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My Favorite App to Improve My Training and Racing

By September 9, 2017April 19th, 2019One Comment

There are several mobile apps that I use on a daily basis to become a healthier, happier athlete, such as:

Calm (iOS, Android): A Meditation App to Relax, Focus & Sleep Better. Limiting stress is an important part of my training. I use this app daily for 10 minutes, mostly in the mornings. I currently use the free version, although the paid version offers many nice additional programs. Over time I’ve noticed this helps me be more present, reduces stress and better my focus.

5 Minute Journal (iOS, Android): This gratitude journal is a very simple yet powerful tool. With the morning entry focusing on What you’re grateful for, What you’ll do to make today great and Daily affirmations. The evening entry looks back at 3 Amazing things that happened today and How could you have made today even better. Great to recognize good and bad patterns,  this app consistently helps increase my happiness levels.

Evernote (iOS, Android): This really is my second brain to capture, organize, and share notes from anywhere. I use both the app and desktop versions, offline and online. This app has a cult like following around the world for a reason. I love how you can easily tag and search in notes, photos, business cards etc across any notebook.

Fitbit (iOS, Android): I wear the Fitbit Charge HR 24/7. This is a watch and activity tracker with heart rate monitor. I manually add my weight and body fat %. The app can be used to track patterns and alert me if something is off. I look at 3 measurements in the app: How much sleep have I had the night before and in the past 7 days? Aiming for 7 hours, but need at least 6. What’s my resting heart rate that day and in the past 7 days? If resting HR is 2 beats or more higher than normal, take a step back day in training. Weight in the mornings and post long runs, to measure if something is off and potential dehydration.

My Very Favorite App

My absolute favorite app that I use every day to help with my training and racing is Strava (iOSAndroid). It’s a social network for millions of athletes from around the world, that enables you to track every run, ride and swim session. There is a free and paid version of this app. I have used both and if you can afford the premium version, there are some nice premium features discussed at the end of this post. I currently use the free version. Below are 10 reasons I love this app:

1. Easy to Use

I have tried several different apps to track my runs, like Nike Plus Running, Run Keeper, Map my Run and Suunto Movescount. Strava is my favorite app because of the easy usability. You can use the app to record your activities or sync more than 50 different GPS devices like your Garmin or Suunto watch. You can upload your data, even from other programs, to analyze your activities and even compare it to your friends and strangers on the same routes. The mobile app is a simplified version of the desktop. If you want all the details, I recommend viewing the Strava website on your desktop.  

2. Very Detailed Overview of Recent Activity

You can check many details from your recent activities, such as your time split per mile or km, your route, your exact pace, heart rate, time at any distance of your run, elevation, cadence, etc. Here is an example of the details from my lunch run today.

Reviewing running route with pace, GAP (elevation adjust pace) and elevation difference per mile
Analyzing my pace, GAP, Heart Rate, Cadence, Elevation and Distance

3. Connect and Compete with Athletes from Around the World

Strava has a large social component, there are millions of athletes from around the world. You can follow friends, and see their activity in your Strava feed with photos and captions. You can give kudos and leave comments. It’s fun to connect with like minded from all around the world.

We have a saying among friends, Strava or it didn’t happen! I enjoy analyzing not only my own training and racing efforts, but also see what my friends are up to. This way I get an inside view of how others are training. I also enjoy following some elite athletes to understand their training and race performance better. Some elites I follow are Kilian Jornet, Jonathan Walton, Josh S, Larisa Dannis and Zach Bitter. There are segments of routes created by Strava athletes, some very short like a few hundred feet, up to the length of a Marathon and beyond.

There is a leader board so you compete with runners for the Course record on each segment and see how you stack up.   If you have run a certain segment several times, you can compare your efforts per segment all at once. When you’re the fastest on a route you earn a course record crown, so there is a fun competitive edge to Strava as well.   There are also monthly challenges to participate in, for example a 10k, marathon to see how you stack up against others on the platform.      

