Strava Improvements

I love Strava, I’ve been using it for over a year now to track my cycling and running sessions and I can’t believe it took me so long to get into it! It records your movements by connecting with GPS and you can connect it to compete in segments (mini races on short stretches of roads) against your Facebook friends, running/cycling club and other athletes. But there are some things which I think would make Strava* even better.

‘GPS connected’ notification

When it’s sunny outside (which is often in summer), I go outside and can’t see the screen well because of the brightness, let alone the little GPS bars in the corner which you need to look at to see if you’re connected or not. If my phone could vibrate or beep to let me know when it’s connected to GPS, it would be good.

‘GPS lost’ notification

Ever been out and had a really amazing split for one of your runs (or a really bad one), then realise that mid-run, your GPS had dropped out and you didn’t notice? Just look at this map, I was doing circular laps on the running track but my GPS thought otherwise. Again, if there was a notification to say hold on a minute while we connect you to another GPS satellite, it would help a lot.

GPS dropped out
When your GPS isn’t connected and makes a really strange pattern!

Link heart rate data from Fitbits

I have a Fitbit that tracks my heart rate as well as all the other data, and you can link Strava with heart rate monitors to see your heart rate throughout your activities. But for some reason, Strava doesn’t link the data from my Fitbit.

Best effort since…

Sometimes you do a run or a segment and you know you won’t get a personal best on it because you’ve had an injury, moved country, are having a bad season or any other reason. So I think if you were able to add a significant event that affects your performance and then have a new set of times taking that into account it would be beneficial for people who can’t get those pb’s anymore. For example, with the pollution and conditions in China, I knew I wouldn’t get a pb on my 5km time very easily, so getting a ‘Best 5km time since moving to China’, that would be a great boost.

Extra voice notifications

When I ran in China, I heard other runners’ apps talking to them. While Strava says Distance 4km. Time 21 minutes, 43 seconds. Previous kilometre in 5 minutes, 12 seconds , the Chinese apps said all kinds of stuff!

You’ve just ran 5km, waheyyyy! You’ve ran 5km in 23 minutes and 24 seconds. You ran the last kilometre in 5 minutes 12 seconds. That’s faster than the last kilometre, keep going, you’re great!!

It was a much more personal notification and a lot more upbeat than the computerised Strava woman. There could be options as to whether you get the standard simple notifications, and then extra notifications which could be positive and motivating like the Chinese one, or even slightly negative to get you running faster. Imagine if your running app told you to pick your feet up, run faster or even told you that you’re slower than a turtle!

*I use Strava on a Samsung phone, Android operating system and have a free account

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Oi oi – Harrassment

I’ve been sporty for a quite a few years now and I’d never really been heckled, harrassed, taunted etc whilst playing sports until a week or so ago. Sure in China I was stared at and people took photos of me when I was running because I would run on the roads, rather than just on the track but there was never any malice from anyone.

A couple of weeks ago, I went out cycling with the Warwickshire Ladies Cycling Club and their pink cycling jerseys attracted a bit of attention when cycling on some of the roads around Binley. (I say it was the pink jerseys, but it could have been anything).

We got shouted at twice, once was “Oi oi sexy!” from some young lads in a polo and the second was a long and slow “Ohhhh myyyy Godddd”, as the car slowed down and drove past us, several men peered their heads out of the window to stare at us.

It’s just ridiculous how this happens and I asked the women if it happened regularly, one lady said not usually, but it is something that happens. Then I asked one of my male cyclist friends if he ever receives any similar treatment, he says he gets shouted and beeped at, but nobody ever calls him sexy which is something only women seem subject to.

Nobody’s ever shouted at me when I’ve been out cycling or running on my own (only when in a group), but I have heard stories from (female) friends who have either been told to ‘run faster’ or ‘get a move on’ or have been complimented on their ‘nice legs’. And this is harrassment. There’s no doubt about it.

