Former 2:24 marathoner, now in my late 40s and hoping to maximally flatten the curve of my slide into senescence and mediocrity • Magazine writer, book editor and author, and commentator on the sport of distance running since 1999 • Adviser and confidant of other perambulators • Paradoxical hater of exercise fanatics • Chihuahua whisperer Sentence-fragment impresario

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Instagram and the rabble effect

Thousands of women (and a far smaller, but nonzero, number of men) use Instagram as a platform for flashing their mostly-naked bodies and nothing more. Some of them are in this only for the validation, while others do it as part of short- or long-range campaigns to earn money. A lot of these women -- or at least accounts featuring photos of women, which are not always the same thing -- don't feign pretense at being anything other than "click on the link to see me naked and more" scams; I don't have a lot of Instagram followers myself and don't seek to, but I'm still routinely followed by "people" that turn out to be nothing more than asses in thongs coupled to invitations to see the whole package. Hey, to paraphrase the great 19th-century economist Adam Smith, the invisible gonads of the free market represent a serious force.

Running is fundamentally about athletic performance for almost everyone I know who does it, but it's primarily about vanity for, I would guess, a majority or plurality of runners overall. This, predictably, has led to scads of vanity Instagram accounts that purport to double as training- and performance-based platforms, which in turn has produced an influx of idiocy and bullshit that unfortunately reaches a lot of eyes when the clueless or nefarious person behind the account happens to have a body that people enjoy ogling. (Many distance runners do have such bodies, and a lot of these attractive runners are in fact athletically accomplished or wise or both. This post is strictly about running's posers and grifters.)

The upshot, in case my rambling is unclear, is that you have uninformed people giving out bad running advice on the basis of pure aesthetic appeal, which is not nearly as unsettling as the fact that this strategy is effective.

I was recently directed to an Instagram account that represents the apotheosis of this noisome brand of mercenary grandiosity. I won't link to it because I don't want anyone giving people who foment this bullshit any more automatic attention, positive or otherwise, than they already receive. But the basics are these: a woman in early thirties who claims she started running a few years ago has, in the past year, recorded times of about 39:30 for 10K, a little under 1:28 for the half-marathon, and a little over 3:20 for the marathon. About 80 percent of her photos are identical save for what she's wearing -- a shot of her from behind, glutes flexed, one hand holding the opposite elbow over her head as if she's about to execute a skating pirouette.

But the attention-grabbing aspect of her account is not the shape of her butt (which the name of the account references) but her training data. She not only reports running under 7:00 pace virtually every day for runs of about 6 to as long as 18 miles, but makes a point of running this fast, something she discusses on the personal Web page linked to her Instagram account. If this were her only stated goal, to average under 7:00 pace on practically every run, fine; this isn't a typical example of running ambition, but to each her own. But she tries to insinuate this scheme into the realm of sound training using facile jargon. She refers to her everyday bordering-on-tempo-pace runs quite whimsically as recovery runs, and otherwise plays fast and loose with basic training terminology. And this sub-sevens-or-bust credo is nothing new for her, reaching back to at least early 2017, so it's not as if this is someone on a steep improvement curve who is probably capable of a 1:23-1:24 half by now.

If you know anything about training and racing, you know that someone who races 10Ks at 6:20 pace, half-marathons at 6:40 to 6:45 pace, and marathons at around 7:40 pace is not doing herself any favors by doing everyday runs at 6:40 to 6:50 pace. This is the sort of thing you see often with far slower runners, whose half-marathon and marathon races are run at such a low fraction of maximum heart rate (because they take so long) that everyday training at marathon pace actually makes sense for them, in the same way that my everyday pace of around 6:30 to 7:00 a mile in my own heyday might  have translated to only a little above race pace over an event lasting four to five hours, like a 40- or 50-miler. But clearly, someone who is racing half-marathons at a pace only slightly faster than the pace she holds herself to every day is doing herself no favors.

That's not the real issue, though. People make training errors all the time. The kicker in this case is that the woman behind this nonsense approach is both framing her efforts as worthy of emulation and shutting herself off to well-meaning input from the few commenters who decide to focus on her training rather than praise her ass or her grit. And she has no shortage of competition on Instagram and elsewhere these days.

I'm guessing you already have a good idea how I came to confirm the middle part of that.

About a week ago, when I discovered this person's blog, I found a recent post that led with something very close to the following:

People ask me how I usually run under 7:00 pace on my runs. Fact is, for a long  time I never thought I’d run this pace, which is my comfort zone now, which was my 2017 goal, as those who have followed me for over a year know. For any distance less than 15 miles, I can comfortably hold my everyday 6:50 per mile.

The rest of it was a farrago of bullshit, like virtually everything else she posts publicly.

I decided to chime in with what I thought was fair advice.

