Dear Strava, you’re missing the good stuff

I’m not knocking the use of GPS technology in running. Sometimes it’s brilliant. Tracking your performance, elevation, pace and heart rate on a run can offer useful insights into your fitness, your progress towards goals and even provide a level of motivation. But although the clever little apps can record the fact you stopped at the top of a hill, they can’t capture the emotion you felt when the mist cleared a little revealing the view below.

We were discussing Strava in the pub after last night’s run and it’s got me thinking. Strava does data but running is an experience that can rarely be reduced to statistics. How does the data indicate your level of pleasure or pain? How does that data reflect the sounds of water running across stones or the crunch and shift of gravel under your feet? How does it capture the atmosphere or show you water droplets turning grasses into mini-miracles of nature?

It doesn’t.  Data is devoid of feeling, sterile, without character, and ultimately out of context, it’s irrelevant. I won’t recall the pace of the descent from our highest point yesterday, but I’ll remember the feeling of moving over the moor, the give in the ground, the muted colours, the people who were there. And what’s more I’ll treasure the memories of a wet Wednesday evening when the woods dripped, and stone cobbles were slick like ice. The numbers won’t give me that. 

It was the last of the summer’s Sunset Trail runs, the last in a series of midweek blasts that have taken runners into new territory. We’ve explored fields and quarries, hillsides, deep valleys and lanes through pretty villages. Last night we explored water features. Lots of them. The formal ones, reservoirs and culverts. The natural ones, rivers and streams, and the upstarts – the puddles. 

The route started from the King William in Chapeltown. Within a couple of minutes, we were jumping through long soaking grass and were soaked ourselves. But it was warm, we were moving and coping fine with the challenge of paving slabs and cobbles that felt like glass. From the side of Jumbles Reservoir, we followed Bradshaw Brook up to Turton Bottoms, swung a right through woodland and emerged in Edgeworth from the south-east. Despite the weather, there was still play in progress on the bowling green, but we didn’t hang about, nipping quickly through and out towards Wayoh. 

The paths were wet, the puddles were wide, the Himalayan balsam in full flower. Branches weighed down with rainwater trailed over our heads, nettles stretched out and offered their sting. As we ran on, we all agreed it knocked the spots of sitting indoors in front of the telly. 

We crossed the bridge at the top end of Wayoh, skirted the shore and then started the climb up to the south end of Entwistle passing under the ginormous stanchions of the viaduct and stomping through the black mud on the trail beyond. When we stopped for a drink, the rain jackets came off, the fig rolls were scoffed, and we made short work of a bag of liquorice. 

The brief fuel stop was welcome. Beyond it, the first real climb began, winding up on gravelly paths, through young trees and willow-herb. The compensation for the climb was a long gentle descent along a stretch of the Witton Weavers Way. Several mountain bikers passed us, heading up the slope with determined expressions glued to their faces. 

Our run had another climb, though, and soon enough we were heading uphill again, through stiles helpfully labelled with the single word “Cows”. We didn’t see them. We ran through a narrow band of trees and were wrapped up in mist. It was still, calm, quiet, soft and warm. 

As we dropped off the high point, the mist began to thin, the valley below trying to reappear, blurred villages, more reservoirs, the sense of a distant road. 

Because of a closed footpath, we had to detour onto a stretch of tarmac. A culvert lay at the side of the road, its borders planted with colourful flowers. Water was coursing through at a terrific rate. If you had stepped into it, you could have been swept off your feet. 

The last section of the route took us through a deserted Turton Golf club. There was something very luxurious about running across the carpet of mown grass, especially as we were heading downhill, but the ease was short-lived. We stepped off the fairway, into the rough and plunged into the darkness of the woods around Hazelhurst Brook. Somehow all light seemed to have gone and for the first time since our winter night runs, I craved the beam of a headtorch. 

On the other side of the darkness lay the short descent to the pub. It’s hard to be disappointed when a run is coming to the close if you know a good feed awaits. We changed shoes, peeled off the worst of the wet gear and headed indoors to eat. 

As we sat around the table, eating burgers and musing about the soggy turn that this summer has taken, we got onto the issue of Strava, its hold on people and the crazy notion that if it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen. Well, data or no, this run did. It was wet, it was wonderful, it was fun and it was more life-affirming than any amount of data could ever be.