By Aaron Burrick
Last fall, I unfollowed everyone on Strava.
In a virtual world where there is always someone faster and more adventurous I was struggling to manage what I call “the comparison game.” We’ve all experienced it: you get back from a run feeling like a superhero, upload your data to social media, and begin scrolling through a feed of faster paces, more technical routes, and a five-paragraph write-up from that guy who’s already run twice today. Your smile fades. Doubt creeps in, and you lose your pride somewhere in the scrolling.
The comparison game made it hard to take full rest days, run at my own pace, and truly appreciate my time outdoors. But it didn’t have to be this way. As I returned to Strava after several months away, I brought more awareness and intention to my social media use. I discovered an important truth; if we can curate our feeds, seek meaningful content, and look beyond social media’s focus on outcomes and results, our phones can become pocket-sized aid stations. Instead of comparison, we can find compassion. We can discover a world that affirms our own experiences and uplifts the experiences of others. We can better celebrate the nuanced beauty of running, a complex and human process that will never be represented by just a route and a few numbers.
1. Curate for Community.
As a therapist, I am generally not a fan of people being cliquey, selective, or overly choosy about their friends. But here, you’ve got my full support. Take a look at that “Follower” list, and prioritize your happiness and self-esteem by asking a few questions: Does this user’s content bring me joy and inspiration? Does this account help me feel welcome in my local or online running communities? And, most importantly: Does this person’s online presence (which might be different from who they are off-screen) make me feel good about myself in all aspects of my life? Answering “ no” to any of these questions doesn’t have to be a judgment on another user’s character or who they are as a person. Instead, these questions can be used to curate a more uplifting community that better meets your needs as both a runner and a person.
2. Seek Diverse Content.
In addition to creating a supportive online space, social media can also be used to learn, educate, and broaden our awareness of the running community. By populating our feeds with a more diverse group of runners and athletes, we can challenge the stereotypical expectations of what a runner looks like and what it means to engage in our sport. Race and culture, gender, physical ability, size, geography, and socioeconomic background impact our involvement in sport. The more we seek authentic and diverse voices in all forms of running-related content, the easier it becomes to realize an important truth that extends beyond social media: Trail running isn’t about how far or how fast we run, it’s about creating a space where anyone can feel seen, supported, and at home on the trails. And as our feeds and following lists become more representative of all runners, it is imperative that we bring this same inclusivity to our real-world communities.
3. Celebrate Reality.
Social media is a powerful force. It is ever-present, easily accessible, and provides an addictive hit of dopamine with every refresh and notification. With our devices only an arms-length away, it is more important than ever to balance social media with real, in-the-moment community. Running groups continue to be a mostly safe way to connect with others during the pandemic. They allow us to share our daily practice with others; instead of scrolling through splits and results, we’re doing the actual thing with real human beings. We’re matching strides, talking about life, and laughing in real time. We’re making plans for post-run coffee and setting big goals for the new year. As with our social media, we’re intentionally creating a space where any runner can feel included and welcome.
Initially, removing myself from the Strava community seemed like an effective solution. I made fewer comparisons to others and felt more present on my runs. But, as I started to miss other users’ positive messages and inspiring race summaries, I wondered if there was a way to engage with social media in a way that worked for me. I slowly curated a list of accounts that supported my well-being and shared diverse, educating experiences that are different from my own. I rediscovered a supportive community that I can carry in my back pocket. As we begin a new year, let’s commit to more intentional and inclusive social media. Let’s create online and real-world spaces where we trade likes for laughter and allow everyone to feel welcome and supported as a runner.