Who would've ever thought that the advent of social media could make running feel so...complicated sometimes. I didn't really think all that much about it until I listened to a little spiel that one of our very own local (well, technically he's not local...he's British) Olympians, Gary Staines, gave to a group of kids at a running camp last week. He talked about a lot of stuff, some of which was about how competitive running today is so much more stressful--at every level--than it ever used to be, partly because everyone knows what everyone else is doing, whereas back in the day you just kind of trained and found out what you should and shouldn't do through trial and error. He didn't ever directly mention the social media and Instant-Access-to-All-Things-Running aspect of things, but when you think about it, that's sort of what really shrunk the running world. Well, and the actual world too.
I'm pretty thankful the whole Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Letsrun era didn't really exist when I first started running in high school. At that early stage, I had no idea how much I would have to do to improve on my 30-odd minute 5k times, I didn't even know what a good 5k time was, or where I actually stacked up against anyone. I just knew in my naive 14 year old brain that I went from being so far behind the race that people didn't know I was in the race, to actually being a mid-packer (in the JV race! Wooo!) in a single cross country season, and boy was I pumped. I thought I was improving in leaps and bounds, and I guess I was, but to be fair the improvement curve is bound to be huge when you have nowhere to go but um...waaaaaay up. But on paper it sure as heck wasn't impressive by any stretch of imagination. 25-28 minute 5k's certainly don't turn any heads anywhere. Heck, 10 minutes faster than that and it still wouldn't turn heads. Had I gone and looked up Colorado rankings on Milesplit.com (it didn't exist then) or checked out Footlocker (isn't that just a store?) rankings on Letsrun (never heard of it) or whatever, I probably would have given up just looking at the crazy fast nationally-ranked times girls ran. What I'm trying to say is that to be blunt, I was terrible, but I had no idea just how terrible, I was just having fun and getting better and that was all I knew and it was GREAT. You couldn't just access a million running stats at the effortless click of a mouse and compare yourself to everyone. And thank goodness. Complete ignorance really can be bliss.
Fast-foward to the present, now it's like constant bombardment. You don't really even have to go looking for it. Just log onto Twitter and you'll probably see no less than 20 peoples' workouts pop up in less than about 30 seconds. It's definitely not all bad though, especially if you're a nerd and you take interest in these things. Sometimes you can learn some interesting stuff, plus this sport could certainly use more popularity. It's great to see so much social media all over the place promoting runners and races and rankings and workouts and times. And it's impressive to hear about this runner doing X amazing workout and how they run (insert enormous triple-digit number here) miles a week with X number of super-complicated interval sessions to attain such-and-such a standard for so-and-so race. And if they're not doing all of the above listed things, they're doing this YouTubed core workout in the weight room (make sure to flex those abs in that Facebook pic), or doing plyometrics that some other runner blogged about, or Instagramming their Olympic-caliber dinner, or maybe supplementing (and Tweeting) on the Alter-G before Facebooking a photo of their legs in the ice bath. Oh, and don't forget to take a selfie with the track in the background, and make sure you have a nice sheen of sweat on your face for that one.
Sometimes it gets a tad over the top.
But again, it's all great to a point. Most runners have a lot of passion for what they do and when you have a good day, it feels great to not be the only one who knows about it. On top of that, it's pretty human and perfectly acceptable to want other people to take an interest in what we ourselves are interested in. But on the other end of the spectrum, sometimes you have to get away from all that...noise--for lack of a better word--or you get to wondering if you're doing anything right or if everyone else knows all these magical secrets that you don't, and do they ever have a bad day? By the tone of their Tweets it sure doesn't sound like it.
Running's already competitive enough on the actual race-course without being competitive in the virtual "world" on top of that. Every time I've ever started to go backwards with it all, it was because rather than staying any actual course, I was trying to emulate what I heard that somebody else was doing, because they seemed to be having more success, so surely it must be "right." Had I not known about it, I wouldn't have felt compelled to compete with it. Kinda makes me miss not knowing any better, because maybe it was better that way. Sometimes "ignorance" and simplicity can really be the way to go. Sometimes you gotta get off the grid.
And now in a final twist of irony, I'm going to post this on my Facebook!