Strava Made Me Do It

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Dre coughed so violently that it activated her gag reflex, sending in her into a sort of mid-stride dry heave.  She looked up the steep ridgeline in front of her and forced the words out through a muffled wheeze:  “We almost there?”

“Yeah, almost done,” I lied. “Last little push.”

It was cold for Southern California, around 45 degrees, but she was stripped down to her sports bra, the previously donned jacket, beanie and gloves stuffed in various locations around her waistband, stripped off and stowed as the effort accumulated.  We were charging up a trail in the Santa Monica Mountains that you won’t find on any map or listed in any guidebook.  One of those locals-only type things that, if you’re lucky enough to know about it, will roll you higher and higher across increasingly technical terrain until it deposits you on the highest point in The Pacific Palisades.  The summit has exposure, solid topographical prominence and even a make-shift register in a plastic box with a little boulder on top.

We kept pushing hard, fighting through the brush and branches jutting out across the seldom-used trail.  Just as we crested one of the many false summits along the ridge and started to descend I heard a muffled exclamation but didn’t see her break stride so I kept moving, not thinking much of it.  It wasn’t until we were back in the car that I saw the gash along her right eyelid and found out that she had been stabbed in the eye by an errant tree branch.

It’s a funny thing that these type of efforts do to you.  Dre was chasing the course record on a Strava segment. You might think that’s pretty lame.  Say whatever you will about it: it’s a social media app, it’s not a real FKT, it’s for old dudes on electric bikes and retired pro cyclists.  But this app and it’s segments, particularly this 1.4 mile ridgeline with 1600ft of vertical gain over rocky, technical terrain with a solid class 4 section, switched what could have been a casual Friday morning jaunt through the mountains into a coughing, hacking, dry heaving, spitting, air-gasping all-out sufferfest where Dre was prepared to leave it all out there on the trail.  Blood, sweat, tears, stomach bile; name your bodily fluid.  She was going after it.

There’s something special about these type of efforts.  There’s something different about charging and moving and hurting yourself.  Taking yourself to this place where you’re not sure what’s going to happen.  A place far outside your comfort zone.  A place where pretense and posturing fall by the wayside, dumped in a pile along with all those other neatly manicured aspects of your personality.

It’s a magical place that, in my opinion, not a lot of people have the ability nor the toughness to experience.  I’m not talking about going out and trying to run a fast mile or targeting the course record on the ½ mile bike path loop by your house.  I’m talking about mountains.  Climbing.  Testing yourself against terrain that most people wouldn’t consider walking on.  Putting yourself in situations where the stakes are high and the risk is real.  I’m talking about being alive.

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Dre is no stranger to tough Strava segments; last summer she set the CR on the Owen-Spaulding Route on Grand Teton (from the lower saddle to the summit), where she free-soloed three class 5 pitches above 13’000ft. 

The amount of time we spend in a climate controlled box, staring at a glowing rectangle has overreached any cliche about being sedentary and far surpassed all hyperbole about “screen time”. For most of us at this point, it’s just the way it is. It’s becoming harder and harder to remember a time when things were different.

We have come so far out of our evolutionary setting that the effects are real and easily measurable.  We hardly experience any of the emotions that make us human anymore.  We don’t do anything that makes us appreciate all the luxuries that we enjoy.  The inordinate amount of time we spend in this luxury makes us soft and whiny so when we don’t have it, we pout and get angry and count the seconds until were back in it, to the point where I hear people talking about not being able to take a shit without their cellphone. How did we get here?

“We’re not gonna get it…” Dre said breathlessly as her left foot slid atop a small pile of loose boulders.

“Just keep moving,” I replied. “Almost there.” I had probably said that so much to her at this point that it remind me of the opening line of 4th Time Around by Bob Dylan: “Then, she don’t waste, your words they’re just lies.” But she did. She kept charging. Grunting and huffing and puffing away. Approaching the class four section (aptly titled The Wall on Strava). I extended a helping hand but she ignored it. I knew she would. She scrambled to the top, wheezing a bit, fighting off another coughing fit.

All that was left was a couple of little rollers and we were there. I glanced down at my watch as Dre charged past me, hands still on her knees, surveying the terrain waiting for it to flatten out enough for her to start running. It was going to be close. She didn’t ask me how much further, she could smell it. The barn, the summit and the end of this little digital line, drawing a beautiful aesthetic across the ridge by way of satellite.

