How To Use Social Media

“I used to hate training,” says Dakota Jones, sipping a fair-trade coffee in the shade of a Boulder, Colorado coffeehouse and crossing his skinny-jean-clad legs, “and part of me still does. But over the past few years I have developed a host of ways in which I can leverage my training into a comprehensive projection of superiority over everyone around me. Sometimes people ask me, ‘Dakota, do you really like to run so much?’ And I always tell them the same thing: I ran 150 miles this week and did five hours of ab workouts and this pizza is gluten free, so what are you doing to make the planet a better place to live? People cower before my self-assured status as an avante-garde lifestyle athlete, and I encourage this with an all-encompassing arrogance.”

The trick to being better than everyone else, explains Jones, “is to believe you’re better than everyone else. Sure, deep down I may have a foundational complex of crippling insecurities, but I make a point to cover that over like hoarfrost in a continental snowpack with layers of self-assurance, curated pretentiousness, and unconcealed contempt.” In other words, you need to create a whole way of life around the fact that you exercise and eat well. But saying it like that makes it sounds simple, and the last thing you want to do is give the impression that being you is simple. “You must project a dazzling aura of busy-ness and constant activity,” says Jones.

The secret is to keep track meticulously and publicly of everything you do that furthers your carefully crafted image. (And conversely, you should never, under any circumstances, tell people about the things you do that don’t further this image.) For Jones, that means posting the explicit details of every run, bike, hike, and ab workout onto Strava, preferably with technical descriptions that utilize lots of jargon. “Incorporated a fluctual system of periodized specificity today,” reads one of Jones’s more popular posts. Only by letting everyone know how much you do can they know how much better you are than them.

This extends beyond the realm of training too. Social media is an incredibly powerful tool for presenting yourself to strangers as everything you wish you actually were, and Jones makes a point to incorporate all aspects of his life into his public image. He frequently posts pictures of food with hashtags such as #glutenfree, #vegan, and #plantbased. He also is good about showing the world that he uses the products his increasingly random sponsors give him. “Here I am trying out the new @RollerX Ice Roller, which utilizes real engineering to make tight packages of rounded ice cubes to roll out on after a run! #IceRoll #GetSwoll #BoulderLife” reads a recent post. Your product is shame, which you “incept” into peoples’ psyches through a passive-aggressive superiority. If done right, you never have to actually explain to people that you are better than them. They’ll just seem to know.

The obvious drawback is that this strategy requires real training. You have to actually do the runs and rides in order to post them on Strava. But like Jones, you can accomplish this by stoking the fire of a grimacing spite that burns within you every time you see someone being authentic. As for the rest of the lifestyle stuff, that can be fabricated in a host of ways; “your only limit is your imagination,” says Jones, looking up from writing calligraphy in a Moleskine notebook. With a little effort and forethought, you can be impressing people without merit in only a few weeks!

But there will be an inevitable backlash, and you must be prepared to meet it with ruthless force. Mountain sports are predicated on a system of values like simplicity, self-reliance, and worldly compassion, which is a problem you’re going to have to contend with if you want to do social media right. You see, some people might think you are “inauthentic” for posting everything you do online. They may accuse you of “being in it for the money” or even of being “a total douchebag.” These charges will be brought against you by people who disagree with you, and if you take the time to listen to what they say, you might find that their claims have some validity. This will be a serious liability to your self-esteem, so rather than listening, you must instead interrupt them and combat their logical assertions with attacks upon their character. It’s what politicians do, and it works every time.

If, however, this is not enough; if, somehow, people still accuse you of existing entirely online and not having any more profound insights than repetitive cultural tropes, you must turn the argument back upon itself. “The first thing you’ll want to do,” explains Jones, tapping his quill against his temple, “is adopt a quirky attribute that is all your own.” For Jones, that means always referring to himself in the third person. “People don’t expect it, you see,” he continues, “when Dakota says things like ‘Dakota’s run sure was cool today’, they look at him confused, and that’s just fine. There’s no such thing as bad attention.”

Following this, you will be ready to take the final step: you must adopt an ironical attitude that subverts these concerns by acknowledging them. “Your next move,” explains Jones, a fire in his eyes, “is to start posting about how much you post. Or maybe make a series of short films in which you show yourself creating social-media posts. This will fly in the face of expectation and make people really think, you know?” Equally effective is writing a sardonic article in which you over-characterize yourself as possessing the worst of the attributes you are demonizing. If done well, nobody can possibly believe that you actually are like that, because if you know you’re like this, how could you continue to be like this?

