Strava: A Running Application Review
One thing I love about running is that there is no one type of person who gets out on the road, track, trail or dreadmill, I mean treadmill. This also means that everyone out there has different motivations to keep them going and different things they’re trying to get out of lacing up their sneakers. The variety of runners is never more clear than when you open up the app store on your phone and type the word “running”.
Over the next couple of months, we’ll review some of the biggest running apps on the market, as well as other useful online tools, that the 21st-century runner has at their disposal as they pursue their big audacious goals. We’ll start this series with the app I use most often: Strava.
What Sets Strava Apart
Strava started in 2009 and quickly differentiated itself from other fitness/running apps in a couple of ways. The first thing that sets Strava apart from other running apps is a particular feature that encourages competition in the form of “Segments”. Segments are user-created, and runners and cyclists compete (sometimes completely unaware of the fact they are competing) to become KOM/QOM (King/Queen of the Mountain) for a particular stretch of road or trail. Users can also compete against themselves by creating goals for particular segments.
Only Strava knows how many users they actually have, but there is a robust enough network that nearly any route I run in the Twin Cities (or other major metropolitan areas for that matter) has a segment on which to compete. Strava does also offer the ability to create routes, but I’ve found that, especially when it comes to running paths, it can be extremely buggy. I reached out recently to give feedback to that effect, and the Strava customer service rep I interacted with essentially said that the feature would not be getting much attention any time soon. Disappointing.
Athletic Social Network
Strava has set out to differentiate itself as an athletic social network. There are groups that users can create and join (for example I created a Strava group for first-time marathoners running the Twin Cities Marathon this fall), and users acknowledge other users’ runs in the form of “kudos” and comments. The power of Strava’s social network was evidenced recently on my family vacation to the Pacific Northwest, when I was able to coordinate a run with a connection on Strava who I’d never actually met before (coincidentally also named Seth). Group admins can also schedule group runs through user created group pages.
Recently, Strava has also introduced Athlete Posts – which they tout as a cool way to follow professionals and/or prominent Strava users. Athlete Posts give the athletes a chance to contribute content to a burgeoning network of users.
Premium Membership Features
There is a free version of the app for both iOS and Android, as well as a Premium Membership. The Premium membership can be paid month-to-month ($7.99/month) or annually ($59.99/year) and provides some data points that the free app does not (including the particularly interesting Suffer Score and Fitness and Freshness, which measure intensity of the workout and help you monitor when you are reaching ideal fitness and when to back it off.)
I found the extra data points useful for my last half marathon, as it was quite clear how impactful even a 7-10 day taper can be in prepping for a race. As a true nerd, however, my favorite features Strava provides come from their “Strava Labs” projects.
Strava Labs Projects
The first project I love is heatmaps – this tool allows each runner to create a visual map of the areas they have run. There is also a global heatmap that gets updated infrequently but is still very fun to play around with and can be useful for discovering popular routes in new places.
The Strava Fly-By is the other extremely cool feature. Currently in beta, this feature allows you to see other Strava users who you passed or nearly passed while running or biking your route. Sound creepy? Strava allows various layers of privacy settings – users aren’t required to utilize the Heatmap or Fly-By features.
Where Strava Can Improve
While Strava is my personal go-to app as a runner when it comes to viewing my data, it definitely has room for improvement. For starters, while I love the features that the Premium Membership subscription provides, it is not ideal that some of the features (like Fitness and Freshness, etc) can only be seen on the website as opposed to the app. I also appreciate that in other apps there are leaderboards composed of friends who use the app (without having to join a group). Strava tries to address this with a monthly challenges feature, but there is just something about being able to see how I stack up to my friends on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis that helps keep me motivated (more on that in the coming Nike+ app review).
Final Thoughts on Strava
One last interesting tidbit about Strava is that, at the moment, it is one of the rare running/fitness apps out there that is not owned by a larger brand. It will be interesting to see how Strava continues to compete with other apps that are backed by large brands. As someone who uses the app regularly because of its social strengths, but not really for its actual workout recording capabilities, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the app and wearable technology competition.
Can Strava survive as just an online company? One of Strava’s strengths is that in some ways because it has stayed out of the wearables game, it’s not necessarily a natural competitor to other apps out there owned by apparel and wearable tech brands. If this changes, Strava could face an uphill battle since it uses outside data sources such as Garmin which then sync to the app. What happens if this impressive ecosystem of sync-friendly devices goes the way of the dodo bird?