social fitness – connecting and
competing with each other via mobile and online apps.”

What’s STRAVA

Strava is a company which started in 2011 and was originally aimed at cyclists. The idea came about after frustration with the lack of data provided by traditional GPS applications inspired software which used detailed mapping data and GPS software to detect climbs and comparisons between athletes.

While in theory this sounds very simple, it opens up an entire world for one’s training. Strava allows users to “Follow” other athletes and take a detailed peak into their training log and gain motivation by seeing the daily “Feed” showing their workouts for the day.

Nothing can fire me up better on a cold and dark morning than to see that my friends, elites and beginners alike, are already out putting in the miles. If you go out on a group run Strava will automatically recognize who you ran with from GPS data, and you can organize teams and group challenges to compete against with your friends. Strava also has an increasing number of Pro level athletes on the site which allows you to take a look at what the best in the sport are doing on a daily basis.

So, here’s how Strava works. Most runners these days use GPS devices, and depending on your income bracket or level of commitment this device can range from $100- $600, providing any athlete with gobs of data about the morning jog. It really doesn’t matter, as Strava is compatible with basically every GPS device maker on the market. No GPS watch? Then just download the app to your smart phone.

Easy as pie. In my case, I come home from my morning trail run and I plug my watch in to my laptop. It takes me about 5 seconds to log into Strava and then I hit “Upload”, the software detects my Garmin 210, and the data is placed in a very user friendly format which makes Gamin Connect look like statistical graphing software from the 1990s.

Here is an example of the basic information:

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Now, here is where Strava gets really cool. Any user can create a “segment” out of their own GPS data which allows them to track their own progress on a particular segment, but also how they rank against others who’ve run the same segments. You can see my segment results above, and it shows my rankings overall on these segments. I can then click on them and dial in and see who the runners are that have bested me.

Additional information allows me to track the mileage on various pairs of shoes as well as calories burned. If I am so inclined I can share the route on social media as well.

Strava also lets users get detailed mapping information about their workouts and the segments within the route. I can download the GPS route, share it with others, and look at detailed splits of my pace with various elevation gains.

A Premium Membership ($6 per month or $59 per year) gives you access to training videos, the ability to set weekly time or mileage goals, and see how you stack up against other runners in your age and weight class.

A Premium membership also allows you to dial into very detailed pace and race analysis and see just where you pushed or fell off the pace. You can see which of your “Active Friends” are currently out logging miles and try to meet up with them in real time from the Strava app on your smartphone, and personal heat maps show you how often you run the same routes.

You can take things quite a bit further if you apply heart rate monitor data (unfortunately I don’t own a heart rate monitor) and this data allows you to see your “suffer score” which shows how hard you’re pushing yourself during various workouts.

This tool can show you when you’re slacking, run down in training, or pushing too hard out of your heart rate zones during a particular workout.

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I’ve never been much of a numbers geek. Since 1993 I’ve kept various training logs, most in notebooks or purchased through running stores, which show glimpses into failed forays of trying to be the classic “Type A” obsessive compulsive endurance athlete. However, this style has never fit my personality, and it shows in my poor documentation. About the only data that was kept with any accuracy in my past training was mileage.

Strava is very simple and it allows me to track an amazing amount of data in a very user friendly format. I can see my data in a weekly, monthly, or annual format to track such meaningful stats as mileage, hours, and elevation gained, and I can also instantly dial in my training from a week, month, or year ago for comparisons sake.

But the real advantage to Strava users is the social application, the motivation, and the camaraderie of knowing that not only your training buddies, but also users such as Sage Canaday, Lauren Fleshman, Rob Krar, Lance Armstrong, Anna Frost, Rickey Gates, Dylan Bowman, Chris Vargo, and Tomas Lorblanchet, have already got out the door. This represents just a fraction of the pros on Strava, and as the company gets further into road and trail running there seem to be new pros added all the time.

I highly recommend trying out a free membership with Stava and downloading the app onto your smartphone.

Follow some friends, follow some of the best runners in your area, follow some pros. It will provide a whole new dimension to your training and give you the motivation and social platform to take your training to the next level. Give it a try….I dare you not to become addicted!