Giving up Strava for Lent (mostly)

I love running and I love numbers and data. Consequently, I am a big fan of Strava as a resource. Strava brands itself as the social network for runners and cyclists. Like many runners, I upload most of my training and races to it – a task which has been facilitated by my new Garmin Forerunner 30 watch with Bluetooth, which is significantly lighter than my old Forerunner 205.

I also love the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church. During this season in the church calendar of Lent, I have made the decision to “give up” Strava this year. Here I think about why I am doing this and how I might do this. I hope this will be thought-provoking and not come across as “holier than thou”.

Why am I (mostly) giving up Strava for Lent?

Strava is a wonderful resource for many reasons. It is a handy place to log training and track progress over time. It enables you to learn from sessions and races: from the segmented data you can see where you performed well, and/or you didn’t keep pace. With Strava Labs, you can even watch races back in virtual time, seeing how you fared against other competitors, including the time gaps. By following other runners, you can pick up good ideas for sessions and learn from the successes and trials of others. As well as the training benefits, there are also social benefits. Strava connects runners and cyclists socially. You can comment on other people’s activities, offering – and hopefully receiving in return – support, encouragement and (friendly) banter. It is heart-warming and motivating after a tough session for people to give you “kudos” for your activity.

There is a lot which is commendable about Strava, but as with many good things, there are a few potential pitfalls. As helpful as the data can be, it is possible to become obsessed by all the numbers and digits, and to become despondent when things aren’t going so well or when you don’t match up so well compared to friends and rivals. Since you are seldom more than 100m away from your nearest segment, it is easy to become over-competitive and for intended easier runs to become burn-ups where you hunt segments, leaving you less fresh for sessions and races.

For anyone who believes in a God who created the world, it is possible to make one’s exercise into a god, and to forget that there is a God behind creation. My belief is that God loves sport and intended it as part of His good creation, but that it is easy for sport to become self-worship. If used obsessively, Strava can precipitate this process.

It is for some of these reasons that I am choosing to come off Strava for Lent. There is no explicit biblical mandate for Christians to observe Lent. The gospel accounts, particularly Matthew and Luke, record that Jesus was tested by the devil in the wilderness for forty days, hence the Christian tradition of Lent as a season of self-denial and reflection. Many denominations embrace it, but not all do. I also realise that many people who might not call themselves Christians participate in Lent in some way.

My way of interacting with this worthwhile season this year will involve mostly coming off Strava. I set out how I intend to do this below, but it will take some discipline and sacrifice. My favourite discipline in running is cross-country and we’re reaching the peak of the cross-country season. Thankfully, off the back of some consistent training over the last six months, I am in the best shape I have been in since undergraduate days, and I’m hoping to run well in some key races, wearing the mighty Newbury AC and Berkshire vests, over the next month: particularly the English National, as well as the last (Oxfordshire) league race and the Inter Counties.

How do I propose to “give up” Strava for Lent?

I wouldn’t want for coming off Strava to risk affecting my running adversely – I don’t think God would either! – so I have thought a little bit about what this might look like. I plan to delete the Strava app from my phone over Lent, but I will still record my training on my watch and upload it to the Garmin Connect app, which automatically uploads my training to Strava. I shall have a quick 1-2 minute analysis of any key sessions or runs on the Garmin Connect app, but leave it at that.

It is good to be disciplined and intentional about Lent, but legalism is not required. Lent runs for longer than 40 days – 46 days – and so there has long been a tradition of the 6 Sundays being “feast days”. Given the significant races coming up, I plan to use Sunday as a small feast day. I shall allow myself one 30-minute session on Sunday afternoons to have a quick browse of Strava, respond to any comments, and to distribute some loving kudos.

I am hoping that giving up Strava or at least cutting it back will be a helpful thing. Many of us have our (necessary) downtime where we reach for our smart phone and have a good browse of social media and the Internet. Twitter and Strava are my two main default outlets for such times, so I anticipate that by not having the Strava app on my phone for 46 days, I shall see some pockets of time opened. During Lent, people are increasingly taking up things, and so I have also begun to think about how I might usefully fill some of the time vacated by deleting Strava. I shall be endeavouring not to fill the time simply with more Twitter or more BBC News and Sport. I intend to pray more for the world and those around me, perhaps learn some German vocabulary, and read things outside my current areas of interest.

I know of someone who gave up sport for a whole year, so this is nothing by comparison. It will be quite experimental, but I hope that it will be beneficial in my faith-journey without compromising that which is good and, I believe, God-given about running.

I welcome any comments or suggestions. Perhaps you feel that this is unnecessary, that I am not observing Lent strictly enough, or something in between. Just let me know… although preferably not over Strava until Easter Sunday on 1st April. No jokes!

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