Wednesday 1 May 2013

Social Media—Bane or Boon to Trail Running? Trail Runner Magazine's Symposium Topic

Do we need people to post pointless motivational photo quotes?

We all use social media too much. We know it, but we're addicted. We need to know what loose acquaintances and strangers are up to and talking to people in person is for old people. So Trail Runner Magazine decided to add to this with monthly topics for bloggers to discuss. Ironically this month's topic is whether social media is good or bad for trail running, so here are my additions to the debate.

To a lesser extent than road runners, trail runners still post frequently on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other social media platforms I don't really know about. Similarly, many now share the details of every run on sites like Strava, GarminConnect etc. So is that a harmless outlet for vanity, a mutually motivating revolution or something else? I'll split it into the sites dedicated to exercise and those that are use for more conventional sharing for runners and non-runners alike.

Non-running focused sites

Some of us over-share and tell the world about every minute detail of our lives. Luckily for the rest of us, if we're not interested we don't have to read about it or follow those people. Or if we want to we can, hence I can't see a whole lot of harm in it from the perspective of the sport...unless we spend so much time on our laptops, tablets and phones that there's no time for actual running. It's as simple as that from my perspective.

It can even have some positive effects when people declare their intentions to the world, such as aiming to do their first [insert race distance here] race.It's more likely that these people will keep on track and achieve their goals due to not wanting to look like a quitter in front of running and non-running friends.

Running sites

I always found it odd when other runners would post exact details of their training and runs either on blogs or via sites that post this data to other sites like Facebook. Why should I care what training someone else does?In many ways this can be like a big swinging dick contest with runners trying to out-do each other with more miles, harder work-outs or other factors to show off their general amazingness. It can drive new runners to trails to assume that mega mileage is required to even finish long trail races, which just isn't the case and I strongly focus on quality, not quantity of miles for my online coaching clients.

Yet it's up to us whether or not to read or follow that information and it can give an insight into how to train for a particular race. Race reports can do exactly the same by imparting really helpful information to others if well-written and not too focused on the individual's experience instead of what the course and event is like.

The internet is full of useless or inaccurate information, but it also includes stuff  about virtually anything you want to research. It's up to us to selectively filter out the bits we don't want or need. For trail running there's now a host of everything we could want to know about races, routes and individual runners. Communication can be faster and more detailed than ever before, like when a race announces last minute course changes on its Facebook page.

I love reading up about races I'm planning on running, whether that's up-to-date info via Tweets or Facebook postings or even blog posts from past competitors. Need to know what the course profile is really like? Just look up any number of blogs to find out graphs, descriptions and often more than the actual event website can tell you.

This is the sort of thing a blog can help convey to others

Then there's the race day coverage that was never possible before. irunfar has been the pioneer in this field by using simple Tweets to let us feel like we're at the race itself. In fact, we find out more from those Tweets than if we were at the event in person (trust me, I've found that out when at an aid station and constantly checking my phone to see who's likely to come through next). This has been a significant improvement on race results that can take days or weeks to be posted, albeit it mainly covers the sharp end of the field.

Sites like Strava that let runners share every run they do have the effect of creating more data but there are gems sparkling in the seas of numbers. If you want to see how a top runner, someone at your level or anyone at all does their training, you now can. It allows us to find new routes either close to home or when traveling and we can even get the competitive juices flowing by doing mini races on particular sections of routes since Strava is designed to set up these rivalries. I like it and it can turn a monotonous route into a whole new challenge.


I like social media and the numbers, photos and everything else it allows us to share. Cutting out the noise and finding the useful parts is generally easy, plus it helps to foster competition and drive us all to improve, in whatever way we choose to measure our goals, whether that's speed or something else.

The main area that I think can be negative is when the blogs or forums focus on name calling, insulting or general trolling. But as with everything else on the internet we can choose to ignore it and just benefit from the best information - we should all be internet-savvy enough by now to know the difference.


  1. great post... basically my exact thoughts. it's a choice, filter out what you want and don't want. You have a choice who you "follow", what you "like", and who you are "friends".

    What I can't understand (and what seems to be on ongoing trend on many blogs) is why people feeling the need to post that they are done with Facebook. Wasting paragraphs telling the world (or more likely a few readers) that they are over it and stepping away. Like it's a chemical addiction or something. It's just the internet.... great you're done with facebook...

    keep up the good blogs. it's one of the ones i visit regular to read about races and learn from.


  2. Good post, Ian. There is a lot of good info out there, especially if you want to learn about races, courses, race conditions, training, and other specific things. The unfortunate thing is that it's like TV used to be in the old days, three networks with limited time slots, so the quality had to be good (as good as TV can be). Now there are 1,000s of cable channels and the quality has been diluted by a mass of mindless images and sounds.

    Oh, and James, I'm one of those folks who wrote about quitting FB for a while. It was easier than answering 10 emails a day wondering whether I defriended "friends".

  3. Great post! I agree.
    And it slapped me in the face about writing self centered race reports.
    I always write reports more about myself instead of the course and it's profile, but didn't realize until reading this that when I'm the one looking for other peoples reports, I prefer them not to talk about themselves too much.
    Thank you!

  4. Korey - didn't mean to make people feel bad about the style of race reports they do and many people want to know that personal side of things. My preference is for more detail about the race and less about what went well or wrong. The point is that if someone likes your blog then they can read it, if not then they can read something else and it's good to have choice.

  5. Nice post Ian. One way that social media has benefited my running life, is that it connects me with people and running groups around the world. My family and I move to a new country every 2 years for work, so it can be difficult to constantly find new running partners and routes. Thanks to FB, Google+, Twitter, etc. I can find someone to run with in just about any city in the world.

    I guess, in short, what I'm saying is that I agree with you and many of the others who commented, that social media is a tool. If you know how to use it it's helpful, if you don't it's a hindrance.

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