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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

'Local Legends' and 'Kudos' Galore: Looking at Strava on Campus

One writer reflects on her own relationship with Strava and seeks to find out how other Dartmouth students use the physical activity-focused social media app.

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The forecast calls for a day full of sunshine and temperatures that hover just above freezing. The roads are quiet — everyone has left for work and school. The trees are still. From what I can tell as I look out my bedroom window, it is a perfect day for a run. I ponder the different routes I could try and reach for my phone, reflexively, as if being steered by an invisible force, to check Strava, to find the perfect route. 

In my sleepy haze last night, I forgot to charge my phone. Now, as I look at Strava, my phone dies mid-scroll. How am I supposed to record my run? Reluctantly, I change into my running clothes, lace up my shoes and set out to do a four-mile loop around Rip Road, completely unplugged and feeling ill at ease. No pictures, no quirky captions, no evidence of my endeavour. 

But why do I need to Strava this run? Why do I feel this pressure to post? 

Strava is a physical exercise tracking app that integrates social network features. Co-founded by alum Davis Kitchel ’95 with an office in Hanover, Strava enables users to track their fitness progress and connect them to others with similar physical passions. It has comment sections, kudos — its version of “likes” — and even a direct messaging platform.

Perhaps my prior anecdote is a bit too pessimistic.

In my experience, Strava has a great interface for discovering new local running routes that friends and peers who I follow have posted. At a school where there’s a significant valorization of being active, particularly in the outdoors, a large contingent of Dartmouth students that prioritize physical activity use Strava. 

For Charlie Rudge ’25, a former high school cross country runner, Strava became a regular part of his athletic and social life. It allowed him to stay both competitive and connected to his friends and teammates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The spring of my junior year my friends and I all downloaded Strava along with practically every other runner in our league, and we all joined this group (on Strava) that was a league of our schools.” Rudge said. “We started competing for mileage and elevation.” 

Rudge explained that the pandemic made Strava an “integral part” of his life, commenting that it was his most used social media app and that he liked being able to see what his friends were up to. 

In addition to staying connected to teammates, Strava also serves as a digital diary for users to look back at their activities and progress. Noah Dunleavy ’25 spoke on his utilization of Strava after recovering from a running injury.

“When I got back into [running] senior year, I started using [Strava] more, and it works both as a training library or a training log,” Dunleavy said. 

He mentioned how he appreciates being able to look back on his activity, even as far back as a year ago, to see what his stats were and even to see how he felt about a run based on what he wrote in the activity description. For Dunleavy, Strava is also a way to stay competitive with other users on the app.

"If you use it right, it’s a fun way to be competitive [with your friends] and honestly also compete with strangers because of how the leaderboards work," Dunleavy said.

For those unfamiliar, Strava has a leaderboards feature which ranks all Strava athletes who match the GPS trace between the defined start and finish of a certain segment. Dunleavy also competes with his friends to chase the “local legend” title for different courses on Strava.

“Over the summer a couple of my friends were fighting for the local legend of what is called the Dartmouth Crit course, so my friend Bradley, I think ended up doing like 360 loops of it in total, so he did two 50-mile rides of just doing that three-quarters of a mile loop,” he said. 

While the competitive aspect of Strava can inspire athletes to push themselves and reach athletic goals, this can also be one of the more negative parts of the app, causing some students to abstain from Strava completely. Lauren Heller ’26 commented on the negative mental health impact Strava can have. 

“I decided to stay away from [Strava] because I tend to be an incredibly competitive person, and if I see that others are doing something that I am not I can sometimes feel bad about myself,” she said. “I have decided for my own sake that I can’t [be on Strava] mostly for mental health reasons, because I know that it will create a toxic environment for myself even though I know that is not what the app is meant to be.”

Users of the app do sometimes find themselves not posting activities based on how their peers will perceive them, or for fear that what they did was not Strava-worthy.

“I Strava pretty much anything except walks, which I think are kind of lame to Strava,” Rudge said. “I think that there is an element of needing to post cool things on Strava. Strava makes you think you need to show off to people, for example you want to show that you have a good pace.” He added that this is probably one of the negative parts of Strava.

Personally, I’ve discovered new activities like climbing and paddling through Strava and other users seem to have had the same experience. Kenna Franzblau ’26 was inspired to post her experience backcountry skiing because her close friend posts her trips on Strava.

“I always think it’s cute when I see her skinning uploads,” Franzblau said. “It’s fun to see other people doing fun things, and sometimes I think ‘Oh, maybe I should try this.’” 

Rudge had a similar experience to Franzblau, as he also got into backcountry skiing after seeing his friends post about it on Strava, and he now goes fairly regularly during the winter season. 

We live in a world where constant connection is the norm, which obviously comes with its pros and cons. I personally love the community aspect that Strava has, but I also fall victim to the comparison trap that is associated with all social media. After all, Strava is a social media app. Balance is key, so while I probably won’t swear off Strava forever, perhaps it’s time to strive more to keep the phone at home and just run for fun.