The Trail Sisters Take On Social Media

From Gina:

It didn’t happen if you didn’t post it on social media, right? At the moment, social media is the platform for communication, advertising, bragging, documenting, inspiring, and the list goes on. There are many perks to posting about your daily activities, epic adventures, and what you are eating (kidding about that last one!), but these posts also serve as haunting comparisons if you let them.

As a fan of social media and an avid ‘poster’ from my personal and work accounts, I’m fairly careful and very conscious of what I publish. I always try to keep a positive tone and present a motivating message. Though my intentions are good, it might not be received that way. Since we are all different and have our own interpretations of what things mean, social media can serve as everything from a motivator to get us out the door to a digital vessel reminding you that your efforts aren’t epic enough.

There are definitely times I’ve compared my own training to the words, photos, and videos posted by friends. In these times, I have found myself wondering if I was doing the right training—or enough training—and losing faith in what I assumed were my own hard efforts. It can be pretty depressing, to be honest. It takes a little bit of time, but I usually snap out of it and realize that it is me who is creating the negative energy, which does nothing for me (or for anyone else). Instead I should use those materials as a motivator and get excited for my next run.

Pam and Liza, have either of you run into issues with social media?

From Pam:

There was a period in 2014 and 2015 where I was suffering from undiagnosed asthma that kept me from running much. During this time, there were days where awesome social-media posts would actually make me kind of bitter. They were a constant reminder that I wasn’t able to do the things I loved and that I was relegated to voyeuristic enjoyment of running. All of a sudden and because of my health problems, a fear of missing out transformed into actually missing out, and I didn’t like being on the sidelines. Posts about great race performances would bring out the irrational and childish feeling of, “It’s not fair!” I found myself wondering why was I struggling so much while everyone else was doing so well and making it look so easy?

For the most part, I enjoy seeing other people’s adventure photos. They remind me about why I love running and give me a glimpse of more beautiful places than I could possibly see in a normal day (or month!). But I admit, sometimes posts raise pangs of jealousy: It sucks that I am stuck at work when so many other people are out having great adventure. I wish I got a paid trip to such an awesome place. Most of the time, I can shrug these off by reminding myself that I still get to do some pretty awesome things. I try to think of my day job as my ‘Big Sponsor’ that lets me pay for race travel and that my Big Sponsor has allowed me to race in Greece, Spain, California, Georgia, and soon Ireland all in a nine-month window. This helps me keep perspective that my Big Sponsor is pretty cool, too. (Plus it has health insurance and a retirement plan!)

As for actual training, I know there was a little shock for me when I first started using Strava. I’d go out for what I thought was a great run and then come back to see that Sabrina Little ran the same distance as me only a minute per mile faster. And Kaci Lickteig not only ran a minute per mile faster but she did five miles more! It’d be a little deflating! But I’ve been running long enough to know that one size does not fit all when it comes to training and I have enough confidence in what I am doing that I have never changed my training or tried to emulate someone else’s workout because of Strava and feeling like I need to keep up.

From Liza:

I take pretty regular breaks from Facebook and Instagram. That much success and happiness is strangely uninspiring. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy when I see that wonderful people are doing wonderful things. When Katie Grossman posts something like this:

Katie Grossman Facebook

All images are screenshots from the Internets.

I think, Woo hoo! Katie! And I am quite full of firgun. Firgun, a Hebrew word, is defined “vicarious and ungrudging joy for someone else.” (If you’re looking for the opposite of the German word schadenfreude, firgun’s what you’re looking for.)

It was total #firgun when I saw this from my friend Brian Ricketts, who’s on his annual summer pilgrimage out West.

Brian Rickett Instagram

Same with a race post like this from my friend, Sarah Grey:

Sarah Grey Facebook 1Sarah Grey Facebook 2


But the more time I spend looking at people’s adventures and successes, the more I start to compare myself to them. And I always come up short. So my joy for them is tempered with feelings of inadequacy.

Why didn’t I figure out a way to get to the mountains this summer? Why aren’t I racing more?

Pam Smith Facebook

Why the heck aren’t I taking the kids camping more? (Besides that it’s 104 Fahrenheit with the heat index.)

To be clear, I’m not jealous. My first thought with Pam’s post was, Yeah! Pam, Mac, and kids! But my second was, I’m not as good a mom as Pam is.