No wonder there’s so few women out on the roads. No wonder it’s so hard for me to buy a women’s cycling jersey in sports shops. No wonder there’s just a ‘Women’s bikes’ section with 8 bikes for sale, compared to ‘Mens Hybrid bikes’, ‘Mens Road bikes’, ‘Mens Mountain bikes’ sections which have 8 bikes each.

Sure there are plenty of groups, clubs and rides specifically for women, but at the same time, I’m sure with a quick search on google, I could find sites and forums that either troll female cyclists for their cycling abilities and/or fetishize female cyclists for their bodies. Let’s just look at this.

Pretty different, don’t you think? Male cyclists are associated with Olympics, winning and medals, whereas the female cyclists and associated with death, disqualification, mistakes and their bodies. (I wonder why ‘presents for female cyclists’ came up and what presents are suggested)

Cyclists in general do get a lot of abuse from motorists on the road, regardless of gender, that is definitely true and should not be ignored, but I feel it is women who are more vulnerable to gender-based abuse and harrassment. It’s the same for female motorists, who have a lot of stick for ‘bad driving’, right? Road users should respect each other, no matter which vehicle they’re using and no matter what their gender is. Let’s stop harrassing each other.

Take a glimpse…

or a glance, a peek or a quick look.

That was one of my thoughts when cycling through the Devonshire countryside today. I saw so many landscapes of beautiful hills with cows, hay bales, cottages, sheep. You name it, is was there, complete with an array of different colours – green shrubs, trees and grass, blues and whites in the sky and browns of the cottages and houses I passed along the roadside.

Dartmoor national park (Devon)

But, as I was cycling (and mid-race), there was no opportunity for me to stop and take a picture of the scenes I saw. So instead, I’m left with the glimpses, the glances, the peeks and the quick looks of the Devonshire countryside instead of the eternal photos. There are some visions that I can recreate quite well, but I’m unsure if I 100% remember them, or whether it’s my subconscious mind filling in the missing pieces of the things I actually saw and remember.

Maybe we don’t need photos, which last forever and get retouched, edited or deleted over time. Maybe the glimpses we get of panoramas or people are enough…

City of Birmingham Triathlon – Race Report

After a long time without racing, today was finally my day to don the green and gold University of Nottingham trisuit as I competed in the UK Triathlon Series City of Birmingham triathlon. It was a long day, comprising of Olympic, Sprint, Super Sprint and Fun distance triathlons, for all abilities. Some competitors set off at 7.30am, but my race wasn’t until 9.45am so I got a bit of a lie in. Travelling from Coventry also meant that I didn’t have to leave my house at 5am and have a three hour coach drive to the event. It was held in Sutton Park and I was competing in the Olympic distance – 1500m (open water) swim, 40km cycle and 10km run.

I arrived, registered and got my race pack, with plenty of goodies from the race sponsors Mornflake. I had to stick my numbers to my front and back (unlike in other events) and had a bit of a pickle attaching them to my race belt. I could only safety pin my front number when I closed my race belt, which proved slightly problematic as you’ll see later.

I got to transition and stood speechless for a few seconds, looking desperately for my race number and where to rack my bike. I asked another triathlete and she said it’s a free for all system, so I could choose where I wanted to go. I chose a place close to the ‘bike out’ so I’d have less to run with my bike and managed to find an empty rack so I spread my stuff out nicely.

Transition all set up and knowing where to bike and run out of, I got into my wetsuit and went to the race briefing, where 60 ladies in pink hats listened to a marshal explain the course and tell us that the water was 19°C. I got in the water, after not having swam in over a month and waited for the klaxon. Most of the weaker swimmers stayed at the back so the start was quite calm – no kicks in the face, elbow nudges or ducking. We quickly split into two packs and I was leading the second pack until the second buoy, which hit me in the head as I tried to pass it. I lost a few places but carried on. It was a difficult swim because the water was so murky, I couldn’t see past my elbow.

