Thursday, April 09, 2009

Why runners should tweet

This is not one of my long-run epiphanies, you know, those thoughts that occur to you when you're in the middle of a 20 miler. I think I can confidently, after blogging about running for more than three years, make this proposal to the running blog family (the RBF, as we know and love it to be.)

Us running bloggers are a real community. Although we are often separated by time or distance, there are some common themes: We love to run. We run for fitness. We train for races. We obsess over marathons and all distances that require a bib and pins. We write race reports. We log our daily miles. There's one thing I've always loved about reading other running blogs. We encourage each other, offer up advice so that although we may not run with groups, we have a group to talk back to.

I'll have to admit that in my first few years of run blogging, in 2006 and 2007, I found a pretty good community and have visited a tonne of run blogs. Over the years, my Bloglines RSS reader account has come to grow to more than four dozen running blogs. I try to make effort to read the runners I've followed  In the past year or so, I'm finding my time is stretched as I take on other work and blogging and running commitments. And while I get no shortage of visitors, the number of bloggers I interact with has fallen. Am I writing anything different? (No, not really.) Has run blogging changed? (No, not really.)

The odd thing I find is more recent run bloggers have created their own communities and spend a lot of time on each other's blogs leaving comments. But why weren't anyone finding long-time run bloggers, I thought. Communities are often closed by the people you associate with, you only discover friends of friends. I know that Blogger's new 'follow' tool is a great way to foster community but why can't we bring everyone under one roof.

RSS readers are slowly gaining acceptance as a means to read syndicated content, but leaving comments on 35 blogs means that you have to visit 35 web pages, with 35 commenting systems. It's odd and kinda hard to navigate. And, of course, what happens when you're on the go.

Twitter, of course, is the hot topic among media (I work in media, so I know the talk), we're so fascinated by it but most of us have no clue why we should be using Twitter. People love to hate it, or love to embrace it. I'm in between, as in I see it as a great tool but I'll let history decide whether it's the best thing ever.

One thing is undeniable is that it's highly searchable, live and interactive, mobile and in the moment. It's an amazing crowdsourcing tool, a cloud of comments and conversations that when tapped, can provide interesing moments, insightful commentary and, well, real conversations.

A recent example: One of the runners I follow on Twitter is @steverunner, the creator of Phedippidations, one of the great running podcasts out there. Steve Runner (Walker) is a true ambassador for running and somehow, despite the fact I've never emailed or messaged him before, though meant to, we actually got into a conversation via Twitter last month.

One morning, he noted on Twitter that he was surprised that people who follow him (more than 700) was helping to vote up his podcast. I wrote the following:

Me: @steverunner you can no longer claim only a handful of us listen in. You should follow more of us, helps get the 'conversation' going

Steve: @yumke Well said (and thanks), I'm still trying to figure out the whole "Facebook" thing many social network tools, so little time!

Me: @steverunner no problem and while I have your attention, your podcast is my constant long-run companion. thanks so much for doing it

Steve: @yumke It's an honor to run with you. Merci.
What was funny is that in all my years of listening to Steve's Phedipidations, I always intended to email him to thank him for his work, but never got around to it. Not because I didn't appreciate it, but I have so much on the go. But seeing him live on Twitter, I just shot him a message and we communicated.

I manage Twitter accounts for work and my personal one (yumke) is mostly a spinoff of this running blog, with a little bit of my professional online journalist self thrown in.

I lamented to myself a few months ago that all I was reading on Twitter was about journalism (and its decline, blah blah blah). I realized it's true that Twitter is, in a way, more about who you follow than who follows you, so I sought to widen the field.. I added runners -- a whack of them.

And then it happened, my Twitter feed became a mishmash of journalism talk, AND of running logs, of weather reports and race reports. All of a sudden, I felt connected to a running community that months ago I felt I was getting far removed from.

All of a sudden, while I was booting my computer up on Sunday morning, I turned on one of my Twitter aps and saw that a dozen other runners around the continent (and a few in Europe) were preparing for their Sunday long runs. Live. How amazing is that. Not surprisingly, the folk who tweet about journalism aren't awake as early as runners on Sunday mornings. That's good to know.

And in the last two weekends, while running road races, I was able to find other runners who were preparing, cheering or finishing up the same race. It made a community feel a little smaller.

Just last night, I came across a feed by @virtual4now in which 90+ other run bloggers have added their IDs to. I'll probably follow a whack of them.

Now, one warning: I believe Twitter has had an impact on my run blogging. I'm blogging less because I'm capturing alot of my daily training through 140 character tweets.

So my advice to running bloggers? Start a Twitter account, pump your blog RSS feed into it via Twitterfeed and start logging little updates and embed your Twitter feed into your blog. As you know, not every daily run deserves a full post, but that doesn't mean you can't log in what you're thinking, feeling or even just note the miles you put in. And don't forget to follow a bunch of runners. That's the key. If you want to find runners, see who's following @steverunner or @runnersworld. That's a good start.

Update: Forgot about There are almost 60,000 people on it


Marlene said...

Sold. I've been intrigued by the Twitter phenomenon for some time now and just haven't gotten around to looking into it or setting up an account. Maybe now is the time...

lee said...

Well done.

As a former -- and possibly soon-to-be-again -- run blogger, you've articulated a lot of what I've been pondering on my own 20 milers.

There isn't always time to write and read longer blog entries, but the 'thought clouds' of twitter can provide an instant -- and surprisingly deep -- sense of community.

I follow a number of runners and their thoughts keep me motivated even through the darker days of training slog.

So for anyone curious about twitter, give it a whirl. It might not change your life, as some in the media suggest, but it can be an interesting and valuable tool.

Arcane said...

I looked into the whole twitter thing in more detail after you mentioned it at ATB. I may try and tweet while in Boston.