That’s when I take social-media break, when the firgun is gone, and I feel inadequate and small.

Then I turn to Twitter for affirmation and inspiration. (Definitely kidding.) It usually takes a good week away from social media to free myself from the comparison trap.

What brings me back eventually is the virtual running community. As a work-at-home mom with young kids, I don’t get to hang out or run with friends all that much. Social media helps to keep me feeling connected and makes me feel part of a running group. And I really value that.

My tentmates from the 2015 Marathon des Sables and I have kept a group conversation open on Facebook for over two years now. I love it.

And when I posted this picture of a tarantula from an otherwise dull, solo run around my neighborhood, the responses lifted my spirits for the rest of the day.

Liza Howard Instagram

(Those AH AH AHs are the Sesame Street Count’s laugh, not me freaking out.)

I also appreciate social media for the heads up to people’s blogs, podcasts, and video interviews. Those inspire. Maybe that’s because the more a person shares of themselves, the harder it is to think of them in broad categories. The more I recognize the differences between myself and someone else, the harder it is to compare myself to them, which clears the way for firgun. (Yes, if I get a tattoo, that’s what I’m going with.)

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • How does social media help you, and how do you see it benefitting our trail and ultrarunning community?
  • What problems do you personally encounter with social media platform TikTok?
  • What is your right recipe of social-media volume? That is, how much is enough to improve your life without messing negatively with your perspective?
Trail Sisters

is a group of three women, each with unique opinions, ideas, and attitudes toward all things trail and ultrarunning. Pam Smith is a mom, physician, and lover of running who lives in Oregon. Liza Howard is a mom and 100-mile specialist from Texas. Gina Lucrezi is a Colorado-based short-distance speedster exploring the realms of ultrarunning.

There are 26 comments

  1. Dom F

    Social media and my website has made me into a better person. The constant barrage of blogs, pictures, and articles that are about running and self-improvement has helped me grow. Yes, I might post for the occasional like (Thanks ego), but more importantly I post to contribute. I post to contribute to the greater good and keep someone else going. I read articles on here and they inspire me to be better than I was yesterday.

    Just like anything in life, social media can be used negativity and for the wrong reasons. However, it also brings people together…. Take this website and runners on Instagram who post their trail running photos daily. We’ve created an online community…a tribe for that matter.

  2. Olga King

    “That much success and happiness is strangely uninspiring.” And Pam’s words on “when I couldn’t run well…made me bitter” brings me to a social media “happiness gallop”. Why can’t we interspersed happy posts with normal daily life? To support those 90+% of “friends” around us who are not in the mountains/camping with the kids/racing abroad/having awesome sunrises? Mix and match, anyone? Too much is more often than not, well, too much. Too sweet is too sweet. Instead of being inspired, most folks look down on their own lives after being exposed to media’s greatness around. And while I understand about “positive outlook” and that media is just media, not a real life, that much can easily get to you. Yes, we are adults, and nobody is responsible for our own feelings. A.k.a. your awesome picture and exclamation points didn’t MAKE me feel like I am a total failure, I did. And I want to see what you’re up to, what views are around you, and, hopefully, remember my own take of similar views, at least occasionally (unless I have 104F with a heat index, like Liza). But please, share your struggles, too. You know, we, here on the media, can offer support. Although that happens much more rarely – may be we can all be supportive not only when you can’t run due to an injury, but when your job sucks the life out of you, or the paycheck came up short by the end of the month. We can all feel normal if all you get to run on a weekly basis are roads in your neighborhood – filled with cars, without a single hill or view. When your kids not only win a school’s competition in anything and everything, or get adorably dirty eating pancakes, but when they make a mess in their room, and then back-talk to you rudely. We can tell you – shit happens to the best of us. When you say “I am fat” and actually show us some rolls of your lovehandles and cellulite on your thighs. When your “I was slow today” translates to 12 min/mile, not 8:30. Honesty inspires honesty, and the feeling of “I am not alone”. Social media is supposed to connect us. But it made us lazy in trying to ACTUALLY connect. Sometimes I have to FB message someone to tell them I had texted or emailed. Sometimes – most of the time – when I want to share and reach out fr support, I instead feel ashamed and crawl into a hole (a.k.a. like Liza, close all the accounts and try to re-focus). I love that I can be aware of all the doings of all the people who matter to me and whom I had met through the years (and due to the nature of this website, met via ultrarunning) and who are now all over the country. But with that, it feels less personal – here, check out this mountain top and me doing a high jump wearing best model of sports bra and shorts and sucking my stomach. Because besides my best friends, about 1000 other people are going to see that, and I can’t afford to expose myself and be vulnerable. But may be out of those 1000 people 900 will feel “my life sucks”, and without knowing your circumstances, will quit their jobs and try to live “inspired”…without means or future.
    Sorry about a long comment. In short, mix and match would be a great strategy (gotta give it to Liza here, for sure).