Out of the water and into transition, I found my bike and started to take off my wetsuit, it’s a new wetsuit which is really tight at the ankles. A guy who was setting up his transition for a later race next to me helped me take it off with a few strong tugs. I stepped into my race belt – and only realised on the bike that my numbers were upside down, threw on all my other kit and ran over to the mount line.

The bike course was 8 x 5km laps on a stretch of Sutton Park. It was nice to be racing with some of the Olympic males at the beginning and have the Sprint males join us at the end, but it was kind of frustrating because I couldn’t pick out who I was racing against. Male and female trisuits are pretty similar and if women have their hair tied up it’s hard to see their gender. The course was hilly and winding with no flat straights at all. The tarmac was a smooth relief after the sections where tree roots had made cracks in the path and the ironed out gravel surface which slowed us all down.

Post Race Photo
Post Race Photo

I also had a close encounter when one of the sprint princes* shouted “coming past princess” and got in front of me. He’d just finished his swim and was trying to put his feet into his shoes, but they weren’t going in and he was losing his balance. He was wobbling a bit and I didn’t know where he was going so didn’t want to move. Our wheels clipped but luckily we both stayed up, he got clipped into his shoe and off he went.

Coming back into transition, I re-racked my bike, took off my helmet and set off running. I don’t have special cleat shoes for the bike so didn’t need to faff around changing shoes. I felt so heavy after the bike and the 10km ahead of me seemed really long over the country paths of grass, dirt and stones. It was 4 x 2.5km laps and the third one was definitely the hardest. I ran past some of the male Olympic competitors who by this stage were walking, although some were still running. Then some of the Sprint competitors who started after us, came through so it was quite a busy run. There was also a herd of black cows to pass on two occasions, but luckily they didn’t move whilst I was running past them.

I ran back into the finish line and had my name read out. I was relieved, hot and exhausted, yet I was still buzzing from the race and was eager to see my times. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a receipt-like service to print out your individual results, they were published on a TV screen and it was crowded so I couldn’t see at first.

After my massage, which was great on my legs, I went back to see my time and saw that I came 9th overall, out of 60 female Olympic entrants, and 1st in my category. My time was 2 hrs 53 but the results haven’t been published yet, so I still don’t know my splits.

Female Olympic Age Group Winners
Female Olympic Age Group Winners

I had fun on the course and picking up an age group win feels great, seeing as I haven’t been in the sport that long. My winning goody bag contained a new green and black silicone swim cap and plenty of High Five energy supplements that will keep me going in future training sessions and races.

A big shout out to the event organisers, sponsors, marshals and spectators. Although I enjoyed it, I probably wouldn’t do this particular triathlon again, as the 8 cycle laps became a bit mundane after the third but I would like to tri some other races in the UK Triathlon Series, like the Warwickshire or Stratford 220.

*Not all male triathletes are princes, I’m only calling him one because he called me princess. Some competitors can be grumpy and angry when in race mode.

1 girl, 1 bike, 10* miles (and then some)

So today I entered my first ever pure cycling race. I’ve obviously done some triathlons and a duathlon before, but I’ve never done a cycling event knowing I won’t have to run at the end of it. It was the Coventry Road Club‘s 10 mile time trial (TT).

The event is what it says on the tin, ten miles as fast as you can go. It’s you against the clock and although there were medals up for grabs, most competitors use TT’s to measure progress and improvement on speed, stamina etc. I was one of the very few competitors who actually cycled to the event. It was near Wolvey Heath, a small village 9 miles out of Coventry, but the people I spoke to drove there from places like Birmingham and Derbyshire.

Cycling there was the first hurdle. I knew the route but got to a T junction and read the road signs wrong, so took a right instead of left and added about 6 km on to my warm up. But I got there fine, registered and got my race number.

