Tracking my progress with Strava

Disclaimer: I received a Strava Summit account in exchange for a review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review, find, and write race reviews.

I’m a huge fan of tracking my workouts. I’d love to be one of those people who keeps a great training notebook, logging every workout in every detail. I’m not great at that. Every time I’ve tried, I end up not having the book with me when I want to write something down.

I tried the spreadsheet formula. That didn’t work either. I wasn’t motivated to get it done.

Enter the internet. By tracking my workouts online, I could enter data from anywhere, and if I wanted, I could make that information sharable so that my friends and training partners could see my workouts. It helped keep me accountable to myself and to others.

Strava is simple

I started using Strava in 2015. What I love the most about Strava is how incredibly easy it is to use. You can track all sorts of workouts – standard running, biking, and swimming, but you can also track other workouts – walking, yoga, weights, whatever you want. And you can enter as much or as little data as you want. Maybe you just want to log that you lifted weights for 30 minutes. You don’t need to put in the reps or the weights, just log that 30 minute data. Maybe you went on a 20 minute walk. You don’t know how far you went, but you want to log the walk. Other sites would push you to enter the pace or the distance. Strava lets you enter what you want.

Of course, I love data, so I love that I can import directly from my Garmin or from Zwift. And the best part is that I don’t have to actually do anything. Once I got direct import setup, when I finish a workout, it ports into Strava where I can check it out and analyze the info. I can customize it if I want by adding photos or comments, but I don’t have to.

I use also Strava to track the mileage on my shoes, which is an awesome feature, especially for someone who doesn’t run a steady number of miles every month. I set my current pair of shoes as my default, and Strava logs each run on those shoes (which I can go in and change if I wore something different). It helps me figure out when I need to think about breaking in a new pair.

Share what you want

Strava lets you be as public or as private as you want. You can put all of your information out there for anyone to see, you can have a purely private account, or you can be private and add friends who can see your workouts.

Personally, even though I’m a pretty open book, I do have my account set for friends only, just for safety. If you want to follow me, please feel free to request, and if you appear to not be an axe murderer, I’ll probably friend you back. And if you are an axe murderer, if you could just put that in your profile info to make it easier for me, I’d appreciate it.

One thing I do very much appreciate are the privacy zones. When you do a workout and track your distance by GPS, often times, you’re starting pretty close to your home or your work, and maybe you’re just not comfortable putting your exact location out there. Strava lets you set privacy zones up to 5/8ths of a mile from a specific address, and then any activity inside that zone won’t be shown.

Tracking Improvements

When I agreed to do a review of Strava, I figured it would be very easy. After all, I’ve been using Strava for four years to track my running, biking, and swimming. It’s what I use to track my annual mileage goals.

Then I crashed my bike and was unable to train. No training = no workouts logged. (And the annual mileage goals also went out the window.)

But now that I’m getting back into the swing of things, I’m starting to track again. It’s certainly slow going (and I’m still not back in the pool or riding outdoors) but what I’m loving is being able to see the progress that I’m making. Sure, my speed and distance aren’t what they were, but I’m doing better than I was two weeks ago.

I can also look back and see where I was after recovering from surgery last year, which gives me an idea of how long this rebuild may take. And I can look further back and see that hey, maybe things aren’t so bad after all.

Strava tracks your best efforts, and it’s always a great feeling to log on after a bad run and see that hey, you just did your third best 5k effort as part of that run, or you ran a certain segment of your running route the fastest you’ve ever run it. I find these stats especially helpful on days where I feel like I’m not making progress. Maybe I don’t feel faster, but I’m certainly getting faster.

And the best part of all of this tracking is that in a few months, I’ll be able to look back to where I was and be proud of how far I’ve come. It’s so easy to look back at a previous race result and think “Oh, man, look at all the speed I’ve lost,” but by tracking my short little runs as I’m recovering, I have something solid to look back on as I track my recovery.

And you had better believe that when I finally get my bike back outside, I’m going to be shouting it from the rooftops and I expect all the Strava accolades to be coming my way.

February Recap

February. The doldrums of the year. Some of my favorite people have birthdays in February, and there is always an awesome Superb Owl party, but beyond that, this month is so grey and dreary. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get recapped. Let’s start with my non-sports-related goals.

I set a goal to cook one new recipe a month. I give myself half a point on this one. I didn’t cook any new recipes, but I tried out Hungry Root, which is a meal prep delivery deal, except it’s pretty much just mix, heat, and eat, rather than the chopping and the prepping. It’s certainly not for everyone, and it’s not cheap, but I enjoyed what I had, will likely keep ordering it sporadically (because man, being able to eat real food during the crazy weeks was so nice), and might do a review one of these days.

