Explorer Zac de Silva is waging war on his phone, particularly fitness tracking apps, to remember the real reason he’s out there.


It feels like we’ve wised up about social media in the last few years. Finally, conversations about the icky relationship between Instagram and body image, and the addictive scrolling of Facebook and Twitter, are coming into the mainstream. 

Read More: The Effect of Instagram on #Adventure

But I don’t think this collective realisation goes far enough. I want to take it a step further – because Strava (yes, the beloved running app) is hurting us in a whole new way.

Bear with me.

When I first downloaded the app, I told myself it was just to track my training. I could see myself getting better as my times went down and my distances went up. I was even slowly creeping up the leaderboard on my local segments. But I was always conscious that I didn’t want to become a Strava Person.



You know the type – maybe you are the type. You sit down after each run and go over that little wiggly pace line, castigating yourself for every moment you stopped to take a breather. You scroll back through other runs on the same route – comparing today’s time with last week. Maybe most of all, you compare your run to your mates’, as if you’re all running some weird, temporally distanced race.

But, my friends, I became a Strava Person.

The Descent

First off, let’s get something straight. I’m a pretty mediocre runner. Not the worst – but by no means anything close to what you’d call ‘good.’ Being a former Strava Person, I can tell you that I ran my best 10km in just under 50 minutes, and it nearly killed me.



I didn’t get into running for the pace, but mainly for what I saw as mental health benefits (and a poorly advised half marathon – but more on that later). Running forces you to focus on nothing else except what’s right in front of you. I find it kind of meditative – one foot in front of the other, one block at a time.

Read More: How to Maintain Good Mental Health During the Pandemic

But Strava changes that dynamic. There’s no inner-peace measure in that little orange-and-white interface. Instead, it renders that hour of focus into a hard line on a map and numbers that slowly tick over. 


The Goal

So – the half-marathon. A friend convinced me it’d be fun to run one together (note – if anyone tries to do this to you, they’re a terrible friend. I will not enter into discussion on this, do not @ me). I bought a flashy new pair of sneakers, trained hard, and was racking up the kilometres. And then the pandemic arrived.  

The race was postponed at first. ‘We are working diligently to secure venues and a new race date,’ the organisers told us in a woefully optimistic email. That was in early 2020, and it still hasn’t happened.

Read more: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide To Trail Running


Any personal trainer will tell you that if you want to stick with a new fitness regime, you need a specific, long-term goal. Half marathon in six weeks’ time? Great! That’ll do it. But with the race postponed indefinitely, I had to reevaluate. The dopamine kick from seeing each week’s distance increase on the last? That lasted about two months. 

With no end goal, there was no light at the end of the tunnel, no summit to the mountain. I ended up going out running just because I couldn’t bear to see the Strava numbers go backwards. I wasn’t running for me, I was running for the app (and my whopping two followers on it).

The Shift

There’s a point about accountability here. Through all this training, I relied on Strava to keep me accountable. If I decided to skip a run, Strava would know. But this changed why I went running. It was no longer about fitness, or mental health, or some long-term race goal. I was running because I needed to post about running. 

It shifted from accountability – taking responsibility for my own running – to relying on visibility and validation.

And this is key – to actually get back to enjoying it, I needed to want to go running, not just to post about it.


The Intervention

That’s why I made the call to stop using Strava. I‘d try to keep up the training, but I wasn’t going to chronicle every step and heartbeat on my phone. It came with some trepidation though – how would I know if I was getting faster? But after a few runs, I had a revelation – it doesn’t matter

At least, it doesn’t matter for me.

We’ve already established that, for me, running has never really been about competition or setting PBs. It’s an excuse to get outside, enjoy the sunshine, and forget about whatever terrible thing happened in the news today. Running is a break from the madness of everyday life. 


But having my daily exercise measured down to the second just takes away from that. By pushing us into this kind of performance-at-all-costs mentality, apps like Strava can rip away the thing that gets many people into running in the first place. When it feels like so much else in life is a race to the top, why should your downtime be the same?

Of course, not everyone’s in the same boat – if you’re training hard for a race, or chasing PBs, some forced accountability or precise data will be a good thing.

But next time you head out for a run, ride, or kayak, just try it. Leave the phone or watch in the car. Go a bit slower – we won’t tell. Stop and just enjoy being outside for a moment, without any pressure or expectations.

If you don’t like it, that’s fine. But you might just find a better way to be.


Feature photo thanks to @mattwisemanmedia