Number 32
Number 32

The race started at 2.01pm with number one, so I was due to set off at 2.32pm. It was about 1.45pm, so I chilled for a bit by registration, in awe of all the expensive TT bikes but also eyeing up the cakes that were on offer for afterwards. Then I did some steady cycling around the nearby roads. Most of the people were warming up at quite a pace, some on turbo trainers which I guess is understandable if they’d driven for an hour to get there, but after my 55 minute cycle from home to Wolvey, I was just taking it easy in the minutes before my race.

Then it was time, I got to the start line and ate a banana for last minute fuel to power me through. On the start line, a guy held me upright on my bike so I could clip in and have a standing start, he gave me a nice push too and I was off.

It was a flat course, with not much of a change in gradient, but I still hadn’t ridden these roads before, so all I knew was that it was straight down to the roundabout, turn around and come back. I felt pretty good at the start and managed to stay in a good gear, a couple of guys overtook me, but I wasn’t racing against them or their TT bikes.

At about the 6th/7th mile I started to struggle and my legs were getting tired, but soon enough, some marshalls cheered me on and I picked up the pace again. As I usually go about 25km/h, I figured I was aiming for a time of 38 minutes. I crossed the finish line and cycled slowly back to the registration area to see my time. There it was, on the board.

Leona – UoN Tri – Road bike, Novice – 33.47

I was over the moon! I celebrated with a warm cup of tea and a blueberry muffin and then got chatting to some of the ladies who were there. One of which is the female world record holder for 1000 miles cycling time trial! We chatted about the course, our times, other events, where we’d come from and all cyclists’ favourite app – Strava.

I waited until the medal ceremony and looked at the other peoples’ times. To my further shock and excitement, I was 4th female novice, which really put the icing on the cake (metaphorically, my muffin didn’t magically get iced!). I was so chuffed to set a base time for future cycling events (I will enter more) and to be 15 seconds away from a medal. I’m so glad I took part, thanks to all the organisers and marshalls, I hope I can get on the podium next time.

Leona on the podium
Leona on the podium

* Although it was a 10 mile time trial, I actually racked up over 34 miles today

Training Solo

I’ve finished at uni (for good!) and am now back at home for the summer. The move back to Coventry has also meant that I can’t train with the amazing guys and girls at UoN Triathlon Club. I originally planned to join the Coventry Triathlon Club, but their training timetable isn’t as convenient as I thought it would be. Some of the sessions are across the other side of the city and with my summer jobs, I can’t always make these. So I’ve resorted to training solo.

I’ve posted before about the benefits of practicing an individual sport as part of a team and it is difficult coming out of that environment. It’s easy to fall into the trap of not going to training sessions and believing that with one cycle and one run a week, you’re doing enough. It’s one I started to fall into, as I started some part time summer jobs and lost motivation to train.

Until I got Strava.

Strava is an app which tracks your movements (cycling and running), you can follow your friends/team mates and see the efforts of other athletes. There are also segments of road where you can race against other users to be King (or Queen) of the Mountain. Since getting more involved with Strava, I’ve been more motivated to get out and train, even if I don’t have much time on my hands.

I’ve got two triathlons coming up, City of Birmingham and Paignton, so I still need to keep in shape and work on my mileage on the bike and out running – especially as they’re both Olympic distance! I’m not sure how I’ll perform at these next two triathlons, but I’m keen to enjoy myself and races are a lot easier when you’ve put in lots of training effort beforehand.

Last week, I did two runs, a small 5k one and a longer 12.5k one too. I also did a quick cycle to the betting shop, where I won the prize of Queen of the Mountain on The Drive (a steep hill where my primary school is) as well as a long 60km cycle this morning. Next week I’ve got more free time, and I’m hoping for a couple of mid-distance rides and aiming to run every other day.

Training on your own can be hard, but I think when you put your mind to it and see what other people are up to, through apps like Strava (which also help you to track your pace, distance and elevation) training without a team isn’t a barrier.

