Strava has been my “go to” running and cycling app for a while now. Although I prefer to not run with my phone, Apple and Nike’s decision to not allow easy sharing from the NRC app or Apple’s own Workout app means I prefer not to use those apps.
Strava has been promising an update to their app that uses the new Apple Watch’s integrated GPS receiver. They delivered that update last week.
App updates are usually an exiting event for me. I look forward to new features, revised interfaces and the opportunity to try new things.
The update to the Strava app took me by surprise.
Usually, I keep on top of things but the update was released while I was in transit between Singapore and Australia. And, as I allow updates to install in the background when I’m connected to Wi-Fi the update happened after I landed – about 24 hours before the Roller Coaster Run.
This was a 21.5km run on some monster hills.
When I arrived at the start line about five minutes before the starting hooter was sounded with my iPhone tucked into a pocket on my hydration pack I started the Strava app and noted
- The app looked different
- The default activity type was “Ride” (it used to always be “Run”)
- The default measurement was set to “Miles” and not “Kilometres” (surely the developers would realise almost the entire planet uses the metric system now and to localise spelling)
In any case, I changed the units and activity options, hit the Start button and took off.
At the 1km marker I figured things were a little off. My watch said I’d travelled 1.3km. Now, I’m prepared to concede that the distance measure might be a little different. However, the gap between my watch and the markers continued to grow.
By the end of the measured 21.5km course – my watch said I’d run a little over 30km. That’s a major error.
Incidentally, my Apple Watch which estimates travel distance using the number of steps I’d taken, suggested I’d moved around 22km.
I put this to Strava via Twitter after the race.
I’m yet to receive a response.
Is there a bigger issue?
When I ran the same event and course last year, my Fitbit Surge measured the distance as 22.5km. That’s a margin of about 5%.
Fellrnr looked at the accuracy of GPS running watches a while ago and concluded that there can be some variation.
I have a few regular circuits I use so I checked them. One is a 15km course. So I measured the course using MapMyRun’s online route creator. It turns out that’s a 13.6km route. My partner has validated this using her Garmin running watch.
Although small discrepancies might not matter too much, they can be an issue. For example, in preparing for a marathon, it’s important to build enough endurance in training to be ready. If your watch is short-changing you by a few percent on each run, you may end up feeling a little underdone.
In my case, if my Apple Watch using the Strava app has been incorrectly measuring by a kilometre here or there then it explain why, despite feeling good, I was a few minutes slower this year.
I’m going to try a couple of other running apps to establish whether the issue is with the Apple Watch or the Strava app.
What’s been your experience?