Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Sunny skies, Strava, and supplementing my run

The Vancouver Marathon has long passed. After the race, I decided to take some time away from run training. I did not stop running, but I let myself have a break from the constant pressure of workouts, intervals, hills, and the stress of knowing that what I was doing was all for my next race. The downtime away from the diligence and commitment has been very lovely and very needed. Even with Knee Knacker coming up, one of the 25 toughest runs in North America, I am surprisingly not super stressed out. This lack of obsessive run training has created a void. In it's place, I have become re-acquainted with my bicycle.

It started gently enough with a recovery ride the day after the marathon in the Watershed on my mountain bike. I wanted to spin out my legs and try to prevent painful DOMS from setting in (preventing DOMS from setting is is futile, but I did try my best to mitigate the soreness and stiffness by having two massages in two days, two ice baths, and the bike). One ride turned to two, and sooner rather than later, I was back to doing long rides, intensity and double days of bike in the AM, run in the PM, or vice-verse. A couple of things happened: I fell in love with my bike--with the ride, again. I signed up for the Axel Merckx Gran Fondo in Pentiction on July 7th. And Strava, that ugly, sexy beast came back to life for me.

Last year I ruined my cyclocross season. A number of factors played into that, but a key component of that ruin was Strava. I loved chasing KOMs, bettering myself on segments and climbs, but I started to do stupid things. A lack of rest, a lack of specific training, an obsession over routes, the whole thing became a bit of a cluster cuss. Riding hard, but not smart was the big problem.

A year later, I am aware of my capabilities on the bike after a long winter and spring of running. I am holding back knowing that I have not been on a bike in a long time. I do feel the fitness building, the bike strength starting to come back. Biking for longer distances and the endurance built up from running have helped to not make the transfer back to cycling as painful as it once may have been. My recovery from efforts is good, but my speed endurance is in a development phase right now.

May and June have been very much welcomed. I have longed for the sun, warmth, and dry to be able to get out there multiple times a day and to have some fun. Even taking less time to run has allowed me to relax about the training, and to enjoy the runs on most days, rather than obsessing about them. Obsessing is for Strava. That is what I have been doing lately. I find that when I am off of Strava, I don't give a hill of beans about it, or who is doing which rides, or earning which KOMs. But dusting it up in the mix with my buddies makes for some pretty fun social exchanges on the site. Salvo's are launched at each other, KOMs are stolen. Trash talk. Re-buttles. Jokes. Then a counterattack. It all makes for some pretty fun times.

Currently, I am (yet again) obsessing about a friendly competition between me and a member of my cycling team. I managed to take a segment lately, one that will go unnamed. The next day it was stolen away from me by one Andrew Pickell. Picks has transformed himself into a cycling machine in the last few months. He has gone from a relative enthusiastic cycling-noob-racer, to a crazy mo-fo-strava-strongman/ roadie geek who rides 160kms in the rain in February just to complete a Strava challenge. The guy is keeping up with Ted Matson, who is a ruthless, cutthroat cyclist on Strava, and anywhere else for that matter. I take great inspiration from and have a tonne of respect (and fear) of Ted. Recently, he managed to ride for 87kms, averaging 36km/h, for all to see on Strava, leaving many a Strava-dork reeling after decimating the previous best times on some long standing segments. Ted is a beast. Andrew is transforming into one.

I really do think that chasing segments for the sake of chasing segments/ boosting ones own ego online is plain and simply stupid, and sometimes dangerous. Planning out my route to take down the low hanging fruit, or to push against the previous fastest of the day is counterproductive and silly. Yet last week there I was, a tried and true Strava junkie, one Friday night riding in the dark past 11 PM in a pair of Costco khaki shorts and a t-shirt (totally not the standard uniform for a segment attack), after an afternoon 80k ride, trying to take back something that I felt and thought was rightfully mine. My attempt was undone by a young woman driving her car with a flat tire. My segment attack over, I stopped to help her fix it. Good can come from Strava.

I have manage to find many a new route scouting the maps of Strava, looking to get out of the funk of my traditional staid ride habits. This last weekend, I rode 120kms (my longest ride of the year) and hitched up with the South Fraser Perimeter Road where I bumped into a bear on the side of the road, just chillin'. I had no idea we had such wildlife in Surrey. The exploration and breaking new ground on a bike is one of the things I love about riding. Lately I have felt some solace in that if I am on a ride and I manage to steal a KOM without trying over a patch of new road, good for me. But to target a KOM? All the trash talk that goes along with it when one is sniped is like waking the monster-you know you are going face some retaliation.

And in all honesty, I am not strong enough to resist the temptation to throw down and claim bragging rights over certain segments, roads, and trails in my world. I am human. I like the competition. I will try to lay my name on a virtual road to win the tiny little golden pixelated crown for all to see on Strava. And if I can't do it today? There is always another ride tomorrow. I am guilty of my own stone throwing, and calling everyone else out. I see that.

And about tomorrow: flogging myself today has just made me the little bit stronger to usurp your virtual crown in the kingdom of Strava. So watch out, and be ready to battle. It makes cycling as a thirty-something-father-of-three/ amateur-athlete/ wannabe-pro in my own little dream world feel a teeny bit important in this world. It proves that I am stronger than you, at least on that one day, that one time up that one street.

Just try not to let it suck the joy out of riding in some of the more beautiful places and times of our day.

Are we better for Strava, or is it forcing us into an unhealthy addiction that makes us dependent on our technology in order to find any enjoyment in our recreation? Some of us know that an unhealthy dependency has taken shape. Just look at a rider dis-affectionately referred to as Motoman in our part of the lower mainland--one who is suspected of moto-pacing segments at beyond fathomable speeds. He may have ridden that fast with some wind-breaking assistance, but cheating to do so to boost his own ego? Meh. Loser. At least that is the consensus among us who see the leader boards and go "yeah right" and "flag it" to said rider's results. Some people take it too seriously. Some of us obsess. And then there are those who have be the fastest no matter what the cost.

I love Strava. It is fun. It has changed the way people ride, push themselves, and raised the limits of our own expectations of ourselves. Perhaps I am addicted to it. Like Gil Scott Heron said, "New York is killing me." Perhaps Strava is killing all of us who use it, not figuratively. Or just killing the childlike playfulness we share with a sport we love dearly. Or it is doing the opposite, and helping us to re-engage with our childlike playfulness and have good, competitive fun?

Whatever it is, I need to go for a run right now, and leave my GPS at home. I will be back on my bike tomorrow.

--Joshua Weiss set a cycling goal of 1500kms for the month of June. He is on pace to shatter that goal if the rest of the month can keep up with the first 5 days of June He will still be running and riding daily until his heart gives out. Right now he is going through an identity crisis wondering "am I a cyclist, or am I a runner?" He plans on taking on Oliver 70.3 2014 and settle the debate once and for all by finding out that he is actually, a triathlete, but he does not know it yet. Don't tell he that. He could get offended.