Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Strava: GPS app and running community

During my (brief) running career, I've used several different apps to log my miles and track my workouts.  I began using MapMyRun because I liked the mapping tool on its website.  As a new runner in 2011, I didn't own a smartphone, so I carefully plotted routes using the MapMyRun desktop site.  I loved looking at my maps and watching the calendar function fill up with my mileage.

Once I upgraded to a humble smartphone (or as my sister called it: a phone that got by with a C average), I wasn't thrilled with the functionality of the MapMyRun app.  Its interface seemed clunky, and though I still loved the desktop version, the app wasn't cutting it for me.  At my husband's suggestion, I switched to RunKeeper, which worked wonderfully as a GPS app.  It had a slick, streamlined interface, good voice feedback, and my husband and I could link up as friends through the app.  I liked the encouragement and accountability of connecting with his activities in the app.  But RunKeeper's website was seriously lacking...

Not completely thrilled with either of my options, I was intrigued when I heard about Strava.  I tentatively took it out on a test run last December and ran down my laundry list of wants for a GPS app:

Clean interface?  Check
Regular voice cues (at mileage or time intervals)?  Check
Social component?  Check
Website with maps and calendar showing progress?  Check

Without even trying, I accidentally stumbled into my ideal running app.  The interface is extremely intuitive, making it easy to start and stop the app even with a carb-starved brain at the end of a long run.  The app has a built-in autopause function that takes into account the time I spend stopped at traffic lights, which is pretty slick.  Strava's website provides endless amounts of data (especially if you upgrade to a premium account), and nerdy, Type-A runner in me loves to check and recheck my stats.  I could even switch the voice from the annoying Rita to a reassuring Aussie (I've named him Al).

And the social aspect of Strava is absolutely unparalleled.  I've found dozens of mother runners to follow and cheer on.  Watching their accomplishments and encouraging them to push their limits has been phenomenally inspirational.  Likewise, their encouragement has kept me going on days that my internal motivation was lacking.  I'm reluctant to admit how much time I've devoted to studying my friends' stats, giving out kudos, and posting motivational/inspirational/silly comments on their workouts.  Checking in with the ladies on Strava has become one of my favorite parts of the day.

I love Strava and plan to stick around, but I must admit that it is not without fault.  Much like the vanity sizing at most clothing retailers, I think Strava gives me a false sense of my own speed.  When my BRF and I run together, her with a Garmin and me with Al the Strava Aussie, my distance usually comes out longer and my pace faster.  Admittedly, GPS is not a perfect science.  My iPhone, which I use for the Strava app, was not built as a GPS device and therefore the data is only as good as the device.

Al the Aussie and I have logged many miles together, and I plan to take him along for many more.  Do you have a preferred GPS app?  What are your must-have features for running apps?