‘I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THIS SHARING MALARKEY’
According to the ‘if it isn’t on Strava, it didn’t happen’ school of thinking, I haven’t been running since 2015. However, I can assure you that many happy miles have been accrued since my short-lived flirtation with the world’s most popular running social network fizzled out. Strava and I just didn’t hit it off, but recently – with an increasing number of friends and family sharing their running lives online – I have begun to wonder why, and even whether I’d been too hasty. A key stumbling block is that data does not capture me. I am one of an increasingly rare breed of runners who can happily set off for a run without pressing ‘start’ on any device. Indeed, I would rather do so than stand on a street corner waiting for my watch to find a signal.
Much of the time, recording runs seems a little pointless. The two miles from the station to the office is always two miles, regardless of whether I measure it, and I question the value of knowing my pace when it’s dictated by how many traffic lights are red, or how many pedestrians I have to dodge on Oxford Street. It’s the same on local runs: a footpath that’s a shoe-sucking bog one month can be bone dry and rutted the next, rendering pace comparisons over that route meaningless.
And I’ll be honest – I have a problem with this sharing malarkey. Even when I do record a training run, I have no desire to upload my stats for the rest of the running community to scrutinise. I’m perfectly happy to jot down a few key stats and notes in my training diary with a biro.
You might assume that my antipathy towards data recording and sharing means I’m not motivated by competition or concerned about speed and distance. But it’s dawned on me that the exact opposite is true. I care far too much. Laying yourself bare in such a public arena inevitably means that people will make judgments and draw comparisons – I know, because I’ve done it too. But when they’re poring over your mileage, average pace, long runs and 400m-rep splits, they’re not in full possession of the facts ( how could they possibly know, for example, that one of my particularly slow runs involved creeping around the edge of a field of skittish bullocks?) – and that gives me a funny, nervous feeling in my stomach.
There are two potential ways for the fiercely competitive running perfectionist to survive the public arena of the online training platform, and neither of them is pretty. One – continue to train as normal but be so selective about what you upload that your feed presents only the truly kudosworthy stuff (vain, dishonest, time-consuming). Two – strive to put on a good show. (The word strava actually means ‘strive’ in Swedish.) Here, the drawback is being tempted to run faster, further and more often than is good for you, to choose routes with fewer obstacles and interruptions rather than for the terrain or scenery, to deliberately target segments (a segment is a section of road or trail that’s been run and timed by any other Strava user) and get sucked in to ‘how far/ how fast?’ challenges that ultimately turn running into a race towards the end goal without due consideration for the journey.
There is a third option, of course, which is the one I took in 2015: log out. If I am going to be judged by others, I want it to be on my race performances, not my training runs, just as an actor would want to be reviewed on the opening night not at dress rehearsals. When I toe the line of a race I’m making a statement that I’m ready to give it my all and be judged by the results sheet. The rest of the time, when I’m having fun dodging cows and puddles, I’d rather do it in private.