But if that’s not enough, you can finish the article with a meta description of the act of writing the article itself. “By making an abstraction of the abstraction,” continues Jones, just totally winging it now, “you relativize the opposition until you are competing with yourself.” In this way, you become your own worst critic, and that gives you the power to moderate the type and intensity of criticism that comes your way. In this way you’ll neutralize your critics while simultaneously elevating your apparent wisdom. “People dig that shit,” says Jones, briefly dipping into rap colloquialisms. “Better yet, telling stories about telling stories can be a way of covering up for a lack of real ideas with a veneer of creativity. That veneer is your home. It’s where you live. Find that veneer and hold tight.”

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • On a more serious note, what do you think about the current state of social media in trail and ultrarunning?
  • What elements of our social-media culture are good, fun, and beneficial to our community? And what elements of our social-media culture could we do without?

Kindly keep this discussion civil and general. There’s also no need to call out specific individuals or posts by individuals, good or bad. Thank you!

There are 30 comments

  1. shawn

    Really enjoyed reading this while sipping Folgers with CoffeeMate and munching on frosted cereal with 1% milk from Costco. (Hey, at least is wasn’t 2%!)
    Time to take the dog for a run and then post some selfies on his FB page. (He has one; I don’t.)

  2. John Vanderpot

    To take your questions seriously, Meghan, I was at an awards ceremony over the weekend for a fairly well known 100M here in SoCal, and it was heartbreaking to see how many people weren’t even “present” during it — they didn’t even have the decency to applaud/acknowledge their peers, were instead too busy looking into their silly little phones, sad, so sad…

    JV

  3. Lauren

    I’ve totally been researching/planning an article pitch about this very topic! Whatever I come up with is probably not going to be nearly as awesome as this post, but some of my running friends have been discussing how ugly, artificial, and unhealthy Instagramming can be. Seems to be something of a hot topic recently.

  4. Trevor

    I think what’s most troubling is *any* criticism whatsoever of social media is immediately dismissed and sneered at. Its like such a kneejerk reaction from people who engage in it the only response is to just silently be one of the people who don’t take part (I am on instagram, but use it for friends and family only). I think it does nothing but make the sport more shallow.

  5. Robin

    I’d like to establish myself as a #voiceinthecommunity becoming more attractive to sponsors. I’ve chosen this route because I’m not particularly fast, although recently I found an obscure race and finished #extendedpodium in my gender class. I’m already the proud owner of a newer Subaru, picking newer because I wanted to avoid the category of #dirtbagging and # #vanlife, #Nasty, #gross. My next step will probably be moving to an acceptable running/hilly/elevated location that would give my #voice more #authenticity. What do you think of my efforts so far?

  6. Ben Jacoby

    Dakota Jones, well-written and provocative, excellent read! Remind me of Kilian Jornet’s sentence (in his latest Irunfar interview) that he doesn’t care about the podium but just about the time on the trails, the atmosphere. That guy would have reason to show off his skills in social media, but nothing. On the other hand, I am also a big fan of Sage Canaday, yes he has a YouTube channel and posts his runs on Strava, BUT he is open with that and has a really honest relationship with it all, check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=754-ssqXfyI

    So yes, it’s really necessary that Dakota and others remind us of what (trail)running is really about, but that doesn’t mean all social media in the sport is bad. Indeed, I often get really excited when looking at honest feedback of trail runners online or great shots from a race, because very often they are damn honest, they share how they mix training and their private life (see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWVJVroa9Gc), and that’s awesome: it’s not about being cocky but about wanting to share the highs and lows with a community.

  7. Julie

    Ha! Love the satire. You know what drives me flippin bonkers? All these staged selfies!! For f-ks sake, people do we really have to stop on every run, set up the iphone and capture a picture of oursleves running? PEOPLE STOP with the narcissistic self-admiration club.

  8. Nick Wilso

    I just wanted to share my two cents that I guess Meghan asked for, but probably no one actually cares about. First, congratulations to Dakota on another thought-provoking, well written, fun piece. I truly appreciate his articles. Secondly, in general, I hate social media. I have no Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or otherwise. I do have a private Strava I use to keep track of my own training and follow some of the elites just out of interest and for some motivation. More on that topic, I do appreciate the guys with the YouTube channels out there. I’m sure we all know who I’m speaking of. I was introduced to ultra running by finding those guys on YouTube. While I don’t have first-hand experience, I’m sure what they do requires a lot of work. And my belief is that their work does a lot to further the sport and put it in front of more people.

