Is Kudos Killing Runners?

“In short, Strava is it right now—the only app that serious runners and cyclists need to bother with.” So says Mat Gross the author of the article ‘How Strava became the only fitness app that matters’*.  Judging by the amount of my fellow run club members on Strava I would have to agree. But is it helping or hindering runners in their quest to realise their potential?

The greatest revolution in running over the least decade has been a technological one. When I started running seriously I tracked my workouts on an Excel spreadsheet or in a little notebook. I was able to track mileage and other important information such as shoe mileage.

The app revolution in tandem with the explosion of gps watches to track many aspects of run performance has changed things forever. It hasn’t necessarily changed performances but it certainly has changed the running experience: it is arguably more social (even if after the activity itself) and definitely more informed.

Prior to the advent of gps watches and the ubiquitous use of Strava runners would only be able to share their training or racing experiences over a coffee (an enjoyable aspect of running that is dying). Now within seconds of a training run or race finishing the data is uploaded immediately to Strava.

Kudos Only Please

The key interactive element of Strava by far is the ‘kudos’ button (instant recognition and not very time consuming for the kudos giver) – the equivalent of a Facebook ‘like’. For fellow runners who wish to take more time the comments section can be used. There seems to be an unwritten rule on Strava though: it’s a kudos only zone. It’s not a platform that is cut out for any other form of response let alone analysis.

We all love recognition. After an exhausting run it’s great to receive recognition and praise from our running buddies. It’s a dopamine hit drip feed and it feels good. The longer, harder, more intense, more insane the run the greater the kudos and comments. “Great run!” “Speechless” “You’re killing it!” “I’m in awe!!!” “Just how do you do it?”.

How Kudos Is Killing Runners
Kudos is great, within reason. But is it killing the runner? Let’s look at a case study to illustrate: I recently met someone who is training for an ultra-distance race. On a long weekend she decided for the heck of it to run 100km. She completed it successfully and you can only imagine the praise and kudos that would have flowed if she had an identity on Strava.

There was one person however who was not impressed: her coach. It wasn’t a smart thing to do and it put her at considerable risk of injury and would have necessitated substantial changes to her training program to facilitate recovery. As a coach I see this on a weekly basis: runners training in a way that defies science or common sense, to the wide acclaim of their Strava mates.

The problem with Strava kudos is that it’s a discernment free zone where often bad decision are reinforced and even rewarded with praise. Instead of a balanced and strategic approach to training many runners are resorting to crowd coaching of the worst type, where you are egged on by the crowd more the less strategic and wise you are. Kudos is often the bedfellow of kamikaze approaches to training.

Kudos can turn otherwise intelligent people into flat earthers who disavow proven scientific principles in favour of science defying training methodologies. Smart training is being junked for an approach which favours going out as hard and fast and intense as you can, because after all the way you run fast long distance races is by practising to run long distances fast isn’t it?


How To Handle Kudos Chaos

1. Engage A Truth Teller
You need to have at least one truth teller looking over your training. One voice amongst the undiscriminating kudos back-slappers who is prepared to tell you the truth about your training runs. You need at least one person who asks you what the hell you were thinking when you have been foolish and demands to know why you did what you did and how it is supposed to help you – and then tell you why it was dumb. The Truth Teller is also there for praise and kudos, but it a kudos you can believe in. It is a kudos which is a qualitative cut above the usual easily given kudos. There is cheap kudos and then there is kudos.

2. Engage A Coach
A good coach is a truth teller. In the app driven age less runners seem to be collaborating with a coach. I find this especially prevalent amongst male runners. It appears to be a mixture of the app age and the ancient Achilles heel of human beings: a lack of humility. Having a coach means being prepared to listen to someone more experienced than yourself and making yourself accountable to someone else.  For many (especially males) this isn’t an option that they want to contemplate.

I’ve had the same coach for over 16 years now. He gets to oversee my total training program and specifically directs my speed training. We meet after races for coffee to analyse my performance and see what can be learned moving forward. I could do it without him but I’m all the better for having a truth teller who I see on a weekly basis. Quite often I can’t see the wood for the trees, and his perspective is valuable. He is able to stand back and take an analytical look at my plan and execution and feed me valuable advice. He is also able to see my form in training and over the years has learned to read my body posture and appearance for vital clues.

3. Go On A Strava Fast
The discipline of fasting is used to great effect to regain balance by a range of people. If you have become addicted to the dopamine hit of Strava kudos and you’re a Strava KOM or segment slave perhaps a fast from Strava would be good. Your gps watch software will tell you more than what Strava does and you can regain a balance in your training. If you aren’t training smart you won’t reach your potential. No amount of kudos numbers can replace being able to achieve your potential.

4. Wrap You Head Around Science
If you prefer to be self-coached, then at the very least ensure that your training methodology is based on sound scientifically proven training techniques and approaches. Suffice to say that in order to become a good long-distance runner you don’t get there by practising running fast over long distances. This will get you only so far but no further. You will not (unless you are a scientific anomaly) achieve your potential by defying proven scientific training principles.

Stan Fetting has been coaching with South Pine Striders since 2005. You can find him on Strava but don’t kudos anything that deserves a please explain…


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