  3. Liza

    Thanks so much for commenting, Olga. You’re the best. You made me remember how I decided to unfollow someone who only seemed to have wonderful runs. “Another great long run! Surprised by how fast I went and how easy it felt!!” I always wanted to respond uncharitably. “Another crappy long run for me! Surprised by how slow I went and how hard it felt!” It’s hard to know what will be useful to others — and balance that with what will be useful to yourself on social media. I’m most affected by people who seem to embrace the chaos of daily life happily — and who also have messy houses and imperfect children.

  4. Eva

    It’s an interesting question (woo for sociology!). It’s interesting what different people find inspiring, and there seem to be two distinct types, positive and negative. What concerns me is the positive, authentic, everyday gritty inspiration seems to be harder and harder to find.

    I guess Type A inspiration is what you feel seeing someone reach deep within themselves to achieve something incredible, be it going from first to last in a race, or overcoming unimaginable hardship to be on the starting line. This is the kind of inspiration that makes you want to sprint across a field after watching the Olympic 100m final, to pick up a tennis racquet after watching an epic on-court battle, to sign up for a gym membership after watching a 75 year old cross the finish line of q local 50k to thunderous cheering.

    Type B inspiration is a form of consumerism. When someone’s got something you want, a lifestyle, a six-pack, great looking gear, an awe-inspiring training environment on their doorstep. People aren’t “inspired” to take action because they feel good, they take action because they feel inadequate.

    I (personally) believe many athlete bloggers pumping out content believe they are Type A with sincerity and kind intentions. They believe that intense self-publicity is the route to encouraging others to be like them when in fact it gets Type B results.

    The engine behind type A inspiration is admiration. The engine behind type B inspiration is envy.
    Envy is obviously not a happy emotion and social media exposure has been shown to be the major culprit in a landslide of teen mental health issues and body dysmorphia.

    Alongside the negative mental health effects, I’m worried about how entangled professional sport including trail running is getting with social media “influencer” marketing that is substantially Type B! Slick online content has become another way to achieve the same outcome as regular podiums – brand sponsorships.
    Building an online community with good content is a skill, and requires time and dedication for sure. But undergoing the “trial of miles” in pursuit of professional running success is incomparable. Athletic success is inherently selfish. People make huge financial, familial, social and lifestyle sacrifices to create the time, environment and financial resources to train at a high level, not to mention pushing their health to the limits of physiology and psychology. The outcome though, is the same for the athlete and the influencer, they both get to call themselves “professional athletes”.

    (Mario Fraoli recently wrote an interesting article exploring the semantics of this on his blog – can’t remember it’s name but the article is called “So Pro”)

    Analysing industry changes like this is not an attack on the motives on the individuals involved. Create a new route to a coveted objective and people will take it! But what of the unphotogenic, talented athletes who don’t have the time or resources to be their own PR machine? Will brands prioritize them over the self-established “influencer”? Probably not, but they NEED to, because Type A inspiration relies on great stories behind great successes.

    I used to follow many of these influencers back when they strove to achieve in their chosen sport, when they themselves were driven by Type A inspiration and weren’t afraid to be mundane or heaven forbid, slightly pixelated online! Before, it seems, they realised they could get the same brand recognition for pushing the quality and regularity of their published online content into Type B territory – a glossy unreality. So maybe the underlying cause of my personal concern is simply disappointment!

    (Apologies for the essay – not really consolidated my thoughts on this before!)

    1. Liza

      Thanks so much for taking the time to write down your thoughts Eva! And thanks for making me think. I think most folks would be surprised they inspired envy in others. They probably never get that feedback.

