Pump n’ Chic – Social Media Schadenfreude

The one where Chicory asks Pumpkin why other people’s social media posts about their crazy training shenanigans bother her. 

Dear Pumpkin,

Lately I’ve found myself doing something that I’m a little embarrassed to admit. There are runners on Instagram that I started following for positive reasons, but then later realize I’m only following them because it’s like watching a car crash.
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Either they seem to race hard really often, or train excessively hard, or announce race goals that don’t seem to align with their current fitness. And it’s not that I want them to fail … but there’s a perverse sense of relief when they do. Just today I found myself googling a race someone ran because she posted her place but not her time.

Much like how we publish our logs on Salty Running, I like following runners on Instagram for a peek into their training. Often, there’s a bit of motivation from seeing other people out working hard — the old adage that there’s someone else out training when you’re resting.

And, okay, I’ll admit I use social media to keep tabs on my rivals. I have no hesitation about messaging someone to see if she’s running a race I’m looking at. I’ve got Athlinks saved as a bookmark. But that I see as smart racing strategy. I like to know if there will be women to run with, and to race against.

But this Instagram thing? It’s different. I don’t know these people. Most of them don’t even live in the same city, or even state.

So, Pumpkin, why does it bother me so much when I see these strangers doing things in their training that seem like terrible ideas? And why do I feel compelled to keep following their training?

With love,

Chic

Dearest Chicory,

I’m not going to lie — I’m a social media junkie. It can be so much fun to follow along with our friends’ Instagram Stories, Strava data, and creative Snap Stories. I love to hear about PR races and I always lend a word of encouragement when somebody has a tough run. Social media can offer such a great platform for runners to bond with one another over a shared love of the sport. All the good feels, right?

But there is a darker side of social media and runners — one that can prompt feelings of smug superiority or jealousy. When our moods are determined based on somebody else’s actions or performance, then it’s not such a great thing.

As humans, I think it’s in our nature to want to watch a train wreck. But in the end, do we have warm, fuzzy feelings? Or do we feel temporarily good, only to feel ashamed later?

When I find myself over-invested in the training and racing practices of others, then it draws attention away from my own practices. When I am reflecting about a rival who may be racing too much or about some Instagram stranger who seems to be training poorly, am I taking time away from my own self-reflection? Does the stalking give me a competitive edge or is it distracting me from opportunities to build my mental strength?

The comparison game is so dangerous and any benefit you feel from it is fleeting. While one minute you may feel awesome because your training cycle is so much stronger than that Instagram runner, that feeling can change in an instant when you come across another person who you perceive to be faster than you. Suddenly, you’re left feeling inadequate and questioning your own training.

Your time spent on social media is better spent cheering on friends and offering them support! I know I am so much happier when I am running my own race. 

Love,

Pumpkin

Do you find yourself staring at social media “train wrecks” or sizing up rivals? How do you keep a healthy attitude about social media? 

Started running in my early 20s and ended up running my first marathon 15 months later. Managed to break 3 hours in my 12th marathon. Pilates instructor passionate about the importance of your powerhouse in running and the mind/body connection. One husband, zero kids, mama to one Australian Shepherd.

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14 comments

      1. I loved this post- the back and forth was a cute idea!! I am probably one of the only people in the world without a Facebook account, and try to stay away from social media. I do occasionally stalk people, but then remind myself that’s why I don’t have an account- my time is better spent elsewhere.

  1. I gave Instagram and Facebook a break in early February and it’s been great. I have found that I don’t really give 2 shits what anyone else is doing or running and I’m pretty sure nobody cares about mine?. I’m also happy that I gave it a break during training b/c it’s very easy to compare oneself to others of the same caliber and wonder why you’re not running as fast. At the end of the day I’m not inspiring anyone, and it’s not changing the world so I’m not sure if I even want to come back from my hiatus. Im a much better runner when I’m not interested in what anyone else is doing and just do me.

