Last year I wrote an article on Social Media and why I was abandoning it for a few weeks before a big race. I was finding it somewhat stifling and was often finding myself looking at posts of other people’s successes and it was putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on me. What I realised by having a break was that people often get ‘posty’ when things are going well, but not so often when having a bad patch. Thus I was always looking at other peoples achievements but not their struggles, which are often more motivating.
My break didn’t last long, however. Social Media is a big part of my involvement in this sport. Often we are stretched all over the country and further afield. It can be a lonely sport at times with miles and miles logged alone, so having a connection even via a computer can be a great help. I think this is why the Social Ultra phenomenon has taken off; so that we can share our favourite runs with other people and connect outside of race day face to face, but build up to these via our facebook connections.
However, there is another side to ultrarunning that at times is endearing and motivating whilst at others being annoying and frustrating. In a sport where often runners only meet two or three times a year and in a sport that is growing fast, I have noticed more and more people are using social media as a chest puffing exercise or simply to remain connected and remain in other people’s consciousness. Having a blog that I regularly update, I am definitely one of these so my thoughts below are merely that; thoughts, and not be taken in a disparaging way. You then have those who are the jokers and aim to add comments and thoughts in a lighthearted manner, which can then sometimes get out of hand. Sometimes I am one of these as well.
I saw one post at the weekend which gave me the spark to write this piece. Social Ultra have just released some SU Buff’s and one user uploaded a picture of his wife wearing just the Buff as a skirt and nothing else, but in a way that wasn’t graphic. This was a lighthearted post, but possibly ill thought through, and invoked the wrath of some female users of the Social Ultra group. I can see where both sides were coming from but at the end of the day, no offense was meant and it was clearly posted in a harmless manner. But it made me think, is there anything that gets on my nerves or offends me through ultrarunning social media and also, what right do I have to let that annoy me, if so?
As an example, I only joined the Facebook page ‘Ultrarunning Community’ 18 months ago when it had just 850 members. It now has ten times that, at 8,533 as of this morning. Now, whether some of these people are new to ultras as a sport or merely this group is another thing, but lets say for arguments sake that 4,000 of these are new to the sport as a whole and if 2,000 of these are in the UK that is a huge surge in numbers. Some of these people are just going to get on quietly with training and racing where as others will be the new breed of bloggers, photos of their Garmin uploaders or pictures of the chia seed and flax oil with mist of Alsatian breath porridge sharers with hash tags along the lines of #couldnotlivewithoutthis #traintoperform #livewell
Simply, I am pretty hard to offend, but on the flip side I seem to find it very easy to offend people, so since getting into Ultras I have noticeably toned down my comments or posts as, overall, there seem to be some social media users who take delight in getting offended and bashing anyone who does things slightly differently.
But we are a group of people who take pleasure in the extremes of our sport and naturally come from a variety of backgrounds. So surely we should also revel in the fact we are different and above all take a light hearted approach to social media and its connection to our sport. Hardly anyone reading this will be planning on winning a race anytime soon, so we should take strength in our breadth and celebrate differences.
Having said that, I admit, I have temporarily blocked peoples news feeds in the past if they share one too many photos of their watch and how many miles they did that day and at what speed. I don’t care how many miles someone did. We all train and all want to do our best, but how I train or what mileage I ran yesterday won’t motivate you tomorrow or make me a more popular person. I don’t care if someone ran 10.62 miles ‘hard’ on Movescount, because that doesn’t affect me. What I do care about, is that someone enjoyed their run and maybe saw a deer in the mist at 6am as the sun came up. That is why I do this, but equally others are here just for the performance, and that’s alright too. Different journeys, shared paths and all that.
The same applies to people who photograph their healthy food. Is this because they want to share their recipes or because they want to say I eat better than you? I don’t understand this either and it makes me want to take a photo of a king size snickers and coke and give it some hastags like #racedayeveryday #breakfastofchampions
And don’t get me started on the ‘mid run selfie’.
But rather than get annoyed by this, I now use this. I might look at that Garmin photo and give myself a kick towards some speedwork every now and then, because it obviously helps, even if I hate speedwork. Or I might look at that spinach and flax seed porridge and think maybe I should try and have a salad instead of the Sainsburys £3 meal deal of coke, crisps and a white bread sandwich.
In the same vain there are no right or wrong races. Everyone knows my obsession with Western States, but if you have an obsession with Spartathlon or another race that is great too. For me, I would much rather aim for spending 48 hours at UTMB or 36 hours at The Bear in stunning mountains, than work on speed to complete something like the GUCR or Spartathlon, but that is what is great about this sport. It is just long distance running, but there are so many ways of doing it or avenues to head down.
And, it wouldn’t be right to end a rant about ultrarunning on social media without a meme, the scourge of so many posts. Well said, Stephen Fry. It’s just running; lets agree to disagree on how best to go about it when not out on our feet.