  5. Erin

    Oh man, this hits me hard right now! I just deactivated my FB account last week for a “30 day break” (I kept Instagram, which has been a nice way of staying somewhat “connected”) — I feel surprisingly free and happy w/o FB! Why? A few reasons: I think I was starting to suffer from the comparison trap, I felt I was beginning to commit some of the awful “HEY LOOK AT MEEEEE!!!”-type posting crimes, and it had become a ridiculous time-waster for me. I miss writing, I miss my blog & I like connecting in a more thoughtful and authentic way. I also started to feel a bit creepy about my own thought processes towards posting pictures … asking myself first: what is your intention here? Sometimes I was embarrassed to admit that my intention was to make myself feel better rather than to be inspiring or motivating to others. I yearn to share and connect, as I think we all do. I guess I want to challenge myself to do so in more creative and fulfilling ways. I relate to so much of what you all have shared – thanks for the topic! :)

    1. Olga King

      Here, here, Erin. I miss blogging like hell! So much more content vs glossy pictures and short exclaiming phrases:) And yes, I find myself being caught in the same embarrassment.The only thing I can tell myself that there is no way back, whether I think it’s good or not so much. Like with technology in general. Probably like our parents were not pleased with what we did (TV/too much phone calling?) or what their parents thoughts of them. So, if we are to be a community of truly supportive people, that’s where I hope those who ARE exposed would step up and share not-so-great moments of their lives, to motivate us, every-day-folks. Between their awesome “come-from-behind” stories and training in amazing places after they checked on their kids’ homework and cleaned dishes after dinner.:)

    2. Liza

      FB is also a time suck for me that prevents me from writing. Looking forward to reading more of your writing. Also, I think it’s hard to know how much of a good impact one’s running or lifestyle has on others.

  6. Patrick

    I’ve always found it interesting how people feel so comfortable on social media putting out thinly veiled self-promotion. Friends who I know to be way too humble to brag about their runs, their kids, or their professional accomplishments put it all right out there on social media.
    If you were face to face with someone, or sending an email directly to them, you’d consider their feelings and stay humble. Why not do that on social media?

    1. Liza

      The “bragging” would be awkward in an email or conversation if the same words were used and not softened with qualifiers, body language etc. But that’s hard in a short post. And the update that can sound like brag isn’t new. Think of the “old” family Christmas letter that gets sent out to friends and acquaintances . It seems like FB posts are more akin to that than emails or conversations.

  7. Rachel

    I quit Facebook about 7 months ago and haven’t missed it at all. Not even a little bit. I still get my cute baby and fun adventure pic fix from Instagram– gives me a sense of connection with friends and family I don’t see very often without all the angst and non-firgun-ish feelings I got from Facebook. Not sure why the two platforms affect me so differently, but they sure do!

    1. Pam

      I’m coming up on a year of being FB free and I will never go back. The amount of emotional energy (and time) that I wasted there was insane. Instagram is my jam and when emotional energy gets invested there it is almost always positive.

  8. Sarah W

    I remember when instagram first became a thing and I would see pictures of friends RUNNING up the amazingly steep and beautiful mountains. I wondered how they could do that? I go to those same places and hike up, hands on knees, gasping for breath. Then I went on a run with an instagramer and we indeed did trudge up mountains, hands on knees, BUT in order to get good “running” pictures they had me run the same 20 foot section 5 times in order to get the perfect photo. Now, I know how people get those spectacular “running” shots and I no longer feel inadequate and jealous when I see them or others like them “running” up a mountain.

    1. Pam

      Those pictures drive me nuts. I don’t have the time to self-timer 50 action shots hoping for the magic one. Especially when it isn’t an authentic representation of my experience in the moment. I run for the run first, and if there is great joy or great struggle along the way, I’ll try to capture it to remember. From time to time I catch myself thinking in IG post phrases, and that is when I realize I’m no longer present in my own life and need to take a break. If I spend all my time thinking about how I’m going to share something, I’m no longer actively experiencing it.

  9. larry gassan

    Social media is an accelerant. All the poop and fizz that previously took weeks to arrive is here yesterday.
    That said, when I’ve blogged/tweeted/FB commented about whatever current ultra-controversy and gotten abuse from obviously aliased accounts, I’ll ask “I looked on UltraSignUp for your results under ‘douche’ [for instance] and didn’t see them. Wonder why? You can see all my shit on USU, going back to before most of you weren’t out of your Hot Wheels…”
    Oh yeah, “Mr Trail Safety” goes back to 1996, when all this played out on the UltraList.

