Strava-Load: When Too Much Data and Competition Holds Back Endurance Athletes

By Kerry Hamby, MTI Contributor

Last weekend I ran on the beach with no shoes and…no watch. I think I ran fast, but I don’t know how fast. I felt the waves on my toes, nodded at fellow runners and beach cruisers, and enjoyed the rising sun change the colors around me. I know the idea of ditching a personal data recorder during training brings a low level panic to many. Does your run, ski, bike ride (etc.) even count?

Of course it does. Even if someone makes the asinine statement “Strava or it didn’t happen,” I think squawking post-sand-run calves or the likes are enough evidence to the contrary. It just won’t be public. Does it always have to be? Can an overabundance of data prevent breakthroughs? What about this era of “connected fitness” – the online communities where we can share our results and efforts, whether it was a grand adventure race through the mountains or a bike commute?

Garmin Connect, iFit, Peloton, and more create the online fitness-sharing universe. STRAVA, though, is top dog. I entered the Strava world when it was the nerdy (free!) platform where my mountain bike friends and I would find new routes and try to knock each other off top-ten leaderboards for segments. For those not in the know, segments on Strava are GPS sections of road/trail, named by users, where athletes compete against peers with their times. These days, it seems more like a social media platform that has become a common verb in endurance athletes’ vernacular – “did you Strava it?” By the end of 2023, Strava touted over 120 million registered users across the world, with an average monthly increase of 2 million users per month. They made $275 million in revenue last year.

Total ditching of our data and numbers is not worthwhile. There is an elegance in the purity of numerics and results. In work and in athletics, results are the truth by which we are ultimately judged. We need numbers to direct our training intelligently. But they never tell the full story. When an athlete is overly attached to their numbers day-in and day-out, it has the potential to hold them back and cause them to forget why they started in the first place. Thus, a break now and again, or at least sharper awareness of what data-overload and attachment can do, might be worth consideration.

The public nature of shared performance data can create an insidious effect. At its best, it creates a positive peer pressure and community within a fun and supportive structure. Yet, like all social media venues, the flip side is ugly. I’m not even talking about the especially egregious cases – pedestrians killed as cyclists sprint for segment leadership, cyclists killed disregarding safety to defend “king of the mountain” status, the stalking of professional athletes; rather, I’m referring to the day-to-day effect of adjusting your pace or effort, even subconsciously, because of the over-the-shoulder effect felt if someone on the internet can scroll through your results and see your performance. Most athletes are driven to be the best, but allowing competitiveness and ego to significantly affect our training is where we go awry. Easy days are meant to be easy, recovery should bring our heart rate down. When we feel ourselves letting the internet spectators dictate too many of the efforts, it is time to take a break.

In the mountains, if we are monitoring our data too closely and eagerly, perhaps we are missing the whole point. In the beginning, most of us chose and loved our mountain sport because it allowed us a brief retreat from reality, a few moments alone with our thoughts, and a connectedness with the world we were moving through – not the online one. If we were next to someone, it was a training partner with whom we shared real time conversation. When I think of skiing, I think of stunning scenery and a measured adrenaline rush for the enjoyment of the sport itself, driven by the pursuit of adventure and fun. Now though, we can track and share how fast and how many times we bombed down a mountain on skis or a snowboard. Somehow, taunting our friends and bragging about our ski runs via an app seems slightly blasphemous to me. Even if “for fun” isn’t in your vocabulary, performance-oriented mountain athletes can benefit from forgetting the watch at times. My own strategy in a race or difficult trail run is to make myself look up and take in the surroundings when things start to hurt. I swear it works.

Finally, breakthroughs are harder to come by if we think we know what our numbers should be and stick to them, rather than allowing a good day or a training partner to elevate us past them. There is a lot of science in training – but there is also an art. Trusting this requires us to let loose the reigns a bit, which is not always easy. But numbers create mental barriers, whether we want them to or not. The iconic historical example is Roger Bannister’s breaking of the 4 minute mile on May 6, 1954, after decades of track and field athletes chasing the “impossible” mark. Within a year from the day he broke it, four others joined him on the other side. Once, I watched a good cycling friend ride faster than she ever had with a new group, and we gave her a whoop of congratulations. She smiled, then looked down at her heart rate, stated it was too high, and promptly dropped back. What if she hadn’t had that data in such close reach? What could she accomplish? I fear that we are becoming so stuck on digital read-outs that we are forgetting to trust our own body systems and signals, and don’t remember how to let ourselves fly to the next level when timing is right. Elusive flow states and real leaps in progress are impossible to reach without this skill.

For the record, I personally wear a watch for most of my endurance training, and I still have and enjoy my Strava account. However, I regularly ditch the watch to pay more attention to the qualitative data – to get back in touch with myself or where I am, and to remind myself of why I really run or ride. At the end of an unrecorded session, I’m not leaping to stop the timer on my watch and dig into the statistics – rather, I can more fully process and take in what just happened. It resets the compass. The default setting on data sharing sites can be set to private, so only events we deem significant need to be shared – races, rides with friends, particularly inspiring scenery. It is a freeing feeling, that I’d recommend to anyone.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you might miss it,” said Ferris Bueller, our timeless cinematic hero. We are all moving pretty fast these days, sometimes more so as an athlete. I just hope we don’t forget to look around out there sometimes. The quiet, behind the scenes grind of an endurance athlete’s day-to-day does not need to be on display for all. Instead, let the results in a race or event reflect your training effort (or lack thereof). Data should not drive us, we should drive it. It is a tool, and only that.

Kerry is an active duty Coast Guard officer and accomplished multi-sport endurance athlete. 



George, R. (2020, January 14). Kudos, leaderboards, QOMs: How fitness app Strava became a religion. Retrieved from The Guardian:

Curry, D. (2023, April 30). Strava Revenue and Usage Statistics (2024). Retrieved from The Business of Apps.

Beckett, A. (2024, May 14). Strava urged to delete popular London cycling segment after deadly crash. Retrieved from Cycling Weekly.

ABC7 (2012, June 18). Family sues Strava website for cycling death. Retrieved from ABC7 Bay Area News.

Huber, M. (2022, May 12). How Strava Fame Became a Burden for Molly Seidel. Retrieved from Run magazine.

Taylor, B. (2018, March 09). What Breaking the 4-Minute Mile Taught Us About the Limits of Conventional Thinking. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review.

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