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Trails Collective

Social Media and My Running

After years of being a private runner, running solely for my own purpose, in 2020 I suddenly found myself in the position of Brand Ambassador. I applied to represent companies I believed in, not really believing that I would be selected. Well, selected I was, and my number of social media posts increased accordingly. The many posts I posted about all things running as Brand Ambassador of several brands was magnified during the height of the pandemic, when I found myself on my devices trying to connect with others that much more. I think many of us found ourselves looking for ways to connect with others while remaining physically isolated. I escaped to the woods and nature where I could find some sense of normal but found that I wanted to tell everyone all about it. I wanted to show the world my little forested wonderland, usually through the lens of my GoPro. And I thought showing the world everything I’d #seenonmyrun would make me a more legit trail runner. Because, in the absence of racing, here was the proof, that I was out there, and I was doing epic things. #picturesoritdidnthappen

I began posting in earnest about all things running to the annoyance of my non-running friends, who were happy for my successes, but quickly found themselves fully saturated by all the minutiae of so many running posts. Meanwhile, the movement over social media to diversify trails also had me trying to get noticed by brands who claimed they wanted to help diversify the trails. Ultimately, social media became an outlet and a means by which to convey my own “brand,” though in the end, no one really noticed. Perhaps I was not diverse enough and my platform was not big enough. Even now, I have no pro sponsorships, nor do any of the brands I currently represent as Brand Ambassador pay much attention to my platform. So, I have to wonder what I’m doing.

I am not an Influencer. It’s always been about the running.

By the end of 2021, after two years of maintaining a social media presence and building a larger following, I started to feel burned out from continuously linking my running to social media. I found myself struggling with my purpose on social media platforms. And I was running out of things to say. This led to ridiculous amounts of time during which I simply stared at my Instagram page, and all members of the family were reduced to addressing the side of my face as I strained to think of something…ANYTHING. “One second…mommy needs to finish this post.” To remedy this problem, I then found myself thinking up captions before my runs were even completed, if only to save myself and my family some time afterwards. But then I became preoccupied with what I was going to say when I was supposed to be RUNNING. I was missing out on the forest around me. I could no longer see the forest for the trees. 

  • “I ran six meditative miles this morning.”
  • “I went for a run on my favorite trails.”
  • “I ran along flowy singletrack today.”
  • “Tomorrow I’ll go run up a mountain.”
Photo Credit: Amelia Kaufman

It is now Fall 2022 and after squeezing out a few worthwhile thoughts about my experiences at Virgil Crest and Danby Down and Dirty, I feel my words well has finally run dry. I literally have no idea what to say anymore.

What inspires me most right now are the new friends I’ve made over the past year, local runners who run many of the same trail races I’ve discovered and run them really well, but without showmanship or fanfare. I know of two who can win races outright without needing to post about it. I am so encouraged by this kind of humility. Once upon a time, this was the norm in the running community.

I have also learned just how many of my own followers and friends reading my posts don’t even have access to trails and mountains. Turns out there are quite a few, as many have shared with me.

I never wanted to be a source of comparison or envy.

I only wanted to inspire.

Even though I’m not an Influencer.

Suddenly I find myself in an awkward position.

There is a fine line between real reality and virtual reality and if we stop paying attention, that line begins to blur. Thankfully, I never lost sight of the fact that it has always been about my running. Free gear, brand recognition, kudos, reposts, and ambassadorships are nice but have always come second. I am still epic if no one even knows I went for a run this morning.

I truly believe that social media “likes” may just be one of the worst inventions because of the perceived value they assign to posts and just how much they can affect the self-worth of some individuals. Some athletes may question the value of their own content when only a few followers “like” their post. What does “liking” a post even mean? And how many IG posts have you liked automatically without really reading the post?  The same people who congratulated you and hugged you on race day may not “like” your race post or even follow you on Instagram. Ellie Pell recently touched on this and reminds us of which is real and which is not. And to be fair, not all your followers are going to see all your posts. AI (Artificial Intelligence) algorithms get to decide much of who sees what in their news feed. This puts you at the mercy of both your followers and AI. So, don’t drown your self-worth in the minutiae of social media. You are still epic even if no one “likes” your Instagram posts.

