As the year came to close, I sat at the computer with a Pizza Port IPA close by, seeing people post their ride stats for 2017 as summarized by Strava or Veloviewer… Admittedly, I do the same thing, that is post my ride stats for the year (since I’m kinda proud of them!). However, this year was different for me…my ride numbers(miles, time, vert) were not my highest to date yet this year, at the ripe old age of 52 (well, 51 up to October), I qualitatively felt like I was riding stronger than ever before; Busting into top 10’s on highly contested climbs, grabbing some key KOM’s, and all in all feeling like my angriness has been paying off.. but why not in prior years with more miles, more vert, and more saddle time?
As I’m sure you all realize, I humbly believe I know the answer to this; an answer I wrote about in my prior blog post. But, since I don’t want to repeat that, let me take a different tact.
WARNING: What you are about to read pertains to those people who mainly ride bikes to get fast…if adventure, flower sniffing, or pleasure riding is your thing…COOL… what follows will not pertain to you. But if you are a Type A, competitive SOB that wants to be fast…keep reading.
Flash back to when you first started riding in a more consistent, serious sense…not just rolling down to the liquor store for a sixer of PBR, but actually riding with some intent. That being either better fitness, competition or what have you. At some point, it probably dawned on you pushing your limits was fun (in a sick sort of way). So maybe you trained for a century or perhaps some longer MTB ride. So, you piled on the miles after a spending some money on chamois cream for your taint, you got it done… Following that accomplishment, you were hooked…the desire to become faster overcame you. Maybe setting goals helps you so you did that…miles per week/month, or ride time per week/month. And so you did it, more saddle time, better fitness, and all was well.
But still, other riders were faster.
They dropped you on the climbs.
They stood around in the desert waiting for you to catch up.
They waited at the car for you.
W.T.F. you may have said….
Along comes STRAVA….what a great mashup of ride data availability and cheap recording technology (smartphones, gps devices)…. We now compete every day on rides even though our competitor is either asleep, at work, or sitting at the bar. STRAVA upped the ante with their challenges…The equivalent of costume jewelry where you gain “badges” by accomplishing basic goals…ie, miles per month, or vertical climb per month.
UGH…what a setback (IMHO).
Before your panties get too much in a bunch, let me explain… We all have different goals and different ways we are motivated. Read a little B.F. Skinner and the behavior theory stuff and you’ll get that. For some people, basic activity goals work great....that’s why all these step counting devices people wear on their wrists work! Give ‘em a goal, a way to measure progress against that goal, and they’ll alter their behavior to get it. It’s awesome and I’d venture a guess that people who measure activity are in general healthier (I’ll bet insurance companies have all the quantitative data on this).
But if you want to be at the top of your game in something like cycling? Forget it…just focusing on miles, vertical climb or saddle time, just ain’t gonna get you there. And this is where STRAVA does us a disservice…it creates these challenges and pits us against our fellow athletes to maximize these basic, yet almost meaningless metrics.
As I said in my prior blog post…it’s about intensity and skill. A friend of mine summed it up well…”Hard days hard, easy days easy”. Wanna get fast on the MTB, do intervals. Practice bike handling. Go hard a few days a week…really hard…like OMG I’m gonna puke hard. Go easy other days. Practice conservation of momentum…you work hard to make speed, work harder at maintaining it. Sleep a lot. Eat good stuff. Clean your drivetrain (well OK, the OCD guy in me needs to do this).
And finally, boycott those climbing and distance challenges on STRAVA. They are just plain dumb.