Marathon Running Season Starts Now: Can Social Media Get You in Shape?

Marathon season is upon us. For those athletes who aspire to run their first or their 50th 26.2 mile race, September marks fall marathon training time. After long hot summers in which running a marathon would seem impossible, the autumn brings a full slate of fun and prestigious races to challenge all eager runners. It’s already well-known that your social networks can keep you motivated to stay fit — but for this elite group of runners, social media may be providing an extra training boost as they countdown to race day.

Running has always been categorized as an “individual” sport, as opposed to team sports like softball and basketball. Think “runner” and you may conjure an image of an athlete bounding down a trail solo, or checking his or her stopwatch as he or she runs around the track alone. Although running clubs and cross-country and track teams are popular, for many, running is a solitary exercise in meditation. That’s where social media may have an interesting connection with runners: For those who like social running, online connections just increase the interactive factor, and for those who like to run alone, social media gives them training tools without an annoying physical presence interrupting their peaceful run.

Dailymile is an example of a runners’ forum that has integrated the best of social media. As a social training log, the Website has a pretty standard set-up. You create a profile (with whatever privacy settings you choose) and then you can add your workouts and others can comment on them (as in, “Good job!” or “try popping 2 advil to prevent soreness after that hilly set!”). You can post pictures, find local training partners, look at your analytics, see how you compare to others, and participate in challenges along with other Dailymilers.

The standard social media hubs also have useful applications for runners. As you might expect, big races have put together helpful Facebook pages. Check out the Marine Corps Marathon Facebook page, which is particularly helpful for runners who weren’t able to get into this 8th largest marathon in the world. If race registration filled up before you got a chance to sign up, the Facebook wall is filled with people selling their bibs due to injuries and other mishaps.

Because training for a marathon is, well, a marathon of long workouts and careful attention to your body’s every need, Twitter can help break up the monotony with its streams of sporty tweets. If you’re a marathon runner, you already know the basics about running, so Twitter accounts like Cool Running are great because they a) update every hour or so and b) give lots of links to a wide range of topics, like how you should schedule at least one progression run per week to get in shape. The Nike Women’s Marathon account is nicely tailored to the October marathon in San Francisco, an incredibly popular annual event.

Then there’s the standard NikePlus Website, which gives you access to the same analytics and forum as Dailymile, particularly if you have the NikePlus insert for your iPod. The best feature of the NikePlus site is probably the challenges section, which offers pretty exciting challenges like “210 miles in 2010,” which apparently has over 69,000 people participating — pretty motivating.

Of course, some runners may be attracted to the sport because all you need to do is tie your shoelaces, head out your front door, and start running. No complicated equipment necessary. So it’s understandable that people may be hesitant to add forums, blog posts, tweets, and feeds to their daily running routine. But while running is the no muss, no fuss sport, marathon training is very goal-oriented, ensuring that these new tools will definitely prove valuable to thousands of runners this season.