#FOMO

Fear Of Missing Out, or #FOMO, can also be perpetuated by social media. It can be hard not to feel as though you are missing out when everyone you follow is completing races, long epic runs, or FKTs, AND posting about it. I have personally experienced #FOMO.  I have also inadvertently been a source of #FOMO to others and this bothers me.  Also, how many of us have found ourselves on UltraSignup after seeing a fellow athlete announce a race they just signed up for? Then come the 100-milers, big vert, “likes,” and recognition… And you may suddenly feel that because you are not doing all the same things and receiving all the virtual high-fives, you are somehow missing out. But missing out on what? On social media, suffering is glorified, and vert has become a hashtag (much respect to runners who ran steep before it was trendy). Still, we all know running is just the tip of the iceberg on social media. There are so many images and posts about food, body image, clothing, gear choices, pets, and a myriad of other topics, all of which bombard us constantly. Forcing your journey to match someone else’s only puts you at risk for burnout, injury, and more #FOMO. So do what makes you happy and is right for you. As the adage goes, “You do you.”

Photos and Strava Metrics or It Didn’t Happen

I recently read a book titled 100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet by Pamela Paul. The author is the same generation as me, and so all 100 items in her list resonated with me. Who else remembers *69 on your landline phones? In her book, she references Strava. I am old enough to remember a time when you would head out for a run and return without posting about it. You simply ran, and at most, you may have told your friend to their face about it. No pictures…but it definitely happened. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound? Ever heard of sound waves?? If no one is there to photograph you running so you can post it to Instagram, did it really happen? 

The answer is a resounding YES.

Sound and light waves are emitted even if there are no ears, eyes, or instruments there to record them. The salt on your clothes, mud on your shoes, and smile on your face are the proof that your run did, in fact, happen.

I also remember a time when there were no GPS wearables and only the military and a few very specialized professions used GPS. And MapQuest was some awesome technology. You’d press the start button on your Casio or Timex watch when you were ready to run and press the stop button once your run was complete. You’d list the miles you ran, how long you took, and a few notes in your paper logbook. Maybe in an Excel spreadsheet if you were tech savvy. You’d divide the miles by the time to calculate your average pace that morning.  And forget about mile splits.

To be fair, technology has its benefits. It can be critical to have the weather forecast at your fingertips, especially when you’re running in the mountains, where weather conditions can change quickly. Mapping apps help us discover new trails. And many athletes prefer the accountability of apps such as Strava and may find workout ideas through other athletes they follow. Sponsored athletes are expected to track and share more of their training and races, though they receive financial support from the brands asking them to do this. Many runners also thrive on the connections they’ve made with other athletes online. I definitely formed many meaningful connections with runners on Instagram during the pandemic, and I’ve recently been fortunate enough to meet more of them in person. Others have continued to inspire me from afar.

Making My Runs My Own Again

In the weeks leading up to Twisted Branch 100K, I began feeling as though I was under a lens on Strava, and after my DNF, I felt I needed the space to both DNF and succeed at my biggest runs, without feeling as though I was under a lens. No kudos, no comments, no one knowing where I went or what I was running at any given time. I needed my runs to be my own once again, just as they had been for more than 30 years.

I made the decision to unfollow everyone on my Strava and remove my followers (sorry everyone…I had a small group of really great athlete friends, for whom I have so much respect).

I deleted around 300 posts off my Instagram account, and many off Facebook.

Then I deleted the Facebook and Instagram apps off my phone.

And for once, I stopped picking up my phone every 30 seconds.

It’s time to get back into the forest and to rediscover my roots. I’m not yet exactly sure what the way forward will look like but I’m excited about where this new path can take me.

Connecting For Real

One morning, after having recently re-privatized my Strava, I found myself running along the trails and feeling for the first time that I was truly connected with other runner friends who might be on their own trails at this very moment, though we were counties apart. At that very moment, we were all out there doing the same thing and feeling the same way about the same kind of place. It was something amazing I could feel in the universe and in my soul, and it was nothing any social media post could ever accurately convey.

I no longer felt as though anyone was watching me. I no longer felt as though I was under a lens. My miles were my own.

Fast forward a couple weeks to Virgil Crest. This is exactly how I ran 50 miles that day. They were my miles to run with no pressure to take photos or conjure up an Instagram post before my run was even complete. I wanted to see the forest and the trails with my own eyes. I shared a few laughs and stories with friends at the finish line. The social media post that followed the next day remained unthought of until moments before posting. Completing Virgil Crest will always remain sacred to me.

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