Without the right mindset, social media can bring more pain than gain to your triathlon pursuits.
Before and after my day job, I spend tons of time engulfed in various newsfeeds. Much of my online “friend” base is now tri-related—which, in theory, I really do enjoy. Triathlon is my hobby, my sanity, my passion and the one thing that makes each day a little more consistent and tolerable—when work or life is crazy, there’s something wonderful knowing that the swim, the bike or the run is there waiting for me.
But one day recently, I noticed that my social media feed was starting to make me annoyed and a little anxious. The nonstop comparisons and grandstanding were getting ridiculous. Who had trained longer that day? Who was faster? Who had more gear? Fancier gear? Better legs? Real abs? Photoshopped abs (yes, really)? Distance of training runs, rides and assorted hashtags galore. #IAmSoAwesome
Here’s the thing: I am totally a social media junkie. I love seeing what everyone is doing and getting to know all my online friends through media. I am an addict (“Hi Meredith!”) myself, posting selfies of my own workouts, my sweaty, hideous attempts at side plank and silly pictures of my kids running in races. I like to share my workouts, what in the world I am doing awake at 4 o’clock in the morning, and sometimes just funny happenings in our house. I like to take pictures of the food I make, the cookies I am eating and the fat rolls that may have showed up in unexpected places. I am totally guilty of what can definitely be classified as an “oversharer.”
But there is a dark side to social media, especially from a place of triathlon, weight loss and racing. Triathlon is a difficult enough sport without attempting to keep up with the Triathlon Joneses. But in a sport that is so gear-specific, full of many hot bodies and where it costs a bloody fortune to do a major event, sometimes seeing all the social media staring us in the face is counterproductive. “Well, I’ll never look like her, so I should just quit the sport and buy Girl Scout Cookie stock.”
And forget about what it does to my pre-race jitters. Truly, there is nothing worse than searching a race-specific hashtag leading up to a major event. Two weeks before Ironman Lake Placid last year, I made the mistake of checking out #IMLP on Instagram and Twitter, and I almost had a heart attack. The timing was epic, since two weeks before the race was pretty much everyone’s last peak workout, and I was left shaking my head thinking, “I am never going to finish that race. This chick did a 140-mile ride and a 17-mile run—in one day? Holy guacamole.”
The selfies and Strava data of our tri “friends” can really mess with our heads, our confidence and, sometimes, our hearts. So I took a step back and reframed how I look at social media. Instead of thinking of posts and tweets as a comparison game, I began to post and to search posts with themes of inspiration. I started to use social media to look for motivation everywhere. When someone posted a post-workout selfie and crazy fast run data, I used the information as inspiration: “Wow. I can’t imagine the time and dedication it has taken to get to that pace. I am inspired to work harder.” When I post something like, “Hey, I’m back on the bike, baby!”—this is my battle cry and my call for interaction from other tri friends. I am looking for a “Hey me too!” or “I needed this today! I’m getting on my bike now!” I try to keep my social media interaction as something positive. No one is a perfect social media person, but in recent months, I really have tried to use social media for good—not evil, not bragging and certainly not for silly passive-aggressive things.
At my first half-Ironman in 2011, I remember standing on the dock with others at the swim start, looking around and thinking, “Whoa nelly, I don’t fit in here. Who let the little fat girl out of the fast-food restaurant and allowed her to play the role of triathlete for the day?!” I was shocked at how much I stood out. Instagram was early in its popularity, and there simply wasn’t as much social media around triathlon in 2011. I guess I assumed that all sorts of people would be at the race. My husband later said, “I could spot you out of everyone at the swim start!” He didn’t mean it that way, but let’s be real—my size was one of the reasons I was not incognito in the triathlon crowd. In 2011, there really weren’t very many “every-sized” female athletes competing in a 70.3, especially in a place like Miami.
Now, though? A triathlon course is full of all different types of people making their tri dreams come true. Race day is very inspiring for me, to see all different ages and sizes of people—such a wonderful change from earlier experiences in the sport. I attribute social media to the more accepting nature of everyday people in all sorts of athletics. In our social world, where absolute perfection is outrageously sought out and overvalued, I appreciate that social media, in triathlon in particular, has opened up and shown what great things the “every” person can do. I like to use social media as an outlet for more inclusion in our sport, to encourage others, to form bonds with our tribes. If we all try to approach social media with a fresh look, we might find just find all sorts of inspiration out there.
Meredith Atwood is a wife, mom, attorney, Ironman, coach and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children, and blogs at SwimBikeMom.com.