Image for article titled Why You Should Turn On Strava's 'Beacon' Feature When You Go For A Run

Photo: Breslavtsev Oleg (Shutterstock)

If you run or hike alone, it is always a good idea to share your plans and your expected return with someone. Even better, Location sharing apps can enable your partner or friend to know exactly where you are. But there’s one more way to go beyond that: use Strava’s beacon Feature, now also available for us plebes on free accounts.

Other running apps also offer location tracking with different functions. For example, Runtastic offers its tracking function free of charge, but your contacts also need the Runtastic app to see where you are right now. Runkeeper can send your tracking information to non-Runkeeper users via SMS, but you need a premium subscription to activate it.

While all-purpose location sharing apps like Find My Friends only share your location and a few other data points, Strava and his ilk know you’re running (or going on a hike or bike ride) and can let your contacts know what you’re walking. When I track a run with Strava and share the link with my husband, he can see:

  • When did I start running
  • Where i am now
  • How much distance I’ve covered
  • It doesn’t matter whether I follow the run or have paused
  • How much battery does my phone still have?

All of these can give clues as to whether I need help. If I’ve stopped for a long time without stopping the run, he may wonder what’s going on. If he knows I have a 10 mile run and I’m getting closer to mile eight, he can see that I’m more or less on the right track.

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There are caveats, of course: if you don’t get GPS readings or if you don’t have cell data where you are, tracking may not update. And the free version of Strava’s feature is only available for phones, not an Apple Watch or Garmin alone (though Garmin has its own location sharing function).

How to use location sharing apps for security

Even with Beacon or another location sharing service turned on, you still need to let your trusted person know when you’ll be back. But now if you don’t come back they can easily see where you are. If you’re in trouble and can text them that you need help, your location will tell you where to find you. And even if you can’t send text messages, when you check in they can see where you are and how long you’ve been there.

Whenever I hear about new location tracking features while running, I think of the night in 2012 when I took a wrong turn on a long-distance trail run and found myself completely lost when the sun went down and my phone ran out of battery. I called my husband in a panic because I knew I had to be near a street, but I couldn’t find the street. I was able to get the latitude and longitude coordinates from Google Maps and text him, and then I had to wait for him to call me back after consulting a stack of paper path maps I left at home. If I hadn’t received the coordinates or if my battery had been empty a few minutes earlier, the night would have turned out very differently.

I think about that every time I go on a long trail run. I now use Google’s location sharing (which wasn’t available then), but the next time I go out into the wild, I’ll be turning on a Strava Beacon.