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Maybe don’t show me the strava stats

31 March 2023

I’ve always been a late adopter when it comes to tech. The last person in my friendship group to get a mobile phone, I held out until the day I had to spend an hour and twenty minutes waiting in the car park of Balham Sainsburys because everyone was running late, but had no way of telling me.

When I started running in 1993 I wore a casio stopwatch that went up to one hour, before starting again at 00:00:00. I still have it, it still works, and I’ve never changed the battery. I just looked up when GPS watches were invented, and the first garmin went on sale 20 years ago. I bought one in 2014.

Why did I need a watch to tell me how fast I was running? I worried it would stop me from “running on feel” and listening to my body. Now I can’t imagine running without it. If I want to test whether I’m still running on feel, I just don’t look at my watch during the run, and check the data later. That way I can still run on feel, but also find out if my feelings are accurate.

I’m on my third garmin now, but still a fairly basic version (Forerunner 55) with all the alerts and suggestions switched off. I don’t want my watch to tell me what to do, or nag me to do more. The best thing about using a GPS watch is not having to do sums. Racing used to be a maths test: dividing your goal time by 26.2, writing down key splits on your hand, and re-calculating your pace at every mile marker.

Uploading my runs to strava, I love seeing my routes, and other people’s, to get ideas of where to run. Back in the pre map-my-run days, when I wanted to plan out a long run I genuinely had to get a piece of string and measure out a run on the A-Z or an ordnance survey map. Now I do an online version of this with the amazing OS app. But instead of writing the directions on my hand (hands were very important in the past), I can just look at the route on my phone in the middle of the run, and it tells me where I am.

Technology really is magic, and we’re lucky to have it. It has changed so much about running, it’s hard to remember what it used to be like. But last month, my free strava account was automatically upgraded to a subscription for a month, and I remembered that tech isn’t always good for you. At first, I was excited. What’s not to love about viewing our fitness trends over time, and training progress week by week?

What’s not to love? For me, this kind of analysis was de-motivating, and anxiety-inducing. When all my numbers are going up, I feel pressure to keep them there. When they’re going down, I feel depressed and frustrated I’m not making them go up again. This is what losing “running on feel” looks like to me. An overload of analysis which controls my feelings about running. I didn’t feel bad about my training before, but now that I can see the stats, I do.

Strava has tried not to make its language all about monster weeks, and to frame rest weeks as positive. But the colours, the numbers, the charts, they paint more of a picture than the words. If you’re a runner like me who is self-critical, and over-competitive, this is risky.

The month’s subscription just came to an end, and my account is back to normal, just in time for me to pick up a knee injury. So whatever happens now, at least not having to look at my declining fitness trend is a light in the darkness.

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