“Maybe I could do that…” You say to yourself as you sit, scrolling across another run by a friend or foe.
And maybe you could. But in this case you didn’t. Cause right now you’re in recline, possibly eating, reading or relaxing. As our running lives increasingly collide with our digital selves the physicality of the sport is consumed in a digital layer. While there will always be a new digital tool: a better method of measuring your oxygen, power or heart, it’s the softer stratum, the social influence, that impacts us most as Digital Runners.
The sport is mostly mental, and increasingly our minds are not only our own. Our experiences infused by the visceral events of others. Permeated by their photos, splits, likes and comments. Stained by their digital sweat.
These digital platforms combine to form a thread that can pull us forward, or push us back. It’s up to us to dictate who we follow, whose actions we emulate, who we allow to form our digital diet.
Instagram, Strava, Youtube and Twitter; these platforms demystify events that we may have seen, but did not truly understand before. Scrolling across a series of splits is interesting, but unemotional. Swiping through images of athletes training or racing is evocative, but unclear. It’s these threads combined, their actions and emotions together, that reveal not only what’s possible, but also how.
Where as traditional results only notified you that someone PRed, BQed or OTQed, this “Digital Runner” spotlight illuminates the splits and sessions that led them to the day. Following these journeys, scrolling past them repeatedly, as we sit, sip or should be sleeping, transforms their achievements from black and white stats of seeming unattainability to relatable anchors on which we might build our own.
These digital diaries serve as a scattered series of crumbs for us to follow.
Seeing their lives more clearly, for both strengths and weakness, highs and lows, leads us to imagine ourselves in their steps, to attempt their moves, lunges, stretches and strides. After all, a broken barrier is merely the outcome of a million micro moments. Seeing their triumph inspires our heart, but seeing their lifestyle opens our minds.
And speed is hardly the only factor worth following.
I’ve studied marathoners faster than me to better understand the elements of their routine, but I’ve also tracked the training of a busy mother of three who crushes miles between playdates and provides an endless reservoir of inspiration. I’ve encouraged friends as they attempt to tackle their first marathon, and connected with pros who felt like friends by the time they toed the championship starting line. It’s the effort that binds us, the sharing of honest moments that builds collective momentum.
These streams of digital running stories form a vortex in which extremes don’t feel that abnormal, where intensity is common, even expected. Intervals at sunrise, puke inducing hill reps, and weight sessions on top of it all; these behaviors might feel misguided if done without the camraderie of the Digital Runner community. These extremes are understood as necessary acts in pursuit of more speed.
Sadly, not all digital ether is equal. Be careful which virtual air you breathe.
I’ve followed friends I cared for but who overwhelmed me with their daily doubt. I’ve tracked opponents whose competition I enjoyed in person, but whose messages grew insincere and aggressive online. Instagram can be inauthentic, Twitter often devolves into snark, even Strava splits can be skewed with vanity.
And for what?
Who benefits when we place these insincere filters on our digital selves?
As Digital Runners we must curate with care. We must prop up those who move us forward and weed out others who force us back. Identify negative influences and unsubscribe. This running life is too short to waste on ego and envy.
Build the foundation of your digital community brick by brick with influences that uplift with sincerity, that support with humble strength. Select with intent because although you will tuck them away as you head out the door, how they affect you mentally will impact how you run physically as you race down the road.
After all, the only truth of this endurance endeavor is that it will eventually engender self-doubt. As planned, you will arrive in the moment of full extension absorbed by the simplest pair of athletic questions,
“Am I strong enough? Can I give more?”
The pain is certain. The discomfort is by design. The question is with whom you will have buttressed your mind to protect agains an onslaught of self doubt.
While follows may feel free, these precious instances of effort are not. We may scroll for hours on end, beginning and ending our days absorbing endless digital tales, but these opportunities to celebrate fitness are fleeting. Too valuable to squander with a mind muddled by cynics. Too few to waste under the glare of false friends.
Magnify only the voices of those who also believe.
After all, none of this should be possible. The reasons to doubt are many.
Getting this far was unlikely, making it any further is improbable. But “it’s not the critic who counts” as they say, it’s the wild among us, the digitally connected dreamers, those who believe that the window for more speed is still open a crack.
Harness the best of what it means to be a Digital Runner. Collect, emulate and share with this burgeoning community, so that in that moment, when it’s just you out on the road riding the line of your ability, you’ll remember once simple truth: that you are not alone.