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#Whut?! Imagine Trail Running Without Social Media

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“Just completed virtual 100-miler on my neighborhood trails. Woot! Woot!” #covidrunning #quarantinerunning #ultrarunning

“I’m running 3 miles every four hours for 48 hours. Who wants to join me?” #justgorun #backyardepic

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?

If a trail runner does an epic run and it’s not on social media, did it really happen?

No idea about the first one, but the latter might be debatable in this day and age.

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, trail running existed and no one posted anything about their epic runs, race finishes or even their trail running shoes anywhere. No Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

OK, sure, that was probably circa 2005 or so and the world has changed a lot since then — and quite a bit in the past four months — but how did we ever exist without it? And could we ever exist again without social media?

Some of it is well-intended and very purposeful. Some of it is lighthearted and good fun. And some of it is very inspiring. But let’s face it, some of it is just pure vanity.

Nowadays, you can’t pick up your phone without seeing trail-running pics or videos from dozens of people you know … er, um, dozens of people you follow but don’t really know. Some of it is well-intended and very purposeful. Some of it is lighthearted and good fun. And some of it is very inspiring.

But let’s face it, some of it is just pure vanity.

In many ways, social media has become an integral part of the fabric of our lives, especially when it comes to the long-overdue need for change when it comes to racial injustice, sharing political views and managing through the new normal of COVID-19 over the past several months.

It has been stirring and inspiring to see so much hard and honest discussion about racial injustice, police brutality, the anti-racism and BlackLivesMatter on social media. As for the information (and misinformation) I’ve seen about coronavirus on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook, well, it’s been amusing at best.

But the focus of this column is about trail running and social media. And #WTF and #OMG, it’s gotten out of hand.

My social feeds regularly provide me with a smorgasbord of day-in-the-life scenes from runners — trail runners, marathoners, track athletes and fitness runners alike. And that’s generally a good thing, although, to be honest, it’s become purely instinct to “like” or double-tap the ones that really catch my eye or inspire me. I love seeing friends on mountain peaks, running scenic trails along a seashore and just about any form of adventure running or scenes from hard workouts.

I do try avoid liking images or messages that don’t appeal to me, but, to be honest, I still find the instinct to “like” images is pretty strong — either because I know the poster or I try to give that person the benefit of the doubt that their intent was something other than the self-indulgent narcissism it turned out to be

I do try avoid liking images or messages that don’t appeal to me, but, to be honest, I still find the instinct to “like” images is pretty strong — either because I know the poster or I try to give that person the benefit of the doubt that their intent was something other than the self-indulgent narcissism it turned out to be.

But I have to admit, I don’t like seeing fake or set-up shots. You know, the action shots that look real like a magazine cover but on further review you can tell they were set up to look amazing. Selfies are generally nothing but hubristic vanity, but, OK, it is a functional approach to taking a self-portrait in an amazing locale. #trailunning #runner #ultrarunning (Yes, I have seen trail runners snapping pics on peaks with a “selfie stick,” believe it or not.)

Although it’s ridiculous for me to imagine, it seems a lot of the best-looking shots on Instagram are the result of someone asking their running buddy to stop mid-run and snap a pic of that person right there running through some epic scene so it can be posted on their social feed. I’d prefer to see the scenery, but I get that the composition looks better with a runner in it. #lookatme

And yes, there are also runners who create up timer shots, setting their smartphone camera with a 10-second delay so they can run through the frame at just the right moment with either a huge smile or a gritty grimace. #imsoepic

And then there’s the runner who posts something to glorify their race finish — a finish line shot, a podium shot or even a post-race hug shot. #icrushedit

One of the worst types of posts among trail runners is the pseudo pro athlete who feels compelled to tag numerous sponsors in every post. I’m happy for you that you can earn a few bucks running, but I don’t need a neon billboard suggesting that I should click on it. #RunningShoeBrand #NutritionBrand #ApparelBrand #SockBrand #Clickandbuystuff

Fortunately, most trail runners aren’t narcissist fitness poseurs who have a habit of showing off their chiseled physiques courtesy of some diarrhetic tea, probably.  Typically it’s about an 8-mile run at 9-minute pace with the runner smiling and doing some kind of standing crunch to hype their abs. #imsuchahottie

But that begs the question, what are we really doing on social media anyway? Numerous studies have shown that the psychological effects of likes, shares and comments are actually detrimental to our mental health — mostly because what we’re posting or commenting on or reacting to isn’t truly authentic. #itsmakebelieve

A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that liking more posts is tied to worse mental and physical health and “decreased life satisfaction,” while another study by the University of Copenhagen has suggested that many people suffer from “Facebook Envy,” the concept of being jealous of friends’ activities on social media.

A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that liking more posts is tied to worse mental and physical health and “decreased life satisfaction,” while another study by the University of Copenhagen has suggested that many people suffer from “Facebook Envy,” the concept of being jealous of friends’ activities on social media.

I am often inspired, but definitely not jealous or envious of anyone’s else’s activities. However, I do find myself occasionally suffering from something I call Bucket List Overload, a mental trap that entails me putting yet another thing on my already lengthy list of places and races I want to visit as a trail runner.

For me, trail running has always been about getting away, with trail running buddies or on my own. Part of the allure is going places — near or far, common or remote — that energize me and make me want to stay detached. And yes, OK, sometimes I share shots from my runs and adventures, but more often than not I don’t. A lot of times, I feel that posting makes my trail endeavors feel a bit shallow. No need to send postcards from the edge, even if the apps on my phone seems to be begging me to make a post. The joy I get from my trail running is mine to cherish, but hopefully, those around me can sense from the smile on my face, the tone in my voice and the spring in my step that I’ve been up to something pretty cool.

Brian Metzler is a contributing editor to Trail Runner.