  10. alicia

    This might be a weird way of looking at it, but it actually really annoys me when people say that something they saw on social media made them feel inadequate/envious/whatever. Either whatever it is you’re seeing which makes you feel that way is something that you do truly want to emulate, in which case it’s up to you to sort your life out to make that happen, or it is something that would make you briefly happy but which you ultimately do not want–for example, at the moment I’m training for a road marathon, so my immediate thought when I see pictures of friends running in the mountains is, “I want to do that too!” but my second thought is that when I decided to run a marathon, I weighed up all those pros and cons, including missing out on some mountain time, and decided it was worth it. I feel like sitting back and just being annoyed that a post made you feel inadequate is kind of abdicating responsibility for steering your life in the direction you want it to go. Sure, sometimes you truly have no control over the situation, but in most cases I think people have more control than they acknowledge. Jobs can be changed, houses can be sold, lifestyles can be fully turned around, etc.

    And sorry if that comes across sounding grumpy, I don’t mean it to. I’m probably just suffering from not having run in the mountains for a month:)

    1. Liza

      Hey Alicia, Thanks for the comment. I think we’re on the same page about emotional responses and actions. Sometimes seeing beautiful women my age excel makes me feel inadequate. Sure, it’s not a good emotional response. I wish I always felt compassion and firgun. We all agree envy, jealousy, being ill-tempered, dejection etc aren’t the emotions you want to be feeling. But sometimes, you feel those things anyway. I don’t think it’s particularly useful to judge emotional responses too much. It’s the resulting action, like you said, that’s important. The emotion isn’t who you are. The action is.

      1. alicia

        Your reply reminded me that I forgot to say thanks for teaching me the word firgun! That was great to learn.

        You’re probably right that it’s better to just worry about the actions and not judge the emotions. It’s just a nails-on-a-chalkboard thing for me when I hear people voice that emotion as a reaction to social media, for the reasons I was saying.

        1. Liza

          I can easily image having that nails-on-a-chalkboard reaction too. Thanks about firgun. I totally went down a rabbit hole writing this article looking for antonyms to Schadenfreude. 3 hours later… :)

  11. Megan Bernards

    I’ve been dealing with a range of different injuries for the past 2 years which has left me on the sidelines. It’s a tough place to be when everything inside me just wants to be healed up and ready to run. But when I see a FB post of someone’s awesome run or the beautiful view from the mountain peak pic I’ve had to train myself to sincerely say, “Wow, good for them!” But it has been a process. Even now when I pass a runner while driving my car I say softly, “have a good run”. Comparing my current state to others is a trap, for sure. It takes a different kind of mental training to get past it. Thanks for the discussion!

  12. Scott W. Kummer

    I’m reading this way too late but it struck a chord with me because I think about and discuss this issue a lot. It’s an interesting one and a controversial one. I think the intention and the purpose behind these posts are way more important than the substance. I think humility should be exercised, but I also realize that people find inspiration everywhere. And while I didn’t start my Facebook account/blog/podcast etc. etc. with inspiration as a motive, over the years I have received tens upon tens of messages from people that found inspiration in my successes and failures and/or when I expose my feelings and fears. I’m in a unique position because I am not a professional and I’ve never really wowed anyone with speed. But at the same time 90% of the people that are looking at your social media aren’t commenting and aren’t telling you how it makes them feel. When I first started running I shared all my runs on my Facebook page (how irritating). Little did I know that those posts inspired a handful of people to start running. From time to time I famously fail at a race in a very public way. The neat thing is, some people see it as the personification of their greatest fear. And they then say to themself….”if this guy can suck this bad in public, why I am holding back?” and they sign up for a race and overcome their fear of failure. And that’s just, well, gold. So for everyone that says “that guys irritating” or “stop bragging” (Sidenote: as if anyone would ever REALLY brag about my running performances) there’s another person that get’s inspired and maybe, just maybe, their whole life changes. I don’t really know how and when and where this might happen. I don’t know who’s watching, who’s sick or me, or the like. But I do know if 100 people think I’m a narcissistic asshole and 1 person changes their life by facing their fears and doing something that scares them I’ll take that every single day. I think the keys are intent, authenticity and humility. Or I could have it all wrong. :)

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