I should note that of the four entries this person has made since her blog lumbered into existence a little over six months ago, only one has a comment posted to it. When I noticed over a day after I submitted my comment that it hadn't been approved, I took to her Instagram profile and challenged her lightly a second time.

That comment lasted about a day and was then deleted. And three and a half days after I posted the blog comment, it's still sitting in the moderation queue.

I obviously don't care whether some random person takes my advice or not. I do, however, find it disproportionately annoying that someone like this, who is intellectually dishonest as well a know-nothing about training, will always have a larger platform than people like Alex Hutchinson (more on him and his work shortly) and a slew of others who are doing good work in this sport, solely because she's willing to encase her ass in spandex and point it at a camera. Again, if this Instagrammer's whole shtick was "Look at my ass! Ain't it great?" I would quietly murmur "No" and leave her her and her account to her tawdry devices; I don't care how many other dimbulbs want to stare at their screens and click "Like"in  response. But when these same people start thinking they can couple this shit to dispensing training advice, they should at least have the integrity to entertain questions or even criticism.

Fifteen-plus years ago, or even ten, this kind of mindless shit could not have gained traction. It was possible to post photos of yourself online, but with the overall ease one can today, in real time at that. If you wanted to post training advice, you did so on a blog or a message board, and if it didn't stand on its merits, people would challenge you. The idea that someone combining a fact-starved running blog with an amateur bikini shoot would have the former taken seriously in the light of the latter was years off and might have been laughed out of any discussion, online or otherwise, in 2003 or 2008.


  1. Almost every 'fast' girl I know runs faster on her training runs than they probably should. It does seem strange but, I have come across many in the last 11 years or so that I've run with (a bunch that ran in the olympic trials). Besides paying attention to what they were doing just by training logs or blogs, I used to go on runs with a couple of them and they'd run whatever pace I was running. If we were all running 6:45s...we'd run 6:45s for 11-12 miles and no problem. Every day, we'd all basically run the same pace for runs. But then I'd go to a 5k-Marathon and they'd be nowhere close to me. I always thought they were either way underperforming in races or way overdoing it on normal runs... obviously the latter is the answer.

    1. I should add that there are certainly a fair share of men who run too quickly on runs compared to their 'race pace'. Also, I should add that I in no way am qualified to even say I can accurately state what constitutes a 'normal' pace for 'normal runs' for people other than myself (I've never been a coach or someone that even pretended to be interested in reading or knowing about running)...but making a generalization, when someone is a 2:50 marathoner as an example, and they frequently bang out 6:30s on normal 'runs' (which is 'marathon pace'), I just think about what it would be like if anyone else I knew (mostly guys) went out and just always ran marathon pace for normal runs...and it doesn't seem like an effective way to train. Some of them do it, but it seems a little skewed to me.

    2. Well, I've seen people train between marathon and half-marathon pace with startling regularity, because, let's face it, most people are fuckin' ding-a-lings who, when not outright clueless, are doing things they know they shouldn't training-wise because it serves some deeper psychological need.

      But it's unusual to see someone making such obvious, chronic mistakes *and* positioning herself as a fount of wisdom. This woman is not only engaging in obviously inappropriate training -- assuming her training data is legitimate in the first place -- but also advancing the idea that it's sensible or worthy in emulation in any way, which it obviously isn't. Yet she has 5,000 Instagram followers because she aims her ass at a camera, the same ass from the same angle, almost every day.

  2. When I tried to do a Google image search on the image in this blog entry it couldn't find anything!

    1. The image is actually a hybrid I created myself, not to throw off the scent of my (unusually computer-savvy, in most cases) readers, but because it was the only way to include my comments and hers without a posting an image of unwieldy height -- there were about eight other comments above mine, none of them any more than the same gushing over the physique that accompanies every such post.

      Look, I can gush over runner physiques with the best of them. I look in the mirror a lot, often without clothes. I'm just not willing to overlook someone leveraging a vanity account with overtly bad running advice. You put it out there, crotchety old slapdicks like me are bound to take issue with it.

  3. Yo Beck! Well I bought quite a few shares of Kemibe Stock. Current price @ 31.23. Great value! Things are going really well which is great of course. Say hello to 16:30! But one problem I have with the stock is this and this is a big problem. There is a young lady who is CEO of a dangerous company that wants to put Kemibe out of business for good. Her company is here to stay it looks like as it's success has been it's ability to pay rather low wages to its two other staffers. A few cans of fancy feast go along way for her 2 cats that occupy her at the office. The problem is how are you going to deal with a summer day in Colorado when it's 97 degrees on your early evening run and you go to sleep quite dehydrated and wake up at 4 in the morning because you couldn't sleep very well and go to your computer terminal and find that the CEO has elected to do a smear campaign hours earlier?

  4. LOVE this post, Kevin. You puts actual words to my thoughts about these #lookatme idiots on Instagram.