Mapping the unknown with a new friend

I met someone recently.

 

Their name is Strava. Although our relationship is still very new, there is a lot of excitement and electricity in the air, most of which is being streamed as bits of information from Global Positioning System satellites to my phone.

I met Strava back in August, as the sultry days of summer and daylight were beginning to fade away. We were introduced on the Tsalteshi Trails, where we both enjoyed a casual run. We spent 48 minutes, 2 seconds, processing oxygen, and covered a lot in that time, 5.6 miles to be exact.

When we had had enough, my newfound friend immediately spit out a list of statistics and performance updates, like I was an elite athlete on a high-performance training regimen. Oh yeah, I could tell right then and there we were going to be a match.

From there, I saw Strava every few days. Although that doesn’t sound like a lot of time spent with a new love interest, that was all I needed. Besides, we made the minutes count. We met up for another afternoon run, this one going 6.2 miles on a pleasant Sunday excursion at Tsalteshi, then took it to another level with a lung-busting, quadricep-straining hike up Cecil Rhode mountain that took us 11.2 miles from our starting point off a dusty road in Cooper Landing to our end point just a few miles away on Snug Harbor Road. In between, we climbed and descended a total of 5,217 feet of elevation, a worthy conquest for a day.

I vaguely remember breathtaking views of mountains and lakes, ones that I had only previously seen from far below and were now laid out before me as if I was gazing at my own map, but does anyone actually remember that stuff? Allow me to roll my eyes sarcastically.

Strava and I gutted out a 15.6-mile run from Kenai to Soldotna and back in preparation for the Kenai River Marathon in late September, then four days later, survived (barely) a 23.3-mile excursion that left me battered and shaken. During that particular training run, Strava told me I opened with an 8:07 mile, then kept a consistent drumbeat of miles in the 8:30- to 9-minute range.

However, Strava helped unveil a disturbing occurrence that I hadn’t seen coming. At mile 13 of this particular workout, I began to fade with a 9:16 mile, which was followed by a 9:26 mile. It only got worse. By mile 21, I had dropped to 10:04, then 11:06 on mile 22. And it wasn’t a pacing issue, it was an aching pain that was flaring up in my knees.

Thanks to Strava, I was able to change my race day expectations, although it didn’t make me feel much better.

There was the five-kilometer time trial on the track, 12 1/2 laps of speed that tested my fast-twitch muscles, of which I have few left. There were also the mellow activities, like the three-mile hike from “Echo Bend” to the Eagle River Nature Center that took 56 minutes, 40 seconds, and the 3,880-foot climb up and down Hope Point on the south shore of Turnagain Arm that we clocked in 3 hours, 17 minutes and 50 seconds. Of course, I’d be remiss in leaving out the 2-hour, 6-minute, 38-second trip up Slaughter Ridge in whiteout conditions that carried us 2,614 feet above Wildman’s in Cooper Landing a week before Halloween.

One of the most intriguing benefits of Strava is mapping the unknown. It’s easy to plan and execute a workout on a known section of trail that you understand is a particular length, but when my exploits take me on a variety of routes that intertwine with each other, my progress is difficult to chart. A hearty climb up Mount Marathon in Seward is done on a known distance and elevation, and all it takes is a simple stopwatch to keep a consistent record of progress and accomplishment.

But a saunter out on the Tsalteshi Trails is another thing. Sure there are signs marking the lengths of each marked loop, but when I mix it up and skip from Wolf to Lynx to Coyote and on to the Beaver without including the Raven, who’s to say what sort of mileage I put in?

Jogging on the roads and bike paths around town is its own animal. Who knows how many miles or kilometers I’ve covered on a summer day when I’m not paying attention to where I’m going?

That’s where Strava comes in. The beautiful mind of my friend can trace my route down to the closest tenth of a mile, no matter where I go, giving me a precise understanding of my pace and corresponding effort levels throughout my run, hike or ski. Ever wonder how high you get when you reach the top of Skyline or Langille Mountain? How about the grade of the trail, how steep it is? Or how long it took to reach a certain point? Strava was there for me.

Strava kept track of every step. Through it all, not a beat was missed. The miles were tediously counted and the minutes were recorded. Always faithful, always accurate.

Strava even broke all of our activities down to average pace. On the first day of September, I was praised for covering nearly 10 miles on a path connecting the Spur Highway, Beaver Loop and Bridge Access roads, while averaging a tick under an eight-minute mile pace. On Nov. 11, I was admonished as I skied 3 1/2 miles in 46 minutes, 56 seconds, which averages out to a 13:22 per mile pace. Pretty sluggish, although in my defense, I was out on the Beach Lake trails in Chugiak with good old dad, who putts along on his fish-scale skis, and who I’m not sure could prevail in a race against the presidential limousine on Inauguration Day.

The months I’ve spent with Strava have given me a whole new appreciation for the kind of meticulous tracking normally done by high-energy athletes. Instead of amassing a collage of sticky notes to my fridge cataloguing every workout I’ve completed in efforts to train for various races, Strava maintains an organized database of my runs, hikes, skis and other adventures in which I partake. Forget the meticulous note-taking and trail memorization, I have my beloved Strava that does that for me now.

Strava has a downside, however. It didn’t take long before I realized there were regular meetings with others, male and female. Strava openly talks about the “other” friends and even notifies me on the spot when they gallivant about on their own adventures. Why is Strava seeing other people and so eager to discuss what they do, how they do it and who they do it with?

Strava is an open book, so any of my activities that I enjoy are also available for the world to see. As soon as we finish up our time together, our travels are immediately detailed with an online post.

But alas, I suppose one must make sacrifices in any relationship.

Ultimately, I can say Strava has been a glorious discovery. It sits on my wrist and in my phone-carrying arm strap, which wraps itself tightly around my bicep, never leaving me lonely.

Oh, you thought I was talking about a real person?

Joey Klecka is a sports reporter at the Peninsula Clarion. Reach him at joe.klecka@peninsulaclarion.com.

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