Strava’s Active Minds: A place to get to know the people behind the product. This time we dive into the active mind of Strava engineer and avid runner – Steve Lloyd.
Long before Strava, Steve was creating a vision for how to compare his runs over time. An athlete from a young age, Steve stopped playing soccer and baseball to pursue his passion for running. He ran cross-country in high school and college and continues to compete with the Pamakids running club in San Francisco.
We visited him at his home to see where his day begins and to learn more about the connection between his daily run and the technology that he engineers at Strava.
Where do you feel most creative?
Running is the one time of day I can be in my own space. I take the opportunity to think through things and let my mind wander.
What have you learned about runners from years of training and competing?
High level training is hard. Sharing that training with others or a team can make it much easier. Back when I ran college cross country at Washington University in St. Louis, I began to notice that runners can be creatures of habit. We would run routes that had been passed down for years on the team.
I remember one route, a simple loop from our campus to St. Louis University and back. It was just under ten miles and we would run it almost weekly. I knew I was getting into good shape when I could finish in under an hour. This was before GPS watches. The only records are on long-lost paper logs, but at the time it was really valuable to track progress.
What brought you to San Francisco? How has running influenced your career?
The unparalleled opportunities in tech brought me here, and the amazing weather, trails, and outdoor activities have made it home. Before Strava I worked at a few different startups in San Francisco. I was a Strava user before I became a Strava employee. My passion for running and working on one of my favorite products eventually led to a job here.
After almost two years at Strava I’m still fired up to come to work every day. We have such a strong mission and it’s fun to test the product and discuss new ideas on lunch runs with co-workers.
Outside of your work, who or what inspires you?
Outside of work and running, I spend almost all of my time with my family. I have a two and a half year old daughter and on Saturdays we often run a ten mile loop through Golden Gate Park together. She practically climbs into the jogger before I’ve finished my coffee. She looks forward to seeing the waterfall, the bison, and the ocean every time. I really enjoy being able to share part of my running with her and she is already practicing her sprints up and down the hallway of our apartment.
Matched Runs didn’t happen overnight — can you tell us how this idea came to life?
I do a lot of run commuting and I have regular morning and evening routes through the city. Sometimes it’s just a direct route to the office, and sometimes I take a longer route along the bay and through the Presidio. Over the years, I’ve created private segments on Strava for each of these routes to track my progress. I was using segments in a very personal way and kept thinking that there must be an easier way to get at that data.
I wasn’t trying to compare against other people. These were runs starting from my front door.
It’s also not always about a personal best, or even a single run. One of the most important aspects of training is just getting out the door and running endurance mileage. Even on easier runs, it keeps me motivated to see a pattern building up over time. It can take a lot of time and work to see fitness gains. I was looking for a way to get more insight into how I was progressing over time.
I started paying closer attention to other runners on Strava and saw their behavior patterns in my feed. I would encounter one runner, Strava Pro Alex Varner, day after day on my evening commute. While I didn’t know his exact route, I knew he had a similar routine and would give a friendly wave when I passed.
At this point, I started prototyping and seeing more and more runners with common patterns. After a couple months of data exploration and prototyping, we put Matched Runs on the roadmap and a larger team spent about three months turning it into a product. The design, product, mobile, and web teams brought Matched Runs to life.
Now with Matched Runs, Strava does the work for you by pulling together all the activities you’ve completed on the same route and showing your progress over time.
What have you found to be the most interesting now that Matched Runs is out in the wild?
I was naturally very interested in my own running patterns, so my first prototype used my own activity data. My most direct route from home to work is 3.6 miles and it has 68 matches. I have a 7.3 mile route in the opposite direction that I have run 56 times. Four of my other commute routes have over 20 matches.
Matched Runs is a new source of information. You won’t always be going out for your fastest pace or season’s best, but you now have a benchmark against that. It’s really cool to see an uptick of fitness when it happens.
Now that we have the data, I’m actually a bit surprised by how many athletes are similar to me. There are athletes running their regular routes all over the world. We’ve found that for most Strava runners, about 50% of their runs are on a route they have run before.
Now that you have the data to back up your theory, what findings have surprised you?
More than half of active Strava runners have run at least one route five times, and almost 25% have run a route at least 20 times. While the aggregate data is interesting, I find some of the individual outliers to be incredible.
For example, Paul Kehl has run this 4.3 mile loop in Colorado 655 times, and Dan Cremar has run this 6.9 mile loop in Switzerland 549 times. While most Matched Runs on Strava are between two and four miles long, there are still some impressive athletes with longer routes. Luka Videtic has run this half marathon distance 13.1 mile loop in Slovenia 249 times, and Steven Kellett has run this 32.7 mile loop 18 times!
Photographs by Jake Stangel