Off the Grid

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.

That following summer, when I decided I really wanted to be better because I was on fire after my oh-so-successful track season when I had managed to break, nay, DESTROY the 7 minute mile barrier (6:56 baby! And I didn’t know that was not even kind of fast), I decided to bust my a** all that summer and just knock out those 15 mile weeks like a boss. In my defense, our school was big on wrestling and football, definitely not running, and I trained by myself because for the most part, no one really knew what “training in the off-season” meant, much less that you should actually do it. And I didn’t know that you should do it either, I just liked doing it. So I made my long runs a whopping 40 minutes, I never ran on the weekends, and I certainly never ran–or had even heard of running–twice a day. Who does that? Probably the entire Smoky Hill cross country team did, and they were a total powerhouse. But I had no way of knowing that because I wasn’t reading any of their blogs because there were no blogs. Come to think of it, “blog” was not even a word then. Anyway, by the time my senior year rolled around, I won our league and region, placed 19th at State in cross country, and broke 5:20 for a mile in track, I credited it to moving up to those insane 25-30 mile weeks, and I thought that’s what people meant when they talked about “high mileage,” aaaand….I still didn’t run on the weekends unless we had a race. At that time, nobody was Tweeting or Facebooking about their huge workouts or their splits or how many miles they hit that week, but if they would have been, I probably would have been trying to do the same thing just because I was competitive and liked the idea of outworking everyone, but thanks to my completely blissful ignorance I didn’t know what “outworking” would actually entail. And who knows? Maybe I would have been better had I known any, well, better, but since I didn’t even know what I didn’t know, I thought I was doing stuff right and there was no comparing or self-doubting going on because that just isn’t really possible when you’re living in your own little vacuum. I got better because I had no way of knowing what all I wasn’t doing. Really, it was so simple.

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!

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