Each month Trail Runner magazine invites bloggers to write about and share their opinion on a chosen topic - this month's topic pertains to social media and it's impact on trail running.
I'm going to go ahead and admit right off the bat that I know zilch about social media, well maybe not zilch but very little. I'm also somewhat unenlightened when it comes to technical gadgets of any kind, so much so that it's getting kind of ridiculous. I don't know for example, what the difference is between my daughter's ITouch and my husband's IPhone, nor do I know how to capably use an IPod or an IPad, or even how to take photos with any of these I-thing gizmos.
As for social media, I know about Facebook since I have my own account, and I know a little about blogging, but if you hadn't noticed already, this is a basic, no-frills blog. I also know about twitter, google +, LinkedIn, and various other types of information and photo-sharing sites, but my lack of knowledge deters me from using them. Pathetic, I know, but before you all feel the need to start firing cynical comments my way, let me assure you that I don't plan to stagnate in the land of "unknowing" forever. Until then however, let me share with you my archaic views on how I believe trail running fares without the intrusion of social media.
For starters, let's take a look at trail races and the use of race websites and forums to help runners better prepare. Traditionally, I have turned up to races relatively ignorant of what kind of course I might be running. Details that other runners would need to know in advance, such as the degree of course difficulty or elevation, or expected weather conditions and temperature, have ordinarily not been a priority for me.
I appreciate that for some runners, race preparation can be greatly enhanced with access to online sources of information, but there is something liberating about running in a race with little prior knowledge about it. Rather than noting each hill or bend in the trail as a mile marker to be mentally checked off, the runner is free to truly capture the beauty of the course. It's difficult to be cognizant of your surroundings when you've cued yourself to be looking for certain landmarks along the way.
I also believe that trail runners who use social media regularly, might develop more of a propensity, in general, towards planned and organized runs. Trail runners tend to seek adventure and challenge, and spontaneity often adds to the excitement. The internet, with it's wealth of information on the "best" places to run trails, and the "best" trail running gear and apparel to buy, makes it easy to forego any desire to be spontaneous and succumb instead to online recommendations. The downside, as I see it, is that the element of surprise is lost, much like when a runner turns up to a race already knowing what to expect.
Social media has also played a huge role in changing the scope of all sports, including trail running. It has enabled mass dissemination of information that at one time, would have been exclusively available to much smaller populations. I asked a few trail runners what their thoughts were about this, and how this will likely cause a significant surge of interest in trail running, and though their answers varied, most were skewed towards one of favorable acceptance.
My thoughts, on the other hand, were not so embracing, but they also reeked of selfishness and immaturity. On a very simplistic level, I compare my thoughts to that of my favorite vegan cafe here in Okinawa, and how I am reluctant to tell too many people about it because it's like a best-kept secret. I realize though that some secrets should be shared, and as one trail runner reminded me, there are enough trails in the world for everyone to enjoy.
None of my arguments are obviously very compelling, but I do have one final thought to add. Unlike other sports, such as football and baseball, which are steeped in years of nationally-observed traditions and a staunch public following, trail running is much more intimate and hardly reliant on enormous crowd support. That's not to say that it isn't popular, or that I don't wish for it to be popular, but trail running is so close to nature, that attaching it to various media platforms and social networks somehow seems to diminish it's raw appeal.
It's a little like Wii bringing sports indoors and masquerading as a "close-to-the-real-deal" experience. No matter which way you slice it, playing imaginary tennis in front of a television screen is never going to be the same as hitting an actual ball, with an actual tennis racket, on an actual tennis court. With that said however, Wii brings immense enjoyment to those who use it, and I think it's safe to say (despite my resistance to using it), that social media offers the same; it too, can bring enjoyment and other benefits to trail runners who choose to use it.