The Soapbox: I Associate Strava With Cancer

We’ve heard how some hate it and some love it but here’s a different and personal story on how it can help.


I associate Strava with cancer. Not in the sense of a ‘cancer on the soul of mountain biking’ as some do. And not in a bad way.

Strava helped lead me back to the light – a born-again mountain biker.

I was diagnosed with cancer a year ago. A GP I’d never met before went pale as he examined my throat and from that moment I was in the machine. It’s an impressive one with lots of remarkable healthcare professionals and very flash gear. My favourite was The Mask. A sheet of polymer lattice was softened and went clear in a warm water bath. This was then draped over and moulded to my face, throat and shoulders. I’d be locked into this 5 days a week for seven weeks to line me up precisely for the death rays. I also had three sessions of chemo – cisplatin, which is nuclear-strength and has left me partially deaf.

The cancer was the result of a virus (who knew!?) and is very treatable and survivable. My chances were even better than the average, as I was mountain bike fit. Anyway, long story short the treatment was gruelling, one of the toughest, I was constantly reminded.

I got through it and then recovery and recuperation began.

I’d been so focussed on counting down the days of treatment and also pretty spaced out on morphine, that I ignored or missed the warnings that this would be a long process. I lost nearly a third of my body weight and there wasn’t much to spare to start with.

My throat was mincemeat.

It did take a while, but five months after treatment ended I finally climbed back on my bike. We live in Rotorua and moved here in 2000 mainly for the mountain biking. We actually live across the road from the forest so it is only five minutes to the northern trailhead of the Whakarewarewa network

I started slow, just 10 kilometres on low-altitude flat track. That’s slowly built up to 25-30 kilometres, even getting close to the roof of the forest. Hello, granny – or even walking.

It’s a special place that Forest – with healing powers.

And Strava? Well, the week before that first ride, I’d done a bit of media work on one of the Rotorua classics – the Whaka 100. Magellan is the sponsor and they sent me a very smart GPS unit as a thank you. It seemed rude not to use it and was a major spur to get out again. The only way I could figure out how to access the information on my Mac was via Strava.

I’ve never obsessed about distance or other stats. Fun was my motivation. However, the GPS and Strava have really helped me get back on the bike. The challenge isn’t versus others, but against myself. Improving times and an accurate measure of distances covered, total elevation gained and so on has really helped rebuild my confidence. I do check where I am on the charts. And I am pleased to not be last on most trails. In fact, not even close.

On New Year’s Eve, we headed out on Te Ara Ahi. This is Rotorua’s contribution to New Zealand’s National Cycleway rolling south alongside the road to Taupo. It’s mainly concrete, tar seal and a short section of hard-packed pumice. Not hard, even on trails bikes with fat-tyres. It was still a mission.

When I uploaded the ride info to Strava, it revealed total distance was 57.4 kilometres – my age.


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