    I dislike most social media as much as the next guy- especially the pointless look at me posts, but I feel that the video, posts, and articles by a select few in the ultra running community go a long way to be inspiring, informative, uplifting, and entertaining. Let’s be real- if we want to continue this sport we love, we need to protect the places where we pursue it. More eyes on the sport will hopefully lead to more action in protecting what we love about it.

  9. BJ

    Dude, In my mind the run-selfie shots with 22 supporting #hashtags is PROOF that you are, indeed, killing it in life.

    D-bag Bonus points if the link to your latest race result is “in my bio”

  10. Amy

    Loved this article. For me, I really do enjoy following folks (non-elite and elite) that are capturing what we love about the sport. They don’t take themselves too seriously and are showing us some really cool places to run (or dream about running). They don’t list a million hashtags, post staged, unrealistic selfies (flexing or leaping up a climb). They post beautiful photos often with motivating thoughts and wisdom. They are honest about training ups and downs Oh, and many of them are really damn funny.

    The other folks are certainly the majority and hard to ignore. Some are just trying to fulfill a sponsor’s contractual obligation (we aren’t stupid folks, we know what you’re doing.) Some are clearly trying to get more attention or more followers. Some are just arrogant, bragging a-holes. As mentioned above, the ones who actually stop mid-run to set up an iPhone to take a self-running or hiking shot are by far the worst AND are probably missing out on some of the real joys of trail running.

    The greatest thing about social media (versus real-life) is, you can turn these people off. Unfollow them, turn off the noise and enjoy those gorgeous views of the San Juans, Mt. Tam, Chamonix and the Rockies.

  11. Ingo Dusseldorf

    Remember when Dakota was sincerely hyping Clif for “responsible outdoor progression” or some equally hilarious moniker on social media with photos of Clif bars on mountainsides? Irony, bro.

    1. Paige

      Raise your hand if you completely missed the point of the article. Dakota was making fun at himself. It was supposed to be ironic, bro.

  12. Charle J

    Bravo on a funny article. So much truth in it. I personally enjoy flipping through the social media streams and seeing what other people are doing. Beats watching stupid TV shows. And sometimes even motivates. Nothing wrong with cheering each other on. Yeah, a lot of it is staged, but for people trying to make a living in trail/ultra running, it’s just something they have to do. I’m sure there are a lot of runners who wouldn’t post on FB/Instagram/etc. everyday if it wasn’t required of them. But some of us are selfishly glad they do, and can read the posts through a reality filter. And if you’re not one of those, then just tune out.

  13. Jon Harrison

    Great article that really served to inspire some introspection.

    Origins of Perspective:
    -Not a user of Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter
    -Upload a run or two to Strava daily, often accompanied by photos, starting about a year ago

    Perspective:
    I believe, like you probably do, that social media has an immense potential for good while still possessing dire flaws.
    For example: Strava enables me to share photos and information with my family and my dozen dearest friends//to be a ‘dbag’ who tries to set up a photo that captures the activity at hand.
    Another example: Strava enables me to log the routes that I run and manipulates the data such that I can track and observe my activities(data is one of MANY things I love about this sport)//to show off how many miles I’ve run or feet I’ve climbed.

    There are innumerable paradoxes that prohibit any sweeping declaration designating social media as either “good” or “bad”. I do believe, however, if we as users choose to be honest with ourselves as to what our intentions are with the social media products we use then it can be managed such that we can capitalize on the positives. This can best be accomplished by embracing the satire presented above and reflecting, thereby enhancing our self awareness

    There may come a time when my relationship with social media/Strava becomes insincere in some sense and I feel compelled to reevaluate my relationship with it, and I will remain open to that and not defiantly opposed. Until then, I’m going to continue giving my sister Kudos every time she gets off the couch to try her legs at working out and I’ll continue sharing information, photos, and routes from my local area so that like-minded travelers can discover some of the countless beauties I’ve breathed and I’ll continue creating and perpetuating genuine friendships with people I’d never trade, and (most importantly, for me) I’ll have a trail of photos and maps and experiences that, someday, with my wife and our (future) children will be looked back on with an endless array of emotions and memories as we remember all the places and steps that shaped us and brought us to where we are.

    This is my perspective.

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