Another goal was to read more books this year, and I’m doing okay on this one. I’ve been trying to read things on my to-read list and get through the giant stack of books I have in the house, and I think the problem is that I haven’t been in the mood for those particular books. So I put out a call on Twitter for recommendations and so far, that’s helped send me back in the right direction.

Finally, I wanted to get back into an awesome strength work routine. I started strong, but haven’t been doing as well as I would like. Stepping that back up this month.

February Totals
Swim: 11.9 miles
Bike: 147 miles
Run: 26 miles

I have caught up and gotten ahead of my swim goal pace for the year. Apparently that’s what happens when you actually show up for swim workouts. Who knew?

Run totals are still low, but I just managed to get a transfer entry into the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler, so those numbers will be picking up pretty swiftly, and Kim’s back, talking me into fall races, so running, here I come. Bike numbers are all Zwift miles, so those don’t really correlate to outdoor miles, but that’s okay.

In way more exciting bike news, I did an FTP test this month and my FTP increased by 13 watts. 13 more watts! And more exciting, this is the highest my FTP has ever been. That means I’m not only back from where I was pre-surgery and pre-injury, I’m finally making some real gains. That’s a huge mental boost. (Except that a higher FTP just means harder workouts, and everything is terrible.)

2019 Totals
Swim: 15.6 miles
Bike: 273 miles
Run: 48 miles

Setting my 2019 Race Schedule

My word of the year is challenge, and that’s something I’ve been focusing on as I set my race schedule for the year. I’ve had the races for the first half of the year pretty well locked down – a few olympics as tune-up and rehearsal for my big goal, IM 70.3 Ohio. But that only takes me through July. July is when my race season started last year, thanks to injury and surgery.

I started looking at what will come after July, with the idea of a challenge in the back of my mind.

I decided I wanted to finally tackle the series challenge with a local race group, which means doing at least five of their races. I’ve already got three on my schedule, so adding two more doesn’t sound too bad.

One thing I’ve never done is a back to back triathlon, racing both Saturday and Sunday. I’ve done it with half marathons, but not in a few years. So an added challenge for the year is going to be a Saturday olympic and Sunday sprint. The hardest part is going to be getting out of bed both days, I suspect!

So as of right now, here’s what I’m looking at:

  • 4/20 – Rumpus in Bumpass Olympic
  • 5/11 – Kinetic Olympic
  • 5/25 – Swimfest 4500
  • 6/15 – General Smallwood Olympic
  • 7/28 – 70.3 Ohio
  • 8/24 – Farm to Fork Fondo (tentative)
  • 9/7-8 – Patriot’s Olympic and Sprint (tentative)
  • 10/13 – Army Ten Miler (tentative)
  • 12/1 – Space Coast Half Marathon

The “tentative” just means that I haven’t plunked down the cash yet for the race. I’m also thinking I’ll add some more running races in the fall, maybe the Baltimore half, which I haven’t run in years. I should also pick up some 10ks here and there as time permits.

Given how little I raced last year, this feels like a lot, but I’m excited to tackle the challenge. I love the camaraderie of racing, and I’m looking forward to getting back out there.

The Prevalence of Cheating at Races

tswedensky / Pixabay

I’ve talked about cheating at races before, including about the people I’ve seen cheating at Disney races. But it seems to be an ongoing problem. If you aren’t already following Marathon Investigation, you should. Derek does an amazing job calling out cheaters at races. While his articles do typically focus on people who are cheating and winning awards or cheating to get into the Boston Marathon, he does also post about the average cheater, the person who wasn’t going to win anyway, but decides to cheat in some way.

There are a couple of different types of cheating. You have course cutters, who just refuse to complete the distance. You have people who create fake race bibs, either copying a friend’s or finding a photo online and using it to print a bib. Then there are the extra creative cheaters, like the people who turn a race into a relay, so one person starts the course, then they sneakily swap bibs, and another person finishes.

In this kind of information age, I’m always shocked by people who try to cheat and then deny it when they get called out. Not only should there be tracking data from a timing chip provided by the race, but frequently there are photos, and oftentimes, runners also have GPS data from their watches or phones.

Timing chips are never perfect. In recent years, I’ve had two different races where timing chip data was an issue. In one, my chip just didn’t register. In the other, I lost my chip taking off my wetsuit and didn’t realize it. But in both, I had GPS data to prove that I completed the entire race. I was never questioned on it, but if I had been, I had the information to back it up.

(I used to joke that no one would look at my results and think I was cheating, but I’ve come to see that that isn’t true – people aren’t just cheating to qualify for awards, they’re cheating just to get a finisher’s medal, which seems absolutely insane.)

