Sunday, March 25, 2012

Social Media and Athleticism

***I am going to use some terminology that might be offensive to some, Sorry! Also, this is a bit of a rant so read on if you wish... This is also probably going to make me seem OLD!!!***
Isn't this the truth!!!

It is a rare occasion, anymore, to have a conversation with a friend that doesn't include at least a brief mention of Facebook. Daily Mile is creeping up to be of similar stature with the running crowd.

I have been analyzing the impact of social media on my life for some time. Many smart (and not so smart) people have conducted studies on the psychological impact of social media on humans. Like any research, you can find a study to match any position you would like to take on this issue, I am going to be the guinea pig for this post though!

So, in my case I gave up regular use of Facebook back in December. I now have, what I call, Facebook Sunday. Every Sunday I allow myself unrestricted use of Facebook and I can honestly say that I probably spend no more than an hour on the site. What I have realized is that as I gave up Facebook, Daily Mile has slowly taken it's place. The good news is I try to restrict my Daily Mile usage to the time that I log my workout and as long as it takes me to review and comment on my friends' workouts; though I am at the point that I am probably going to divorce Daily Mile, too.

You see, I am a relationship person. Why would I want to spend so much time connecting with people on a website when I can talk with them on the phone or share my stories with them in person. I believe in the human connection and feel that technology has changed the way we connect as humans; not always a bad thing but not my favorite thing either!

Every person uses social media in a different way and the impacts can be both positive and negative. For instance you have the Facebook stalker, Facebook whores, Facebook abusers, Facebook philosophers, Facebook bullies, Facebook complainers; search Facebook on Urban Dictionary and you will find an enormous list of terms that describe facebook and the different types of users.

What does this all have to do with my athletic journey? Well, let's talk about the positive first!

The Good 

When I started training for my first marathon I found myself constantly posting about my first 14/16/18/22 mile runs on Facebook (this was before I knew Daily Mile existed). The feedback I got from my friends was amazing! People were telling me I was inspirational, dedicated, amazing, etc. I didn't/don't really think I am any of those things but it still felt good to hear positive feedback. Then I ran the marathon! My sister posted about my run as I was running, people cheered me on virtually, my sister read me facebook posts peaple left for me during my final five miles and it kept me motivated!

Similarly, I learned that I had/have other friends who are/were training for equally challenging events and I was able to get their advice, cheer them on and encourage them along the way.  I had a friend who did a 21 mile swim and I got on-line and cheered her on through Facebook all day. I was able to be connected and watch someone accomplish something that seems so untouchable to me.

So what is not to like? How motivational to see other folks share their journeys and support people along the way! Just putting yourself out there on a social media site can bring with it enormous encouragement and support!

Not a bad thing, not a bad thing at all, right?

The Bad

Although utilizing social media for motivation is a great thing I have noticed that it also makes me extremely competitive and social media took my competitive nature to the extreme. I was watching my friends run faster, run longer, run smarter (yes this is very true, I've had some stupidity in my training this year) than me and it was making me crazy! I started wondering why they were having, what seemed to me, more success than I was. It took a bit of a toll on my mind. I started beating myself up for not being as 'good' as everyone else.

The leader board feature on Daily Mile can be a mind (again can't use my favorite term here) game. If you pay a lot of attention to the leader board you may find yourself running that extra mile to be at the top. I know this sounds messed up, but honestly is my policy folks!

Also, I realized that as I was deciding which smiley face to use every time I posted a workout, I reached for the big one with the open mouth. This is the one that basically says the workout was fantastic. I was creating this amazing illusion of workout perfection for myself, my supporters when in actuality there were plenty of times I was in pain but didn't want to admit it. Wow, I'm really making myself sound awesome...

I've also been amazed at all of the folks who are 'friends' with people on these social networking websites that they have never met. I get the point in making new friends and expanding your networks but who really needs 500 friends? I limit all of my social media to people I know or have some sort of relationship with. Every time I find myself adding that special someone who I have never met before, they disappoint. I realize this is not every person's experience and I am extremely glad for that!

I recently had a conversation with a friend out in Maine who told me she became friends with someone on Facebook because they run in the same groups. That new 'friend' ended up mocking her training because they are slow and should not consider themselves runners. Here's the thing, they run a 10:00 mile on their LSD runs. What is slow about that? And who should be judging whether you are a runner. Remember this quote? I've posted it before:

"If you run, you are a runner. It doesn't matter how fast or how far. It doesn't matter if today is your first day or if you've been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run."  -- John Bingham

In short, this interaction was demoralizing to my friend and negatively impacted her training. I heard myself saying to her 'sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me." Uh, yeah, that statement has great sentiment but is not really true! I'm going to save you that rant, if you want to hear it, you are welcome to email me and I will send you plenty of arguments against it...

My Position

Although I have found wondrous benefits of social media on my athletic goals, the negative impacts have far outweighed the positives for me. I congratulate the people who can continue connecting through social media, make new friends and expand their networks without the negative influences; I am just not one of them. I recall, I started this journey for me, and need not lose site of that.

I will not judge how others use social media, but I will encourage people to read this post if I hear the comments or constant need to connect is bringing them down. I will also continue to use Facebook on Sundays to catch up with my friends and to invite my friends to parties. I will, probably, continue using Daily Mile to cheer on my friends through their athletic pursuits and share my own athletic persuits (especially since it is a fantastic tool for so many people) but I will no longer let it impact my person!

Here's the thing. I am a true believer that everyone has their own journey with athleticism and at NO point should we compare ourselves to those around us or judge those who are improving themselves unless we are professional athletes. Let's face it, I am not a professional athlete, nor do I aspire to be one! So, this obsession with Daily Mile, for a short period of time, took away from my training. I am proud to say that I have given myself a bit of an attitude adjustment and am no longer comparing myself to others. It took some time to realize I always need to come first when challenging my body NOT my ego.


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  2. I'm so glad you wrote this, Sarah. I have similar mixed emotions about social media. I had never heard of daily mile before I read your post here just now, and I think I am going to take your word for it and live vicariously through your experience. :) As for FB... I think I have finally figured out the best way to use it for ME... to share, to read about what my friends are up to, and that's about it. I really appreciate your candor... and the fact that you remind us what it means to be a runner. I have always struggled with the concept of "athlete"... more to come in a future blog post!

  3. I was secretly hoping for way more controversy here, but alas, nothing I can argue with or dispute. Hehe. You have to do what's best for you, and sounds like you are doing so. Kudos to you!

    Best runner quote ever, btw.

    1. Ha, I was expecting more controversy too but realized as I was writing, it wasn't necessary to make my point! Thanks for reading Mandy!!!

  4. I, like Mandy, expected way more controversy here but didn't find it. That's okay, though, I think its a great post. I've found myself using FB less and less and I get messages from people that say "sounds like you've found a good workout routine." and stuff like that now. Not what I intended but I get stalked, as you know, so I keep it to more of a dull roar out there. I definitely find myself feeling competitive or slow when I follow Daily Mile so I get it. I still laugh that you said "all I have to do is look at your mileage and do less."