A painful realisation
About 10 years ago my ego virtually smashed my jaw, tricking me into the worse bike crash I ever want to experience. “The end?” I considered after the impact, while my face rapidly breaked the bike and me to a halt on the gravelled surface.
The cause? Mechanically, it was hitting a wooden surfaced bridge at 30 miles per hour after a fine sprinkling of spring rain. But mentally it was an unhealthy attention on beating my personal best.
That was 10 years ago when really all you could do was measure the time it took to get from A to B.
Development of the measurement society
Enter the advent of Strava, FitBits and all this technology that can monitor every key performance indicator to do with your physical well being. It’s got a lot more sophisticated. Seriously, how many people do you know now that feverishly monitor the rem sleep time they had last night? How many steps they took day after?
There’s an increasing army of people obsessed with things that go “ping” when targets are met, or just when their phone thinks they could get piles from sitting around too much.
There’s an industry developing around all this too! Insurance companies now incentivise you with free toys if they can monitor your exercise regime in detail. They can spy on you through your watch, collecting ever more rich data.
Personally I love it; People get fitter, hospitals are less occupied, we all get fitness goals and live happier and healthier lives.
But is it good for us?
Looking at Strava, what’s that app actually trying to do? I downloaded it and it is amazing! All your stats get captured, your run or cycle ride gets dissected and compared with other people. I can see a healthy outbreak of competition has developed in our neighbourhood (and no doubt throughout the land). According to Strava’s data 161 million rides have been uploaded (27million just in the UK). So statistically, getting the man or woman of the mountain status on your favourite hill actually counts for something.
But as with many things in life, are we measuring the right things? Paying too much attention to the inputs (the efforts and the stats) and not enough to the more aspirational outputs?
Happiness and healthiness vs fitness
I put myself into the category of the “happy rider”. Since my incident I realised that the constant measurement of my performance on the same route every day was leading to some fairly high risks (familiarity breeds contempt I was always told as a young Engineer). Keep doing the same thing over and over and you’ll loose that attention you need.
I’m a happy rider because I enjoy the journey more than the arrival. On a bike, for a walk or even a run, you experience the world in a new way. See and sense things that others won’t or can’t. I’m happy because I enjoy being surrounded by the “outdoors” and when I’m in it we’re together. I like to do these things at my own pace.
Why adventure at your own pace?
There are great stories about people striving to retain their status on Strava. You can read them here. Cyclists get killed, pedestrians too. And the app maker was, perhaps, a bit gun-ho with their encouragement to “reclaim” their lost KOH (King of the Hill) position. But they can’t be blamed and that’s been proven.
Closer to home, my highly competitive brother-in-law (a Kiwi) is inspired by his insurance company and his growing awareness of retaining health and fitness. He’s a strava fan and king of a few Chiltern Hills sections. After repeatedly completing the same circuit dozens of time, each time taking the corners faster and the downhills more confidently, he came to grief and snapped the tendon in his thumb.
One of my neighbours here works at a private hospital. It is overflowing with what she calls the “summertime flood” of cyclists. By far, for them, they are the most regular customers in their scanners these days. Is there a connection?
King of the Mountain?
So next time you find yourself competing with the latest KOM, ask yourself this question; will you stay fitter at your own pace? Or suffer the breakages and time-out by running at someone else’s?