She was lost in the effort.  Lost in the experience. Completely in the moment, just her against the mountain.  Moving lightly over natural terrain, pushing her body to the edge, redlining and testing those outer edges of her fitness.  Striving to reach the top.  I don’t think it gets much more human than that.  She was learning about herself this morning.

Would she have done it without Strava?  Probably.  That’s just the kind of person she is.  But maybe not quite as hard.  Having a bench mark already set by someone goes a long way toward making your morning runs competitive.  Not for everyone, but for some.

For Dre on this particular morning, the thought of going to work all day after missing the course record by eight seconds was too painful an eventuality.  This time, you could safely say that Strava made her do it.

I was a few steps behind her as she crested peak and stood on the summit, rolling green mountains surrounding her on all sides.  Despite giving all I had on the final 400 meters, I couldn’t stay with her. I found her bent over, breathing hard, watching her sweat hit the dirt in front of her face. I laid my hand gently on her back.

“You got it,” I said with the slightest air of solemnity, “By almost two minutes! Sent a lot of emails this morning…”

She stood up, beaming. Her eyes sparkled and her skin glowed.

“I fucking better have,” she said as a huge smile spread across her face, “cuz there’s no way I’m doing that again.”

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Still smiling though…

Look at Me! Look at Me!

I’m gonna be the old man on the porch. It needs to be said.  

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YouTube: The Mocko Show

The times they are a-changing.  And they’re changing fast.  Things that would have been viewed by most people as completely insane just a few short years ago, are now becoming ubiquitous.  I recently finished a run on a bike path where I live, and the majority of the people riding bikes (the vast, VAST majority) were either filming themselves, taking photos of themselves or facetiming somebody.  

One guy was laid across the entire southbound lane of the bike path on his stomach with a DLSR so he could take photos of a girl who was posing in a bikini.  When I ran back by 45 minutes later, he was still there, doing the exact same thing, still laid across the bike path.

I get it.  The allure of social media status has completely outweighed everything else.  The ability to exist in any situation completely depends on the amount of attention you think you could be getting.  If you think you can garner enough, you’ll do something as outrageously ridiculously as lying across an entire bike lane for almost an hour, blocking hundreds of people’s path and completely forgoing any amount of respect you may have had for your fellow citizens.  Not to mention those last shreds of personal pride.   

I honestly never expected it to bleed into the trail and ultra scene quite so hard and quite so fast.  The entire allure of trail running for me was as an escape.  To get away from all the bullshit.  To leave my phone and my inbox and the rest of the world behind, to get out on the trails away from all the commotion and be present.  It helps me balance out the rest of my life.  My screen time, my poor eating choices, too much sitting… all these things can be mitigated by a long, hard mountain run.  You come back feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.  

It’s essentially the opposite of what Jamil Coury does.  When was the last time that guy went on a run without a camera?  Then he comes back and whines into the camera for eight and half minutes about how stressed out he his, how much editing he has to do, and how it’s so important for him to get his videos out to “to his fans”.  Like there’s some sort of hard deadline being imposed by someone.  Like all his “fans” are gonna die if they can’t watch his next video where he shows off the new car he just got

The V-log/Snapchat/Instagram Story thing is probably what has gotten to me most.  The mumbling The lack of quality is appalling.  If you’re gonna produce content, edit it.  Nobody wants to want watch you say “uhhhh”  75 times in a six-minute video.  Would it be that big of a deal to write some thoughts down on an index card?  I would expect this from someone as dull as Sage Canaday.  But we know that Jamil can put out quality content.  He does it once a week with his Mountain Outpost newscast.  When you script what you’re going to say, or maybe even just think about it a little bit, it isn’t quite as appalling.   In fact, sometimes it’s really good.

Chris Mocko, who is definitely the posterboy for “how to be an ultra douchebag”, was actually writing some decent content on his Medium-hosted website.  I mean, it was somehow all about money and and how he quit his tech job, but at least he was sitting down and formulating content.  He was creating something that he obviously gave a little bit of thought to.  

