I wrote a year ago about Strava, and about how it was then providing me with something to strive for in my cycling. Since then, a lot has changed. I was fit at that stage, having just done a LEJOG cycle in 12 days. There weren’t that many people using Strava in my area, there were consequently far fewer segments, and thus getting up to reasonably respectable positions on the leaderboards was possible.
Fast forward a year, and the situation has changed. The number of Strava users has mushroomed, and so has the number of segments. The ride I remarked on a year ago had four segments then, with each having, from 7 to 30 riders on the leaderboard. That same ride today has 20 segments, some of which have up to 700+ riders. It’s a different ball game (to the extent that cycling is a ball game at all). Strava has received a fair bit of bad press due to the way it encourages cyclists to go all out and disregard safety in pursuit of the top spot. There’s a good, balanced article worth reading here. The point is, though, that there are a lot of really good, professional (or quasi-professional) cyclists out there hogging the leaderboards, and a rank amateur such as me doesn’t really stand much of a chance at all.
So, I’ve switched to using it as a way of measuring my own progress, and fitness level. Instead of competing against the other cyclists directly, I aim for my own personal best, with a sideline goal of getting into a certain percentile band. I also focus on the hillier segments – the flat and downhill ones are just there for flat-out sprinting, which I’m just not much good at at all. The first time I ride a segment, I’m usually not aware that it’s there – you only find out when you get back home and review the ride. I’m happy if I’m in the top half, and rather pleased if I’m in the top third. On subsequent rides, then, I’ll focus on a few hills that I think I’ve got a chance at improving my time on. I’m finding that three or four intense hill climbs each hour of cycling does wonders for strength and endurance. I aim to get into the top quarter, with a mental gold star for a top 10% place.
As an example, here are my times from one of those segments I managed to get second place on at first attempt. It’s quite clear to see the drop in fitness over winter, followed by the subsequent steady improvement over this season. I finally managed to beat my time of last year, and am now a bit nervous of trying it again.
That time of 14:42 was good enough for second out of about 24 riders last year (first place was 13:42). Now, 14:22 only gets me 24th out of 202. Not quite gold star yet.
What I really wish for, though, would be an overall ride measurement, apart from the total average speed. Something that takes all the segments ridden, works out what percentile your time was for that ride, and calculates a weighted average. If there’s anyone out there who knows how to do magic with the Strava API, please let me know – I have all the calculations required in my head, but don’t know how to get hold of all the data.
- Strava: My cycling conscience and the devil on my shoulder (zeroexceptions.wordpress.com)