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Marathoners Turn Solo Sport into Social Media Event

By Amy Zimmer | November 3, 2011 7:43am
Shannon May runs around Central Park's reservoir to train, a process she's been blogging about.
Shannon May runs around Central Park's reservoir to train, a process she's been blogging about.
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Shannon May

MANHATTAN — Running may be a solitary sport, but social media is connecting the marathon community and helping them train and stay motivated in new ways.

Shannon May, a 23-year-old Floridian transplanted to the Upper East Side, started her Tropical Eats blog three years ago as a way to stay healthy during college and to document her family’s outdoor adventures.

Now, it's turned into a prep journal for the ING New York City Marathon, which she is running on the first anniversary of her move to Manhattan.

"It’s become a way to track my crazy 26-week marathon training schedule," said May, a first-time marathoner running for "Grandma Nancy," who passed away. "Knowing that readers from all over the world are interested in my ‘couch to marathon’ journey is extremely motivating."

May, who raised nearly $4,000 for cancer research with her sponsor Go Airlink NYC for Team Livestrong, said her online diary has also helped her connect with other local bloggers training for the marathon.

“Blogging and social media have been a tremendous way for me to meet other runners and keep me motivated because I hate having to make excuses,” said Theodora Blanchfield, who started her blog, Losing Weight in the City, two years ago to chart her quest to shed 50 pounds.

The Hell's Kitchen resident who was laid off from her social media job at Woman's Day and Elle magazines in June, added: "I'd rather blog about how I killed a race than how, well… maybe I could have."

Sunday’s marathon will have more than 45,000 participants. They come from across the globe, with Italy, France and Germany being the most common foreign nationalities. Participants range in age, with 220 running under the age of 20 and some 25 runners over the age of 80. 

Many will be in the race for charities, such as the NYRR’s Team for Kids to help fight childhood obesity and Fred’s Team, benefiting Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

And while there will be 22 Olympians and other professionals on the field who have serious training regimens and coaches, for many other runners social media has provided a way to stay focused.

Blanchfield started a Facebook group to connect others training for the NYC Marathon. It now has 82 members.

She's working with an online coach to train for the race, which is her second marathon but first in New York.

This year for the first time, the New York Road Runners group launched its own marathon training program online. With personalized plans based on runner’s experience, age, gender and race times, the program also offered one-on-one coaching from experts via email with advice on pacing, nutrition, gear and encouragement.

NYRR officials said more than 640 runners signed up in the program’s first month.

Lindsay Weber, who lives in Ithaca where she works for Cornell as her husband attends business school there, joined a group of New York City residents as part of Team in Training, a fundraising program for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. While some of her teammates have been having bi-weekly practices together here, she’s been working with the coaches online.

"They have been extremely helpful and I am glad I wasn't training alone," said Weber, 28, who raised $3,700 for the team, part of which came from a "date auction" of Cornell business students.

"I've actually never run in New York City," she said.

"I am dreading the hills in Central Park. I've heard miles 22 to 26 are brutal, and the fact that I've never run that far before is terrifying," she said. "For some reason everyone says that you don't have to train past 20... Hopefully that works out for me, come Sunday."

To help her prepare for New York’s streets, Weber has been hooked on May’s blog, she said.

But perhaps the most interesting use of social media during the 26-mile haul will be from illustrator Christoph Neimann, who has penned covers for The New Yorker and for the “Abstract Sunday” feature in The New York Times Magazine.

He will be "live-drawing" as he runs the marathon and transmitting images in real time to an editor who will be tweeting his pencil-drawn results.

"I had the idea pretty early on, if I do the marathon what if I did this crazy thing of drawing?," he told the NYRR. He added, "It's the only way I could justify it to my wife."

On his website, he wrote, "How will I finish the race? Curled up on the sidewalk in Park Slope? In an oxygen tent on First Avenue? Or actually in Central Park? Before sunset? Find out by following my live tweets."

May said she’s looking forward to "feeling like a celebrity" at the end of the race.

"I hear the entire race feels like a giant red carpet, except I’ll be in sweaty running clothes and probably doggy panting at the end of it," she said. "I’m hoping I’ll just zone out and my legs will turn into robots during those last few miles."

She added: "I hear that some members of the crowd pass out cake in the Bronx, so I’m really looking forward to that. I’m even considering writing on the back of my shirt: 'Will Run For Cake.'"