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YouTube: The Mocko Show

Then, apparently he realized how easy it was to just film himself walking through Costco rambling about nothing and throw the video up and get a couple thousand easy views.  Why bother sitting down and typing out an article?  It’s all becoming pretty unbelievable.  Here’s a guy who has one successful 100-mile finish under his belt on a course with a net elevation loss and he has the audacity to title a series of videos: “How to Train for UTMB”.  What does he know about it?  Has he run the race before? And no one calls him out on this shit?  It’s just a big circle jerk.  

Billy Yang probably spent more time editing the trailer for The Unknown than Chris Mocko has spent on his entire 50+ vlog catalog, including the conceptualization and editing (Ha! Just kidding, Mocko doesn’t edit).  It’s really sad that someone who takes the time to actually THINK about his content (and this is obviously understating it enormously) is getting the relative same amount of views as someone like Mocko or Canaday.

(Full disclosure: I have never watched a Sage Canaday v-log.  A long time ago, my Youtube autoplay cued up one of his videos and he was supposedly just finishing a 20 miler in the middle of a 100 mile week and he goes, “Just finished a 20 miler, getting the legs nice and sore going for a 100 mile week.”  Then he points at the camera and and says, at the absolute apex of douche:  “Don’t try this at home.”  I had just finished a 100 mile week, despite having a full-time job and getting no support from anybody.  So I immediately turned it off and vowed never to watch him again. He might be scripting his content, but from what I’ve heard, it’s chock full of “ummm” barrages and repetitive, tangential garbage.)

At the end of the day, however, it’s not their fault.  These guys are trying to make a living doing what they love.  Sure, they might be bastardizing the hell out of something that has given them so much, something that they purport to love, but apparently they don’t see any other way.  

The fault here lies with the community.  It lies with us.  Mocko isn’t throwing in the towel on his website and focusing solely on his stellar YouTube content because he gets less views there.  He’s doing it because he gets a lot more.  Is this what we really want?  Is this really how you want to spend our time.

The argument against this usually goes something like this: Chris Mocko is sharing with the community.  He’s putting himself out there and inspiring tons of people.  He’s a saint, paragon and a model of excellence. Anyone who says anything bad about him or what he’s doing is an asshole. Period.  

It’s funny how these arguments always sound dogmatic (and I would know, I’ve got the Reddit comments to prove it).  It’s always “if you don’t like it, don’t watch” or some other such sentiment that completely misses the point. Someone comes with a solid, logical argument about why something is inherently bad or dangerous or annoying and you never, ever get any logic back.  

You just get people who are upset for some reason simply because I said something that wasn’t positive.  It doesn’t matter what it is.  I could have said that Chris Mocko smells like shit and the reaction would be the same as if I said I hate his YouTube channel and think that it’s bad for the running community and the world.

This is why someone like Dakota Jones is forced to opine about social media use in an entirely satirical way.   And while this is funny, all he’s doing is normalizing these things.  Despite what seem to be the best intentions, he’s really only making things worse. It’s the Satire Paradox, something Malcolm Gladwell does an amazing job illustrating here.  

But when I read Dakota Jones’s piece or stumble across a funny comment in a Strava activity like this one:

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God, I love Tim Tollefson.

I can’t help but feel slightly hopeful.  Hopeful for our attention spans, hopeful for humanity, hopeful that pure vanity isn’t going to win out. There are the guys and girls out there who are doing it right.  Tim Tollefson would never pull this shit.  Mike Foote does just fine making a living from running without being a douchebag in the slightest.  You can even have a huge presence, like Emilie Forsberg, without compromising your humility.  

Can you imagine Jeff Browning filming himself saying “Any runner can get a free pair of socks or a few gels… but how about a full shoe sponsorship?!?” and then proceeding to dance around in praise of himself for the next three minutes?  Why is this acceptable?

Time is a valuable commodity and whenever I watch one of these videos, I feel like I’ve wasted time I can’t get back.  I feel like I’m losing touch with the world.  I feel like everyone has lost their mind.  I feel like an old man on the porch trapped in a 30-year-old body.  I’ve vowed to stop.  I can’t do it anymore.  My only hope is that you will stop too.  Stop consuming this garbage.  Take a stand.  Vote with your time.  I’ll tell you right now, your time is much more valuable than this:  

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YouTube: Vo2 Max Productions

 

Recently, Kendrick probably said it the best:  Be Humble. Sit Down.