Strava for Runners: A Worthy Training Partner?

A good training partner is worth his weight in gold. He helps you get out of bed in the morning when you'd rather hit the snooze button, pushes you on that last set of intervals, and motivates you to keep working toward your next big race.

The problem is, a good training partner is becoming harder and harder to find. Our busy schedules are bogged down with commuting, work, taking the kids to soccer practice and making dinner. It's hard enough to find the time to run at all, much less find someone else who's willing to coordinate his or her training schedule with your own.

And that's what got the peeps at Strava thinking.

More: How to Find a Running Partner

What's hit the cycling world by storm has inched its way into the realm of runners, promising to challenge, motivate, and keep you on track to realize all of your ambitions (and maybe some you didn't realize you had).

But does it work? The answer depends on the kind of runner you are.

The Promise

By downloading the app on your iPhone or Android device, you can turn the most mundane of runs into a spirited competition—all at your own convenience. If there's an epic hill or a popular trail near your house, it's likely that there's already a Strava record that you can compete against. If there isn't, you can create one.

You can follow your friends, enemies or local pros, and keep track of how you stack up over the same trails or roads. You can comment on your follower's workouts, and give kudos as a virtual slap on the back.

More: 5 Running Workouts to Do With a Partner

Those old-school training log notebooks that Runner's World used to send out with a yearly subscription? They're useless. Strava tracks everything from the beginning of time. There's a statistic or piece of data to log or share for every run you complete over the course of a week, month, year and lifetime. Calories, pace, miles run, feet ascended, total run time, total distance over a lifetime—a number for a number for the numbers-obsessed.

Sure, it's an excellent way to track your progress and fine-tune your training. And it's cool to see how you stack up against others on Strava's Monthly Training Series (MTS). How many 5Ks can you run in June? How many feet can you climb in July? Isn't that motivating?

Everyone's watching—if you're in to that sort of thing. But you're still running alone.

The Strava Pitfall

Technology, once again, has sacrificed human contact in favor of convenience. Your friends are online instead of waiting outside your front door. They're running in Vermont while you're running in California. They're in the snow while you're in the sunshine.

There are so many variables when it comes to running performance that it's hard to compare apples to oranges. Wind, rain, up hill, down hill—not all 5Ks, 10Ks or marathons were created equally.

More: Does Your Partner Support Your Training?

Sometimes running is about the person who's next to you, on that day, at that moment.

Steve Prefontaine once said, "A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more. Nobody is going to win a 5,000-meter race after running an easy 2 miles. Not with me. If I lose, forcing the pace all the way, well, at least I can live with myself."

Would Pre have been a Strava guy? Or is he the kind of person who likes to hear his competition breathing, and the sound of their footsteps off his right shoulder?

The Balance

There's no denying that Strava has its benefits. But like anything else, it isn't a replacement for the real thing. If cycling is any indication, people can become obsessed to the point where it isn't even about the sport any more—it's just a numbers game.

If you're looking at Strava to provide that little bit of extra motivation you need to work harder or run faster, then it might have some true value for you. But it isn't a replacement for the real thing. There's nothing like a training partner who's just a little bit faster, or whose endurance is just a little bit better. The sound of encouragement is quite different from a Like or virtual kudo too. Real competition is about who is lined up next to you, and that's something that shouldn't be forgotten.

So that old friend that won't stop knocking (or texting) at 5 a.m.? He's still worth his weight, and the price of gold is going up.

More: 8 Reasons to Run With a Partner

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