Strava: Answer to Grassroots Racing

The problem--time and money.  Previously being in the role as race director, as well as supporting roles to help direct a race, it’s not an easy role.  As the event date lingers near, the stress of ensuring that a hundred or more (even thousands in the case of a select few races) people will be satisfied is ever crushing.  But why not eliminate the extra work where possible.  For instance, advertising has been more robust for grassroots events with empty pockets and bootstrapped staff.  Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook provide a myriad of connection opportunities putting strength in the old saying that word of the mouth is the most powerful advertising (maybe we should consider “digital mouthing”).  This may minimize costs, but digital mouthing doesn’t minimize course set up, event volunteers and the like; it’s a massive undertaking to manage.  

The answer---Strava.  I believe that Strava provides the perfect application for grass roots racing.  The random gravel road race, the neighborhood duathlon or the local xc race.  These are all examples where the volunteers can stay at the registration tents and the participants can get back to the feel of grass roots racing by application of Strava and its nifty segments.  Strava just makes it simpler. (Strava should coin that if that actually read this blog).

Even Justin Timberlake understands the principle that simple can be better, as he states “I like simple things. I like to sneak in the theatre and watch movies. I'm a movie buff.”  Whether that’s relevant to this post or my conclusion, I’m yet to decide, but nonetheless his first four words are dynamite---equally true of this post.  I too like simple things and I strongly urge that Strava is a simple thing.  Strava’s segments (see earlier post if you have no idea what Strava or segments are) can be utilized to include an entire race course.  

For instance, Yankee Springs TT is one of the largest mountain bike races here in West Michigan (I didn’t forget about Iceman . .. the biggest).  While it happens one day with many participants, if that crowd is not appealing, why not offer bragging rights to individuals according to their Strava times.  While the technical setup hurdles may be cumbersome at first, I foresee in the future an ability to set up a few workstations with internet connectivity on event day.  The one can allow the participants to ride the course; and once completed, upload their gps data.  Once Strava allows the quick sorting of Segment Leaderboard by date, you have quick categorized ranking and position for the event.  I’m not suggesting that all the tools are yet in place, but a few contract programmers can quickly design an api to sort this information (better yet hire Eric . . . ha!)..

What does this allow? Simplification.  No timing mats, ankle bracelets and registration nightmares.  Not to mention there is no need for an expensive timing company.  All one has to do for a simple set up on the day of the event is providing the starting and ending locations of the segment and have everyone show up.  The participants ride the course and upload their data files accordingly.


I’m not suggesting Strava’s application for grass roots racing may not have its inherent issues.  First, there is always the ill will of others cutting corners or worse yet, manipulating files.  The latter may be rectified by requiring on the spot uploads at the trail finish.  There is also injury concerns.  But I still believe that race staff should be available.  I also wouldn’t suggest holding a Strava based race on a local trail that is not previously raced.  For instance, there are several trails in West Michigan that have never been raced.  Why?  I’m not sure, but I would believe it’s because the stakeholders have decided it’s not in the best interest of the trail.  I believe this is fair for those stakeholders who manage and maintain the trail to decide.  In essence, please don’t hold bandit races on these trail networks; instead, hold the events in the same areas but let Strava simplify the logistics.   I also see some legal concerns with promoting any type of racing on open roads.  If injury may occur on an open road, it’s difficult to assess where liability may lie (not to mention it would require the length of a few academic papers).  In addition, I doubt insurance carriers that provide us race promoters and directors extra insurance, would be keen on this race plan.


The Vision of D2 Racing

Why do all races have to be a closed course system where the races start in finite directions and all racers follow suit, the fastest to the end wins?  Many reasons.  Logistics, timing, safety and the list goes on.

But if you put on your propeller hat and leaped from your cube, this no longer has to be the case.  With Strava, you can build an event around multiple segments.  Rather than race an entire 28 miles, would it not more Fun (yes, with a capital “F” fun) to race  fourteen 300 feet to 2 mile segments.  Seems like a lot of opportunity for racing and then rejoining with your mates for the journey to the next segment where all hell breaks loose again . . . I’m in favor.

Here’s the future: SegmentFest.  

A weekend event where the ride is not encapsulated by a set trail or path, rather by a predetermined set of segments.  Upon arriving the first day, you receive a list of 12 segments (their start and finishes) along with a map of the area you will be riding.  You are told you have a total time of 3 hours to ride all segments and return back at the location you arrived.  No one cares how fast you do it, but your results will only be based upon the aggregate time to complete all 12 segments.  These segments could range from 1 to 5 minutes, but completing all segments may require 35 miles of riding.   The following day you could meet up across town and ride 12 segments in that area.  The following day after uploads to Strava, you could tabulate the results.  

Best yet, because of the low cost.  Why charge entry?  The director is not out anything but some time to promote the sport.  The start locations could be wall to wall demo tents and the like (anyone sensing they could be charged? Are we not promoting their market anyways?).  If that doesn’t sound like a new challenge, I’m not sure how to change up the traditional race scene.  This idea is so simple I could write 3 facebook posts, play on twitter for a few hours and host one of these races next weekend.  It’s only a matter of time before SegmentFest’s like this are all over the country and we want to help build it.

To help facilitate free biking events---including segment based riding---we have started to document the idea and are in the process of planning our own SegmentFest, with Segment Hunter as the race sponsor.  Although the official details of SegmentFest are not set in stone be sure to keep us on your radar!  We even want your feedback.  Email us  Tweet at us or follow us on Facebook.

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