The question is what should races do about these cheaters? Many of them are ultimately disqualified in the results, but if you’re just cheating to get a medal, you probably don’t care about that at all. Should they be banned from future races? For the repeat offenders, absolutely. And maybe the threat of banning after one incident would also stop some of the cheating.

Disney has tried to make it harder for people to get Goofy and Dopey medals. There are wristbands. There are photos (or so I’m told – I’ve never run either). But people can still cut the course or jump on to the course late in the race and still “finish.” Apparently, this year during the Disney marathon, there were runners seen on the monorail and runners jumping into the race at the Beach Club, which is just a couple of miles from the finish line. I really wonder Disney actually cares. What’s the harm in a small percentage of runners cheating the system, if the vast majority are doing what they’re supposed to do? Shouldn’t their focus be placed on making sure that those runners have an awesome, safe race?

While I’m not a huge fan of public shaming, I do enjoy seeing these cheaters getting called out, specifically the ones who have bragged about their “accomplishment” online. They did something wrong, they know they did something wrong, and maybe this will force them to see the truth.

And maybe it will help convince others that a DNF is worth so much more than a fake finish. There is a ton of integrity in fighting through a race, not giving up, but not being able to finish. At the end of the day, a medal is a fun shiny object, but knowing you did the right thing carries much more weight.

2019 WDW Marathon Cheering Recap

As I did last year, this year, I flew down to Walt Disney World for marathon weekend to hang out with friends, cheer on friends and strangers, and celebrate my birthday.

This cupcake was weirdly filled with sprinkles, and I’m not sure what I think about that.

I got to Disney on Thursday (my birthday) and after I checked in and grabbed lunch, I wandered the parks for a while and went over to check out the race expo. I learned that when you can do whatever you want whenever you want, you can get a lot of rides done in a short period of time. I also took a conference call while waiting in line at the Haunted Mansion because that’s the kind of employee I am.

I wasn’t super impressed by the race expo. I admit, I didn’t bother to go check out the race-specific merchandise because I wasn’t planning to buy anything for a race I wasn’t running. But I just wasn’t impressed as a whole by the rest of the expo. So of course, I didn’t end up buying much of anything. And there was so much less free stuff than previous years! That’s half the fun of an expo!

Because of the course of the 10K, I didn’t go cheer on Friday (and let me tell you, sleeping in was glorious). But Saturday morning, I was out at the Grand Floridian entrance (my standard cheer spot) cheering on every single half marathon runner.

Guys, it was cold out there!

I had some company for part of the cheering, but people had to go get off their feet before the marathon, so I stayed out alone and made friends with the other people cheering. And then I went and had breakfast at the Wave, and went over to Hollywood Studios to ride Slinky Dog. As you do.

Sunday morning, same plan. Up and over to the Grand Floridian to cheer. This time, I had more company.

Yes, I had to get my cowbell in all the pictures.

Hung out at the Grand Floridian and cheered on every runner as they passed, then headed in to grab some quick breakfast before taking the monorail over to Epcot and continue cheering as people left Epcot towards the finish. That’s one of my favorite places to cheer because of the relief you see on people’s faces.

I also got the joy of annoying people with my cowbell. I was standing there, ringing my giant cowbell, when this woman moved a cone blocking the spectators so she could go past me and sit on the edge of a planter. This put her ear not terribly far from my cowbell. Then she proceeded to glare at me and finally got fed up and huffed away. Cowbell wins again!

My forearms were sore for about three days after though. Cowbell arm is no joke.

One common feature of marathon finishers is the various alcoholic beverages people are carrying as they exit the park. However, this year, we saw something new. After the balloon ladies passed, a crew of runDisney staffers came up and started stopping any racers who were carrying alcoholic drinks. They had to finish or toss the drinks – they weren’t allowed to carry them out of the park. Of course, the standard rule is that you can’t bring alcohol out of the park, but all the racers who were within the official time limits didn’t seem to have any issues. Those who were after those limits, however, were stopped. I wonder if this is to encourage people to not stop for drinks if they are behind pace. There’s a general belief that if you make it into Epcot, you’re “safe” and won’t be swept, which is generally true, but at the same time, they do need to get the runners through and finish the race. It will be interesting to see what they do next year.

And of course, I do plan to be back to cheer again next year. This year’s trip was a bit different in that last year, I was injured and wouldn’t have been able to run had I registered. This year, I was in fine form, and I have to admit, I had a little bit of FOMO that I didn’t run. Since next year, the 10K is on my birthday, I think I may have to sign up for the race. I’m certainly not running a marathon, and I’ve enjoyed being able to relax on my training during the crazy that is December, so I think the half is out too. But the 10K? That seems do-able!