cycling

I’m getting faster!: Measuring progress on the bike with Strava

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Certain stretches of road around my hometown of London, Ontario are my personal nemesis. (“Nemesises?” “Nemesi?”) They have features in common. They’re slow climbs. They come early in the ride. I haven’t warmed up. Other people are chatting and looking happy. In a group, sometimes I’m working hard, not so able to chat, and I’m getting dropped. Yes, they’ll wait at the top but I still don’t like it.

Adelaide Northbound is one of those stretches. Almost every group ride out of the city northbound takes that route. It’s wide, it’s got a bike lane for a good stretch of it, and you’re out of the city fast. It’s not a big deal and riding it on my own is just fine. But riding in a group brings out the differences between me and other riders. I’m fit but bigger than them and that matters on hills.

I’m usually good on the stretch that’s Fanshawe to Medway because everybody has to work, I’m just working more than others, but the slow climb after Medway just annoys me. “What climb?” ask smaller, fitter riders. It’s not a very serious grade and it’s only a kilometer long. We tend to take it, as cyclists say, “at speed.” It’s not enough of a hill to slow the pace and I have to work hard to keep up.

But the other day I was feeling good. I was with another rider, side by side, at the front so we were setting the pace. I noticed that I was going at an okay pace and I was talking. I also noticed the person I was riding beside had stopped talking. Then I noticed that my wheel was ahead of hers. I actually had to slow down to avoid half-wheeling her.

(What’s half wheeling? “Do not at any time sprint ahead and disrupt the flow. Even if there is a corner coming up, stay side by side and go through the corner like a well oiled machine. Riding with your bars ahead of the rider beside you is called “half-wheeling” and is a major faux pas. It’s up to you to keep up with the speed of the slower rider next to you. And for goodness sake, please try to keep to the side of the road, there is no need to take over the whole lane and annoy car drivers.” from Group Cycling Etiquette.)

When I got home and synced my Garmin I wasn’t surprised to see a new PR for that Strava segment, 2:03. My average speed on that segment was 29.1 km/hr and my max was 37.4 km/hr. My average heart rate was 158 and my max was 165. So I was going pretty fast, I was working pretty hard, and I was talking. Progress!

(What’s Strava? “Strava is a website and mobile app used to track athletic activity via GPS. Its headquarters are located in San Francisco, California. The most popular activities tracked using the software are cycling and running.” What’s a Strava segment? “Segments are one of Strava’s coolest features. Segments are user-created, user-edited, and designate a portion of route where users can compete for time.”)

Now, I’m nowhere near the fastest woman on that stretch of road. There are a lot of fast women out there who weigh a lot less than me. I’m 19/35 on the leaderboard for women. The fastest woman did it in 1:28.

But I was so happy to see that I’m improving. My weight is down a bit and I think I’m stronger on the bike after two trips south during the winter–Arizona for a bike holiday and South Carolina for a bike training camp, riding the trainer through the winter, and pretty solid riding after that.

I thought I’d go back and see how I did in the past. At the end of last season in September and October, 2014,  after a summer of riding, I have times on that stretch of road of 2:30 and 2:42. My slowest time at the start of that year is 2:58. That’s a pretty big jump from 2:58 to 2:03.

I actually love that feature of Strava tracking your times against past times on the same sections of road. It’s nice on my runs too to see that I’m “trending faster.”

Okay, one more bit of progress. I actually got told to “ease up” on hills, TWICE, during our last club ride. Those are words I rarely hear on hills. About 10 years ago also on a club ride someone yelled at me to “ease up” and I thought they said “speed up.” Oops! The problem is when you’re used to being slowest on hills you forget to watch out for others. I’m used to worrying about me!

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4 thoughts on “I’m getting faster!: Measuring progress on the bike with Strava

  1. Congratulations! You are speedy and climbing like a champ! So glad you posted. BTW, when I get back from my conference I’m putting the bike computer back on, and starting to track progress again. This post reminded me of how fun and motivating it can be.

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  2. I completely agree with you about those hills! I love them as much as I hate them (I might hate them a little more); but, there’s definitely no better gauge of fitness for a cyclist! Congrats on becoming a little bit stronger and faster!

    Great blog with great posts!

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  3. This is great! I’m in a similar place as summer winds down and have had some similar experiences– improvement in climbing with regular training, a small amount of weight loss, (and some new wheels…) and just this morning I was asked to dial it back at the front of the group. I gauge it just as much by looking back at all the times I’ve done particular Strava segments, too. Many people, especially women, seem to think Strava makes things too competitive and don’t understand why I love it, but since so many of the women cyclists in my area don’t use it, it only really works as competition with myself anyway, or a really satisfying way to track heard-earned progress.

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