Social media platforms such as Instagram and Strava have led to the establishment of vast networks transcending both space, connecting people from all walks of life. But what are the underlying forces that drive us towards forming such connections in the first place? In this article, I weigh in my observation of how the proliferation of the #Runner facilitated the creation of an imagined community – one comprised of people who readily perceive themselves as sharing a common identity.
The Idealized Runner
The advent of social media has led to a peculiar idealization of what it means to be a runner. By this, I refer to the meticulously curated image of an active sportsperson who increasingly appears across various social media platforms. Such individuals are oftentimes portrayed as healthy, confident and tenacious, typically accompanied by ‘inspirational’ captions or context. For conciseness, I adopt the term #Runner as reference to such individuals.
An archetypal #Runner is represented as possessing strength of character; he or she fights the good fight and more often than not emerges victorious. Notably, he or she is perpetually engaged in a dedicated process of surmounting an imminent challenge (typically an upcoming race).
The timelessness of the #Runner’s progression thus presents a motivating spectacle that enthrals us and captivates our imagination. It’s of no surprise, then, that we come to idealize the #Runner as we repeatedly encounter them online; we subconsciously project ourselves unto him or her by formulating an idea of who that person is and of his or her experiences.
Never mind who they really are; what matters are their portrayed stories, triumphs and defeats. The #Runner is, in short, a fabricated persona that serves as a signpost nudging us towards what we could one day become.
As an outward projection of ourselves, we expect the #Runner to succeed in overcoming difficulties; we relish the pleasant feelings of sharing the #Runner’s successes and speak kind words of encouragement when they falter.
The #Runner reciprocates by providing a steady and predictable stream of events and happenings that bolster their relatability. As we follow the #Runner’s journey via blogs, races, and social media platforms, such imagined connections intensify and strengthen.
Recognizing these nascent connections, we in turn engage in documenting our own running experiences, spurred on by the belief that we too could become a part of something larger than ourselves. In doing so, we inadvertently participate in cultivating an imagined community of #Runners – a socially constructed community comprising of people who, though never having met each other before, nevertheless perceive themselves as being part of that same group.
Running, augmented by the connective power of social media, thus transcends being mere activity to become a social rope that brings people together.