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Strava Segments – Good or Bad?

I must admit that I was a slow adopter of Strava. At first I saw it as just another social media app, but aimed at endurance sports people. Having enough trouble keeping up with the more mainstream social media apps, I didn’t think it was for me. Then I discovered Strava Segments. For those not using Strava, these are designated stretches of road which Strava users have demarcated as a segment of KOM (King of the Mountain), although not all of these are uphill.

Every time a rider or runner’s training route covers this stretch of the road, Strava will inform them of their segment time and where they fit into the leaderboard times. Obviously not all of us can compete with the best athletes who may have covered the same stretch of road but, in that case, leaderboards can be filtered by age, weight, gender and even amongst the people in your local club or just those who have done them this year, month or day. Modern devices allow us to view ‘live segments’ which alert us to where a segment starts and finishes and will give us live feedback relating to how we are doing in respect to the current segment leading time and our own personal best. Sounds like a lot of fun, right?

The problem with Strava Segments and live segments on our devices is that they can be seriously distracting from what we are trying to achieve with our training. Not every session should be at race-pace intensity. Few things will get us more abuse than accelerating the pace in a group session in order to attack a Strava Segment.

Another issue is, as the competition for these segment times escalates, the faster they become. Running or riding a short segment as fast as possible is not that hard if all you do is that, short effort. But when it forms part of your longer training session, they can often require a much more aggressive increase in pace from what we were holding for the rest of the session.

It is therefore easy to just dismiss Strava Segments as an unnecessary distraction from a well-planned and consistent training program and to just ignore them, but I think that, used intelligently, they can add to our training. This can be even more significant in the current situation where events are battling with the Covid Pandemic restrictions and are few and far between. Personal segment goals can be treated as time trials and even virtual races in order to provide that extra push and motivation to keeping pushing ourselves in training. They are also a great way to track our progress over time.

We can use existing segments that suit our goals. If we are trying to improve our strength and stamina, harder, hilly segments can be targeted. If we are working on our threshold ability and sustaining longer efforts we can look for segments that are longer and will test those abilities. Strava is amazing at allowing us to compare our efforts over these segments and even viewing our different efforts side by side, which allow us to easily determine where we lost and gained time, which is useful information for further training.

Anyone can create a segment. If we train a lot on our own, creating segments on our regular training routes or even a segment of an entire training route, will allow us to train with ‘ourselves’ from a previous effort, using the live segment function on our device. I find this a fantastic option for longer, tempo efforts. Watching how much we are up or down on our personal best effort while performing a long, tempo session, is an excellent way to stay engaged and focused.

Obviously all of this requires a decent GPS enabled training device. I have been doing this for so long that I remember riding my bicycle on my running training routes with a spray can and marking kilometre points so that I could track it on my watch which had a maximum capacity of eight laps. Even the bike computer only measured: distance; speed and time and average speed calculations had to be done in my head. Technology certainly has come a long way in the last thirty years and it is all good as long as we use it as a tool and don’t let it dictate to us how we act in our training sessions.

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