7 May

The Virtual Runner

Woman on TreadmillWe've looked at how mobile phone apps can enhance your running experience and here, we further explore how the digital revolution has changed the world of running. From sharing your times and exchanging tips, to planning routes and competing in virtual races - the internet has created a new kind of running community...

Fetch Everyone

If you’re discussing running websites, the chances are someone will mention Fetch Everyone. Getting its name from a misremembered line in the film Léon, the website was created by Ian Williams in 2004. Featuring forums, training logs, a race finder, blog, reviews, and more - it has since gone on to become one of the most popular sites of its kind with thousands of active users.

Whilst Ian admits the site doesn’t have a big design input, he feels the homemade feel is a positive rather than a negative: “I was always pretty awful at anything arty in school, and not much has changed. But I’m proud of those rough edges, because they are real. We’re not a global brand, we don’t have a multimillion-dollar investment and we don’t pretend to have six-packs, nor peddle lists of vegetables that make you immortal. What we do have is a community of people with a fetish for running and graphs, who care about the site - and that’s all I care about.”

Reflecting on how the website has developed over the years, Ian mentions witnessing ‘a handful of marriages’ and ‘a few un-marriages too’ but is keen to highlight the ‘constant trickle of people who have found friends, fitness and the opportunity to argue with strangers on the internet’.

The Running Bug

The marriages Ian talks about are perhaps the reason rival site, The Running Bug, has opted to play Cupid and add a dating section to their website. It claims to be ‘the UK’s only online dating destination for running singles’. Like most dating websites, you can send an ‘ice breaking message’ to a prospective dating candidate.

The website urges users to: “Imagine a first date where you already know that you both enjoy the same activity, you have loads in common and you will never be lost for words!”

The latter statement is possibly stretching it, but with running taking up such a large part of people’s lives, finding a partner who shares your enthusiasm is certainly practical. It’s only a matter of time before the next Hugh Grant film features a couple going for a romantic run down the beach.

Like any other online forum, running websites provide a platform where like-minded people can share information, form bonds, provoke debate and, ultimately, feel as if they belong.

What the Running Bug excels at is utilising user-generated content. The site features an extensive blog section with material sent in by readers, covering a range of topics from travelling, gear/equipment to readers documenting their running challenges.

Map My Run

As one of the most popular running apps, mapmyrun’s feature-rich website is a key part of its appeal. You can view your runs in detail (breaking them down into splits, distance, elevation), and log your food intake as well as any other forms of exercise. Users can also blog about their efforts, create and share routes and compare performances against others. As well as being attractive to those with a competitive streak, mapmyrun is a great way to exchange tips and keep track of your progress.

Garmin Connect

Similar to mapmyrun is Garmin Connect.User, Rory McGinley, spoke about its benefits: “Garmin Connect is a fantastic way of keeping track of your training.  It has the facility to give you an overview of what you have done over the last week, month and year (since you joined really).  Hopefully, you can track your progress throughout this time and target when you are looking to peak.

“The Connections aspect of it is excellent, too.  You can see how your friends are getting on in terms of their training and, if you live in the same area, it gives you ideas about trying new routes.  If you see they are really clocking up the miles it gives you the push to do the same.  Equally, I have a friend staying in Barcelona, and it’s really interesting to contrast our runs (he does a lot more trail work, and as you can probably guess, does so in far higher temperatures).”

Virtual Races

While virtual running communities have become a part of modern life, the idea of entering a virtual race is still a relatively new concept. So when UK-based online resource for females, Running4Women, launched their #VirtualRun Race Series, there were a few raised eyebrows.

A virtual race is running a specified distance (timed) without being present in an actual race location.  It’s the perfect alternative if you don’t have the time to join an organised race or don’t have any races nearby.  Virtual racing allows you to compete against yourself - and other Running4Women members - throughout the year.

You run where and when you want, you can complete the race series distances as many times as you like until you’re happy with your final time and you can either run on your own or in a group, it’s entirely up to you.  What’s more, treadmill sessions count too.

Participants receive a race pack with a #virtualrun bib number and a finisher’s certificate, making sure it is the complete race experience.

It’s not just the women getting involved, men can also take part in series such as the Fit 4 Life race series and the Run It Out events.