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There is no secret that you can find support for nearly any passion you may pursue via social media. This is true of running as well. The challenge isn’t what to do in many cases, but rather what not to do. There are so many runners on various sites that it can be hard to filter through the noise to find the value.
While the use of social media started as a tool to promote the elites, it has sense expanded to reach the mid-packers interested in any type of racing, from the local community 5K’s, through the marathon majors, and up into the ultra events. Whatever your interest, you can find runners of similar background, abilities, goals, and life situations to “hang out” with. Or, even better, you can find those you trust with more experience to help influence your training and growth as a runner. For a sport that is inherently individual, social networking can bring an interactive factor that enriches your experience.
As with any new approach you bring to your running, you have to start with a realistic assessment of your abilities and objectives, and then structure your network accordingly. If you are a couch-to-5K type of runner, just starting your journey, following the ultra community isn’t going to help you that much. Also, you need to understand what you hope to get out of the network – is it support, advice, encouragement, humor?
While the social media giants at Twitter and Facebook certainly have active communities, there are more specialized sites that cater exclusively to athletes. Thus the “filtering” of non-running content is already taken care of. Some of these networks, such as dailymile, Nike+, LogThatRun.com, and others, double as a training diary and social network (with varying degrees of the social aspect). Others, including MapMyRUN, serve primarily as a collection of maps, which are great if you travel. Still others, along the lines of Runner’s World and Flotrack, focus on news and discussion forums. And several including OhioOutsdie.com driven primarily around race schedules , training tips, and results. Feel free to explore several potential social networking sites for runners to see their strengths and weaknesses.
Obviously, you don’t need to choose just one, but using too many quickly becomes overwhelming. It’s best to develop a system, maybe with a training log type of site at the core and blogs, forums, and race networks at the periphery (with Twitter and Facebook sprinkled in). Whatever you do, do think a bit about the strategy before you start, as it can be a bit difficult to change training log-type of systems once you start.
Here are 7 key benefits you can gain from building and executing a well-developed social media strategy to support your training.
From the daily nudge to get out the door you get by seeing other runners do the same (or their not-so-subtle efforts to push you to do the same) to the surge you get by seeing so many others accomplish big things at their “A” events, social media is full of inspiration for your running. It doesn’t take much looking at all – it usually just pops right up in front of you, sometimes when you most need it.
When trolling the web, you always need to tread carefully when it comes to seeking or receiving advice – much of it is incomplete, intended for someone with a different reality, or just plain bad. However, if you take the time to build a network of fellow runners you trust, you can find great advice for things like workout ideas, gear, finding places to run, or reacting to minor aches and pains. Note that if it is a major ache or pain you are dealing with, the only advice you should listen to is, “seek professional help.”
On some networks, this can go over the top quickly – sometimes a healthy dose of critique is needed to balance out all the positive feedback you’ll get on your progress. However, with time, you can learn to distinguish the “I’m just being polite by saying nice job” comments from the “Holy sh**, you are a bada**” statements of legitimate awe. Where this does come in most helpful though is when dealing with a setback – you can often find someone who has gone through the same experience and emerged from it stronger. For the newer runner, this is probably the most powerful gain from using social media.
By seeing how other runners structure their workouts, or react to such situations as changes to their schedule, you can get ideas to implement in your own training. Again, a key here is knowing your capabilities so as not to overreach by trying to mimic what a far more ready runner has done, but surrounding yourself with the right network up front can make this easier to avoid.
Social connections online can frequently turn into real-life friendships, and these sites offer many ways to encourage offline group runs or event meet-ups. It can be uplifting to meet someone who’s training you have followed (or who has encouraged your own) on the eve of an event, or to connect with those who pass through town for a run (like I had the opportunity to do with Tim Meier and Brian Vinson last year).
By putting your goal for a workout or a season out there for anyone to see, you create a feedback network that holds you to your commitment to reach it. Most of the time, it is self-motivation that drives you – the fear of being seen to miss your goal. Sometimes, your online friends will push you to pick up your training – or, even more often, back off when you are pushing too hard.
This one may be a bit more subtle. While many sites organize virtual races promoting competition, you may also find gains from linking with runners of similar abilities and using their gains to motivate your own progress. I’ll admit that there are certain runners I watch closely to monitor their progress, and use it as fuel when needed. This should be a healthy type of competition – supporting their success while seeking your own greater success, as opposed to rooting for anyone to fail. But this is probably more widespread of a driver than you think.
So if you aren’t using social media as part of your training arsenal, take some time to explore how you might. If you are, step back and assess whether the current strategy is meeting your needs. There are infinite possibilities, so it is nearly guaranteed that you can find some network to help support your objectives. And keep in mind that you get what you give – if you aren’t supporting, inquiring, expressing your gratitude, then the support may well dwindle over time.
Are there any social networks, or groups within the larger networks mentioned, that have been helpful in your training? Let is know below.
Thanks to Greg Strosaker for the use of this article. You can read his blog here.