When lockdown confined us to our homes in March, people got busy. Some started to knit. Others nurtured yeast starters like newborn children. A growing number took up at-home workouts, running and cycling in lieu of going to the gym. I know the latter for a fact, because I’ve been watching these people intensely.
I didn’t mean to become a ‘Strava Stalker’. The habit crept up on me, like reaching for the ‘comfy pants’ when you crawl out of bed in the morning. Prior to lockdown, I merely used the training app to keep a record of my runs and calories burned.
But, as more people have signed up to Strava during quarantine, and I’ve had fewer ways to entertain myself, it’s become an obsession to keep tabs on people.
For the uninitiated, Strava is widely touted as the ‘social network for athletes’. It’s where users upload their workouts, join challenges and track routes. With its medal emojis and ‘congrats’ announcements, it’s like having a peppy digital cheerleader in your pocket, rewarding you after every kilometre and hill climb. The impetus is also there to establish connections with other people, to spur each other on, share routes and compare progress. But I’ve taken Strava’s ‘follow’ feature one step further – to spy.
A healthy dose of digital stalking is more or less encouraged nowadays. Social media was built on the idea. The whole ‘influencer’ concept was born from our habit of checking what other people are doing before making our own decisions.
When it comes to exercise, looking at other people’s stats is second nature. Sporting competitions wouldn’t really work if we had no idea where anyone placed in relation to each other. But there’s a big difference between comparing a personal best with a friend, and using a person’s route recommendation to figure out where exactly they live.
My ‘stalking’ behaviours at the beginning of lockdown started out innocuous enough...
I’d go on the app to compare my weekly cycling statistics to the mother-of-two’s across the road. I bought a pair of New Balance trainers after seeing a local triathlete – who goes by the handle ‘BexWillBeatIt’ – share a picture of hers. And I’ve occasionally smiled in the street, recognising the man I’ve nicknamed ‘Sprinty McSprintyson,’ after sending ‘kudos’ on the app for his new run time.
But my habits soon developed into a more sinister compulsion. Once, the app notified me that I’d been kicked off the top 10 leader board for my usual route. Furious at the user who had nabbed my position, I used the GPS feature to find out where she lived. ‘Typical,’ I muttered to myself, learning that it was a beautiful terraced house along my favourite street in north London. Adding to my mental list a second reason to be resentful.
On another occasion, I found someone’s Instagram account to figure out whether she’d selfishly relocated. We hadn’t crossed paths in over two weeks and, without her, I’d have to choose someone else to compete with. It was when I accidentally ‘liked’ a post from 2016 that I realised I might fallen too deeply into my research.
Strava’s default settings mean your data is automatically broadcast to other users. Fail to hide yourself on FlyBys (which allows users to see other athletes’ full names, times and pictures), opt out of Leaderboards or forget to activate Privacy Zones (which block out areas where workouts frequently begin and end) and you’re essentially slapping a big ‘come find me’ sticker on yourself, 24/7.
Having recognised the downwards spiral of my own addiction, I tried to curb my stalking and find a new, less nosy fitness hobby. I unfollowed users I didn’t know in real life and took up at-home Pilates. But with no-one to compare myself to, I somewhat lost the drive to break a sweat.
Like jogging on a newly-tarmacked pavement, the ability to see what others are up to is just too compelling. And anyone who says they don't feel similarly tempted can jog on. After all, I’ll be watching.
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.
In need of more inspiration, thoughtful journalism and at-home beauty tips? Subscribe to ELLE's print magazine now and pay just £6 for 6 issues. SUBSCRIBE HERE
You Might Also Like