4. Find New Routes Locally and While Traveling

The Segment Finder is a great tool to find routes and segments that other athletes use. Here are a few examples of how I use this tool:

5. Look Back at Training Cycles / Training Volume

Strava is a great program to measure progress over time. Run the same route frequently and see your times, paces, heart rate etc over time. Often I try to run at the same Heart Rate the same course, to notice the difference in pace over time. I make a note of the temperature and if there was significant wind, so I can really measure apples to apples. This image below compares my times on a local segment. It’s1.8 miles / 2.9km and I’ve ran it 40 times in the past 4 years.

Strava makes it easy to go back in history to review exact training volume and details.

6. Check Race Course Before a Race

There are a lot of athletes on Strava, so if you’re running a race route that has happened in the past, chances are you can find the race as a Strava segment. For example, before I ran the Boston Marathon, I studied the course details on Strava.

7. Check Elevation Gain and Loss Before an Activity

Before running specific races or trail runs, I will review elevation gain and loss. For example, before we ran up and down Mt Whitney, I studied the Strava mile by mile so we knew what to expect, how many miles climbing, at what grade, etc.

8. Join a Virtual Running Club

There are hundred of thousands of groups that form clubs, it’s like mini communities to connect and even organize activities.

I have created an Extramilest Club on Strava, it’s a great way to connect and share experiences with like minded runners. This group is focused on runners wanting to improve their running times, and become healthier, happier runners. I hope you will join our Extramilest Club! While you’re at it, make sure to join our Extramilest Facebook Group as well, where we have great conversations about training, racing, heart rate monitors, nutrition, etc.

9. Keeping Track of Your Gear

Easily track how many miles you’ve put on your different shoes or your bike. Receive alerts when it’s time to update.

10. Analyze Your Race Performance

Before I go into a race, I always create a race strategy, a plan of how I want the race to happen. This includes an idea of what my goal pace and heart rate should be for the first part of the race and for the later stages of the race. After the race, I analyze to see how well I was able to execute this race strategy. What went according to plan and what didn’t? Why didn’t it go according to plan? What could I have done differently in hindsight and how can I use these learnings to improve my next race?

For example for my Boston Marathon PR of 2 hours 44 minutes, my race plan was very clear: 

  • Hold back the first 1/2 of the race at 6:15-6:20 min / miles and not go over 156-159HR. I’ll still run the downhills pretty fast because my HR should be pretty low downhill.
  • Then mile 13 – 21 I’ll not go over 160 HR (occasionally up to 165HR on the hills),
  • This will hopefully leave me with enough energy left to finish the last 5 miles strong, with a HR in the 160-170 zone.

Afterwards I reviewed my goal and noticed: 

  • First 1/2 of the race I didn’t let my HR spike up too high, I held back and was able to run 5 to 10 seconds faster than goal pace.
  • Mile 13 to 21 I did keep my HR under control, on some of the hills I slowed my pace up about 10 seconds per mile, totally fine.
  • I did leave enough energy until the end to finish strong, holding back at the beginning of the race paid off.

Strava Premium

The Strava app is free to join for the basic version which has all the functions described above. The premium version is available for $7.99 a month or $59.99 a year. There are several additional options for paid premium members, such as:

  • Set goals focused on progress, segment, and power
  • Create and share personalized heat maps of all the places you’ve ever run or ridden
  • Exclusive training videos
  • Training Plans for Runners, tailor your training plan based on your race distance, date and experience level
  • Advanced analytics
  • Detailed race analysis
  • More training analysis with pace zones and lap data
  • Trophy Case to display your challenge badges
  • Beacon option to share your live location with others, like friends, family and loved ones.

If you’re not a Strava member yet, I can highly recommend trying it (iOSAndroid) or via Strava.com. I have used the premium version and the free version. If you can afford the premium version, there are definitely some additional benefits that are nice to have. That being said, you can start out by using the free option, and always later try a paid option for 30 days to see if you like it. I’m not affiliated with Strava in any way, but I really like their app and think many athletes can benefit from this app.  

QUESTION – What are some of your favorite health and wellness apps, which functions do you like most and why? Please let me know in the comments!


One Comment

  • Thanks for the post, I do use Strava in combination with Garmin Connect with my Forerunner 235 for a while now. Beside those apps I use also sometimes MyFitnessPal to check the nutrition by times (especially on rest days). Also I use the HealtMate app to record my weight with the Withings Weight Scale.

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