5 minutes to read

I’ve tapped into quite a beautiful little running community on Instagram recently. Typically, in the context of Instagram, a “community” refers to a hashtag that will enable users to effectively save photos against that tag, and look at what others have also tagged. But the term community, as I know it, means a collective group of people who kind of give a shit about each other.

I have loads and loads of parenting bloggers who I follow on Instagram, and engage with regularly. I also have lots of “normal” friends who I follow too. And then in the middle, I’ve found a really nice bunch of runners, who aren’t bloggers but who still want to promote some sort of social media presence. When I say I’ve found them, I don’t know them as such – we communicate mainly by the odd comment on one another’s photos. I guess I’ve sort of forced myself in there too, in that slightly stalker-ish way of following someone and perusing their insta life. But hey. They can always block me. To me, they sum up both senses of the term “community”. They use hashtags to find each other, then they become friends.

The thing about running, and many forms of fitness actually, is that it can be quite solitary. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes you crave a bit of company – if not on the run itself, then as a motivator or debrief helper. When I run my races, I always search for the hashtag on Instagram in the lead up to it and afterwards. Seeing nervous faces turn into sweaty faces, which turn into jubilant faces – I love watching that. I love finding a group of people who I can say “Aah, you did it too! Great time, you should be super proud” to. Because I love it when people find my photos, and say that to me. Or, when things don’t go so well, I crave that support too.

Disclaimer: This is the most shit you will ever see me. I promise. #sorrynotsorry

It’s a bit like when you’re on the start line, and as you cross over the chip marker on the ground, all you can hear is a chirping chorus of watches being started. Then there’s a stream of claps and cheers and “have a good run”. Instagram kind of adds another dimension to that spirit of engagement and support.

Recently though, I saw how social media, especially Instagram, can be used as mechanism for coping with grief. A lady runner lost her son very suddenly and unexpectedly. Looking through her feed, her grief is absolutely palpable. Her son seemed to be in that dizzy time of young adulthood, starting to explore the world and spread his wings. Then, just like that – gone. So, she turned to her online community of runners. In one post, she said that she was (understandably) too exhausted to run. That she felt compelled to, and she was trying, but she just couldn’t. Not yet. She asked, instead, for her running friends to dedicate a run to the memory of her son. She created two hashtags and asked everyone to upload a photo of their run, long or short, and tag it with her hashtags.

This way, she said, she could look through the photos and find a tiny, tiny sliver of comfort. Knowing that people were out there, trainers smacking hard against tarmac, trail or treadmill, thinking about her son.

It reminded me of a similar thing I came across in my running mums Facebook group, a while ago. A little girl had died, and her mum asked us all to look to the sky on our next run and say hello to her. I did – I stopped while I was running over a bridge, and I watched the contrasting blue of the sky above and the sludgy river below. I focused on a nice tree in the distance (because trees are always calming, aren’t they?) and I said hi to this little girl. Who I never knew, whose mum I don’t know.

But there’s a flipside – isn’t there always? I think it’s sad in a way that we’re more likely to respond to a post on social media, a virtual cry for help, than we are to respond to a real life display of emotion. I walked past a teenager a few weeks ago as I took the girls to nursery, and she was crying as she waited for her bus. I was late, so I continued my mad dash along the pavement, but I wish I’d stopped and asked her if she was ok. Had she been a runner, and posted a photo with some relevant hashtags, I might have found her, instead of being thwarted by my own social crapness and plate-spinning.

I guess the power of hashtags can’t solve everything. But who’d have thought that 4 angular lines could open up such a huge network of communication?

-SJW July 2017

Pin It on Pinterest