March 5, 2014 16 Comments
On running blogs and why I read what I read.
The act of writing, while simple and ecumenical, can be incredibly complicated. If the task of properly conveying emotions and events isn’t difficult enough, we have to find our unique voice through trial and error, an often circular act that usually feels like playing darts with a chalkboard. The internet only complicates things. Bloggers by definition jot down very intimate thoughts with the explicit intent of someone else, sometimes many people, reading them. So much can change when you write assuming an audience. Some writers keep their most private thoughts at arm’s length from their digital audience, exaggerate their personalities to suit an overall narrative, or casually prevaricate about key story details to do the same.
The other day I was reading one of Jen’s posts, in which she discovered a forum that discussed running blogs and what turn readers away. More to the point, it was a forum found on a website bluntly called Get Off My Internets. I’m not one to get caught up in popularity contests, but reading about what inspires “the internet” to click away caught my attention. Inevitably, it got me thinking about my own corner of webspace and how it fits in the barnyard of collective taste.
There is certainly no shortage of running blogs out there, which is great. If there weren’t, I wouldn’t have any insightful sources of local races and I’d have met fewer amazing people in my travels. But with so many runners writing about the sport, what makes me stand out? It was a potentially dangerous question, one that could lead to an identity crisis, or worse, writer’s block. But it was still worth examining, and the first place to start would be to ask myself, what do I look for in a running blog?
The first, and quite possibly most important element, is personality. Despite being a runner and reading exclusively running blogs, when I read a race story, I’m not that interested in splits or time goals. I understand in many instances, that’s the main focus of a recap. After all, it’s a fitting and simple way to structure a richer, more complex story. A lot of us wouldn’t race this often if we weren’t at least partially consumed by PRs and 5k splits, so avoiding these numbers would be near impossible. But personality is what can tether all the data into a fitting portrait of a person. If by the end of one post I feel like I’ve learned something about the writer outside of their finishing time, then we’ve achieved a little symbiosis.
Personality is, I will admit, a very vague term, but it can come out in a multitude of ways. Some bloggers are insatiably enthusiastic about life, others like to add a snarky edge to their already off-color commentary, and a select few infuse a transcendental spirituality to what is otherwise a purely physical activity. On a smaller scale, an injection of personality can come in the form of a detailed memory, a funny locution or a telling description. Reading that you crossed the finish line is interesting, but connecting the experience to an earlier struggle or your favorite childhood book makes the feat compelling.
But a winning personality alone won’t do it for me. After all, these are running blogs, and my attention tends to gravitate toward interesting racing stories. Although I read a good amount of blogs, I’m very choosy both in my own writing and on which posts I read. Put simply, I like reading about races. From the snarling celerity of a 5k to the slow burn anguish of the marathon and beyond, every distance has its own unique story and my interest in reading anything else stems from that root. I’ll shamefully admit that I tend to skip over multi-part stories and get straight to the starting line because that’s really what interests me. I will gladly read about your sightseeing tour of a new city if you can manage to keep it within the frame of a footrace. Yes, I realize that bloggers are more than just runners and that the infinitely colorful mosaic of their lives can’t always be enjoyed by covering a pre-set distance. But so much can be told and learned through this narrow lens.
So that still leaves me with the original question: where do I stand among the droves of runners who write? I’ve always been very particular with my output, be it posts, songs or even tweets. Although many bloggers are much more prolific and post high-quality missives on a weekly or even semi-daily basis, I like to post infrequently. I think part of me fears that I’ll bore people if they get too much of me. Or I compare it to a magazine subscription: I’m much more likely to read an issue from cover to cover if I only receive one a month than if they stack up every week. My hope is that when I do post, it doesn’t get lost in people’s feeds because it’s not a daily occurrence.
As for content, I’d like to think that I’m someone who is careful and precise about his writing. Running, though primordial and primitive, has the remarkable capacity for so many variations of nuanced expression, and I want to be one writer of many who seizes the opportunity to tell a familiar story in a creative way. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn I majored in English, so perhaps I feel encouraged (or even pressured) toward using language beyond the usual, reliable methods and descriptions. Some might call my writing over-thesaurus’d, which sounds like a terrific dinosaur name, and I wouldn’t blame them.
But I think there’s something special about describing a course as having “honeyed, autumnal hues” than “nice fall colors.” Not everyone does it, so that can be my thing. It won’t generate millions of hits or make me an internet star, but at least I enjoy it and can think of a few readers who get a kick out of it. And if I can use a GRE word or two in the process, then that’s just a small bonus. Or a myrmicine perquisite.
I’ll excuse myself.
What do you look for in a running blog? Are there certain hallmarks shared by most blogs in your news feeds? Is there one thing that can get you to completely X out of a post? How badly did you roll your eyes at that last full paragraph?