The Freedom of Cycling

Over the past month or so, I’ve started to really enjoy cycling. It’s so refreshing being out in the country roads and on two wheels. You’re always alert and looking out for potholes, listening for cars, watching out for flying insects and other cyclists. But at the same time, I find myself switching off from the world and not really thinking about anything in particular. It’s living in the moment and enjoying the minutes as they pass by.

Each ride is different. Even if you go out for a three lap circuit, on each lap there will be different drivers, obstacles, birds singing and smells in the air. Cycling through the British countryside may seem monotonous to some, but I’ve found it’s really got a lot to offer and racing against others through the Strava app really makes it fun as I compete to win the QOM (Queen of the Mountain) achievement on certain stretches of road.

When I started triathlon, I never thought I’d like cycling, as it was my weakest discipline. I’m still not as speedy as others are on two wheels, but I’m definitely improving and liking it more each week. Last week, I cycled 80km in one day, which would have made me cry at the beginning of the year, but I just got on and did it. And the best part of that day? It was FUN!

I’m trying to do longer rides in the build up to my upcoming triathlons but this week I’m doing school talks all around the West Midlands, so am not sure how much free time I’ll have, but I know when I get on my bike, I’ll enjoy going new places, seeing new things and building up strength to go further faster!

Sunday Rides

Cycling is the main part of the triathlon, it’s the middle section and the longest – distance and time wise. It’s also my least favourite discipline of the sport. The triathlon club does long rides each Sunday, with three or four different routes, based on ability and during my first semester I did everything I could to get out of them. First, I didn’t have a bike, which was my best excuse because nobody at uni has a tandem. Then when I did get a bike, it was a bit on the large size for me, I couldn’t figure out the gears very well and was totally overwhelmed by the idea of going on a long (over 30km) ride on it. I’d never been on a bike for longer than an hour, never really ridden on roads, couldn’t signal, didn’t have cycling shorts, was mentally unprepared… I had all the excuses and didn’t get out for a club bike ride until February.

I’d just swapped bikes with another girl in the club and felt the size of the new bike (I call him Eddy) was better for me. Riding Eddy to meet the team at the Tennis Centre, he felt hard to ride, but just assumed since I had like 20 gears now, I was in the wrong one. So fiddled a bit and didn’t manage to work it out. I set off with the steady group and was immediately behind them, no matter which way I flicked the switches, I just couldn’t get Eddy in gear and felt so useless. Luckily, the group noticed I’d fallen behind and stopped to wait for me. Emma took one look and told me my chain wasn’t on properly so wouldn’t have got much further. She put it back on and we cycled for another 5 minutes when it became clear that I wouldn’t keep up as I didn’t know my way around the bike and wasn’t confident riding him either.

The ride that week was probably going to be over four hours long as the groups were stepping up training ahead of the Easter Mallorca training camp and poor Emma had the joy of telling me to ‘get on my bike’ as it were and go home. I was pretty devastated, so decided to stick to the static Watt bike training sessions until I improved.

I was sent back

Three months later and I’m glad to say today I did my second consecutive Sunday bike ride in the steady group. Last week, we did about 50km on country roads (and a little stretch on the A52) around Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, this week we did 60km in about 2.5hrs, the route we did is below (in miles).

Cycle route 17/05/2015
Cycle route 17/05/2015

They’ve been tough, scary in places and physically challenging, but getting home, looking at the map and seeing how far I actually went is so rewarding. As always, with the UoN triathlon club, despite it being an individual sport, there is such a great team spirit. When cycling, we often pair up and cycle together, as girls do, we chat about uni, sport, summer, guys, chafing issues, the weather etc. As there are probably 100 more hazards on the road for a cyclist than a motorist, we work together to make sure things run smoothly – we shout out to each other directions, point out potholes, warn each other when there are cars or horses and if someone drops behind.

Now I’m regretting not going out on the rides before as it’s a much better way to improve my strength, stamina and bike confidence than watt bike sessions. Hopefully the miles I’ve racked up in the last couple of weeks will help me in my next two triathlons over the next two weekends. Watch this space to find out!