A recent article in the Independent sent many Facebook running groups into a tizzy. The study it cited was from 2015, but data collected from 555 Facebook users showed people who “brag about diets, exercise and accomplishments are typically narcissists.” The researchers said these users shared their workouts to get attention and validation and to let everyone know how much work they put into their appearance.
Sure, there are people out there who might be looking for validation, but far more people post on social media for accountability, motivation and inspiration. A more recent study published in Nature Communications in April 2017, included the running logs of more than a million people over the span of five years. Participants covered more than 200 million miles in that time period. Researchers found people were actually more motivated when they saw their friends (or virtual competitors) out there. People ran faster and longer when they knew someone else was doing the same thing.
One MapMyRun user, Tim Bow, says that “on days when I am not really in a running mood [and] I see a friend log a run, then I get up off the couch and go.” Another runner, Jen Kent, agrees “it’s still a way for me to share my progress and commitment to running. I love following a variety of runners because I am motivated by their training runs and the races they do. My longest run so far has been a 10K, but seeing ultra runners and marathon runners share about how they got started running has shown me that I am capable of these things should I pursue training for a marathon or ultra.”
Which brings us back to the anger that spread across Facebook when the Independent article was posted. Out of 45 comments on one post, just two people agreed there was no reason to share your workouts online. Everyone else cited examples of it being motivating, making them feel good and keeping them accountable with their running buddies. In another post with 47 comments, the results were similar — an overwhelming number of runners felt that while there is a line when it comes to oversharing, most enjoy posting their workouts and seeing others do the same.
In addition to the study published by the Independent, researchers at Northeastern University in Pennsylvania conducted a 13-week exercise program with 225 students in 2015, with a goal of determining how social media could increase physical activity. The results showed that the social influence of peer networks increased participants’ activity level by 1.6 days per week.
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While there is certainly evidence that posting on social media can be a symptom of low self-esteem or narcissism, there is also plenty of evidence showing the benefits of being a part of an online running community.
How can you optimize social media for motivation and inspiration? Here are a few tips:
- Share your goals. Start by telling everyone what you are working toward.
- Spread the love. If someone inspires you, tell them!
- Consider unfriending or at least unfollowing anyone who rains on your parade. While some people feel it’s important to accept all viewpoints, if someone is making you feel bad about yourself or downplaying your accomplishments, eliminate that negativity from your life.
- Follow others who share your goals. Just as you are motivating people with your posts, get a little motivation from others! As Kent mentioned, if you are up to a 10K, see what some marathoners are up to. You might end up going farther than you ever dreamed possible.
- Find new routes. Use an app like MapMyRun to see what routes are most popular in your town and try something a little longer than usual the next time you head out. You can also see how fast other people have completed the route, so challenge yourself to pick up the pace a bit.