    1. Sometimes the breaks can be great and much needed!

      I would caution you to be careful saying that you aren’t inspiring anyone though. We just got to talking the other day behind the scenes here at Salty about what SM inspires us…and honestly..it wasn’t as cut and dry as you might think. It’s not just about the pro’s, or the people with perfect seeming lives…most of us agreed its real people, real experiences, and sometimes even the most random post that we find inspiring. Not that I’m saying you need to rejoin FB/instagram…whatever works best for you is what’s important. But don’t count yourself out thinking you don’t make a difference. 🙂

  2. For the most part I think I have a healthy SM relationship…but of course not perfect or all the time. I enjoy following runners of all levels, backgrounds and experiences.

    I 100% admit there are a few people I follow simply because I cannot look away from the trainwreck. That’s just me being honest.

    As for rivals, I think my experience and where I am at…help me not play the comparison game as much. It’s not even so much as sizing others up, it’s the motivation to get out the door at times. I’ve learned that everyone’s training is so different and just because X runner posts a photo saying they ran X miles at X pace doesn’t mean much at all when it comes to race day. I dare to say that some of the trainwrecks are what made me really see that to be honest. I see those people claiming they ran said pace or distance in training and then not living up to it at a race. Seeing all ends of the spectrum help put it in perspective that what you see on SM, what people post (never know if it’s even true or not), and what actually happens on race day are all far different. That has actually helped me race better/stress less about things I cannot control….remembering that come race day the only thing I can control is myself, the preparation I did to get there, and how I react to things (like weather) that are out of my control.

  3. Oh Pumpkin – always the bigger person! 🙂

    Chic – I’m right there with you, enjoying a good train wreck! 😉

  4. This is just, well, awesome…because it’s ALL true!!!!!
    Really enjoyed reading as I don’t feel so alone. I’m always checking off the competition that I catch!

    1. Excellent question! I think many of us have ideas about what’s the “right” way to train, and this train wreck thing might be us looking for evidence in others to prove to ourselves that our beliefs/ideas are indeed “right”. So when someone is doing something that doesn’t fit within what we think of as “right” we might tend to root against them so they don’t blow up our beliefs about what’s right and wrong. It’s not so much about wishing ill on others as it might seem – more about preserving our confidence in our beliefs.

      1. Obviously my way is the right way! Just kidding. I’d say what alarms me are people doing the kinds of things that I did and then got hurt from doing! But I agree with Salty — a lot of it is just wanting to believe what I’m doing IS the right thing.

        1. Yeah. Back in my day … haha … but back when I was more competitive, I would do my thing and my workouts were pretty tame and my easy miles at a non-impressive pace and then other people would put up these crazy workouts and get lots of “Oooohs!” from people and I’d feel some FOMO, like maybe that way is better. I stuck to my guns for a long time, but then decided to try it a different way. But ultimately, I raced better when my workouts were boring than when my workouts impressed any one and I learned that I was right the first time. It can be challenging to stick with what works for us when others are doing more impressive things on a daily basis. So maybe it’s also a protective mechanism to treat those people doing super-hero workouts or whatever as train wrecks.

          1. +3 on Chicory and Salty’s thoughts. I think a lot goes back to my past training- mistakes I made and seeing people make those. As someone who has made a lot of training and racing errors over the years I know that it takes time to see error especially if it seems to be working. It’s also definitely the justification that what I’m doing now (well, when training) is more suitable than things I had done in the past or see some others doing. Doesn’t mean we are right all the time and there is one right way for everyone to train (far from true on both accounts).

  5. I love the idea of Pump N Chic becoming a standard feature! This was a super interesting post. I think Salty’s insight about watching for train wrecks as a way of reinforcing what we ourselves are doing is spot on.

    Also – I think it would be an *amazing* future post to hear what inspires each of the Saltines – especially some of the surprising stuff that we readers might not guess.