EletiofeStrava Is the Last Good Social Media App

Strava Is the Last Good Social Media App


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It was 2 am at Denver International Airport, and Jared Murphy was only a few hours into a planned 17-hour layover. His options at this quiet hour, in the expansive halls of the concourse, were pretty much nil. There would be no nibbling on ahi tartare at the Crú Food & Wine Bar for at least another seven hours, and the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory’s signature caramel apples had long since been cached for the night.

Some may have looked upon this overnight interval as a welter of halogen-lit misery. But Murphy, a competitive runner since high school, was an avid user of the exercise app Strava, and frequently checked the app while traveling to see where locals liked to run. In particular, he looked for segments: user-generated pathways, often with notable features—a particularly hairy climb, for instance—where you can compete to have the best time and be crowned king or queen of the mountain.

Sitting in Terminal B, Murphy opened up Strava on his phone and searched for a segment at the airport. “Sure enough,” he recalls, the map showed a few of the telltale orange icons.

Even better: He was stoked to find a segment right where he was. It was called “Gate Change Gnar,” a straightaway sprint of nearly 500 feet past the aforementioned fine-dining options and eight gates. Murphy could see the current record holder had a time of 22 seconds. Respectable, but not blindingly fast. Of course, the nation’s third-busiest airport is normally full of shuffling travelers; sprinting carries a significant risk of a high-speed pileup with some frazzled traveler towing a rollaboard the size of an Airstream.

But given the hour—and that it was June 2020—Murphy was literally the only person in all of Terminal B. “I can’t resist a good segment when it’s there,” he says. Even though he was taking some time off with a lingering calf injury, he headed to the starting line.

Strava serves as a communal hub for more than 100 million users. About 250 of them have run Gate Change Gnar. It started as part of someone’s “airport walk” on October 10, 2012, a leisurely 86-second stroll. The leaderboard has gotten faster since then. Now someone gives the segment a go every few days. The chance to win king of the mountain makes Strava a handy conduit for an athlete’s amphetaminic energy output—even in the unlikeliest circumstances.

That night in the dark Denver terminal, Murphy, who happened to be wearing a pair of Hokas at the time, claimed the course record in 19 seconds. Then he bagged a couple of others before heading to the couches in Terminal A for some sleep.

Tyler Swartz is another Strava user who tackled the gnar. He’s the founder of Endorphins Running, a startup that organizes group runs in a handful of American cities. During a March snowstorm, at about 9:30 in the evening, he sprinted the segment half a dozen times after he missed a connecting flight. It was impromptu entertainment for an otherwise grumpy crowd. “I was high-fiving people,” he says. “There were little kids running with me. Some people recognized me from TikTok.” He has more than 43,000 followers. An Instagram reel of his sprints has 380,000 views.

Elsa Westenfelder, an 18-year-old cyclo-cross competitor from Missoula, Montana, who has raced on the US national team, discovered Gate Change Gnar while heading home last year on spring break. She identified two factors in her favor: The crowds were minimal, and her mom was there to hold her backpack. “The segment felt so much longer than I thought it was gonna be,” she says. “I was dying.”

Westenfelder claimed the course record—at 26 seconds—among women. When the app notified her that someone broke it a couple of months later, she didn’t mind. “Strava in general, it’s just a really good way to keep it fun,” she says.

Murphy’s friends frequently bluster that they’re going to beat his time, but they keep showing up at the airport when it’s busy. And they fall short. Each segment has a comments section where users can throw down copious congratulatory fist bumps or trash-talk.

Murphy is quick to tell me that he too considers the records a fun game, not something super serious. Then again, last year he noticed that someone had toppled his mark. When he looked closer, that runner’s GPS data looked off—the route was bouncing all over the place, and coverage is spotty in the airport—so he notified Strava to have it removed. “You know, I want to make sure the leaderboard is as accurate as possible,” he says, laughing. And when he noticed that someone had topped his record again, this time with a working GPS: “I was like well, I can’t have that,” he says. So he went back.

Murphy needed better running shoes to reclaim his title, so he laced up a pair of Sauconys after hopping off his flight. This time he ran it in 16 seconds (for those keeping track). “But,” he says, “they’re not fast shoes.”

On April 10, 2024, a new record holder claimed to have ripped off the run in 10 seconds. That time is so fast, Murphy says it must be the result of glitchy data. He’s OK with it either way. These days he no longer has long layovers in Denver, and is more likely to fly through Las Vegas. The good news: There are segments on the Strip.

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