Monday, October 24, 2016

Social Media & Online Tools Used By Today's Trans-Con Runners

I'm intrigued to see the increase in interest of taking on the challenge of running across America. It has been 10 years since I successfully ran solo coast to coast at the age of 41 and I was the only person during the summer of 2006 to attempt a solo crossing (and only one other person ran across the USA that year, using a support team -- Christian McEvoy, age 24). However, nowadays there can be a couple dozen or more people trying to run and/or walk across America each year, with several solo attempts and a few aiming to establish a new record for "fastest crossing on foot."

As I've watched the 'boom' in interest of walking and running across America during the past decade I've been truly amazed at how much of a worldwide audience can now be gained for those attempting the challenge. There are so many social media tools available today that were not around when I ran across ten years ago. For instance, here is a list of popular social media and online resources that are at the disposal of transcontinental crossers today that I didn't have the benefit of in 2006 for my 3,260-mile run across the country:
  • Facebook: It wasn't until autumn 2006 that Facebook became "public," allowing anyone 13 years of age or older with a valid e-mail address to sign up for an account. I was running into the Atlantic Ocean by then, completing my run across America.
  • Twitter: It wasn't launched until the latter half of 2006. I already had my eye on the finish line of my 15-state journey by the time Twitter came on the scene.
  • Instagram: It wasn't launched until 2010, 4 years after I finished my U.S. run.
  • Tumblr: It wasn't launched until February 2007, four months after I finished my U.S. crossing.
  • Google+: It wasn't launched until June 2011, five years after I completed my 6+ million steps from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
  • GoFundMe: It wasn't launched until 2010, four years after I completed my 2006 journey.
  • Strava: It wasn't launched until 2009, three years after I crossed America. Strava tracks physical activity (such as cycling and running) using GPS with results available online.
  • SPOT Satellite Messenger: It wasn't launched until 2007, the year after I ran across the country primarily using a flip phone and occasional payphones (for those of you who remember what those were). SPOT allows for online live tracking of individuals on the go.
  • YouTube: It officially launched in December 2005, just months before I began my run in 2006. However, it was a new concept and didn't have the popularity or viewership that it does today.

Many of these online sites and tools are now used by those attempting walks and runs across the United States. By leveraging these resources, crossers can gain a large audience in a relatively short amount of time. It's not necessary to have newspaper articles published or television news interviews broadcast in order to get a trans-con endeavor into the public eye. Now, runners and walkers use online resources in order to promote their crossings, raise money, and post pictures and videos with ease each day in order to provide a worldwide audience with a virtual window to see what is happening. Today, crossers share online posts, which increase viewership and creates even more momentum for spreading the word of a run or walk across the country. All of this came about after I did my run across America in 2006. The only online tool that I had was a website that I built myself to try and get some information online about my run.

Essentially, hardly anyone knows that I ran across America solo to keep a promise. I didn't seek media attention and few newspaper articles and television reports were done about my run. I honestly have no problem with that. In many ways, I liked crossing the country rather quietly. It wasn't about gaining attention, followers, "likes," or raising money. I didn't need all of the online resources that many crossers use today. I ran across America to keep a promise I had made to some elementary children, and to fulfill a life-long dream/goal I had in ultra-running. Ultimately, I succeeded and am quite satisfied with my 2006 run, even though the "world" doesn't know about it.

Ten years ago we didn't have the iPhones that are all around us today. When I ran across America in 2006 I had a flip phone, which didn't do much more than dial phone numbers. The iPhone wasn't introduced until the year after my USA run. Back then, in order to get pictures onto my website I would take photos and low-quality videos with my digital camera and then I would burn them to a CD using a portable CD burner I carried on my support stroller across America. I would then mail the CD to a friend and he would format the pictures and videos and put them onto the website. Nowadays, crossers can snap a picture or a video on their phone and post it online immediately to websites and social media for the world to see. Yes, there has been a lot of changes in ten years!

In recent years I've put many of my ultra-running videos on YouTube so that people can view those, and of course I now have this blog (which I didn't have in 2006). So, there is information about my solo runs across states and countries online. However, when I ran across America during the summer of 2006 I didn't have all of the social media tools and other online resources that today's trans-con runners and walkers have at their disposal. Perhaps that is what is feeding this increased interest in crossing the country... more people are seeing crossers posting writings, pictures and videos online of their coast-to-coast endeavors. Whatever it is, I believe that interest in running and walking across America will continue to increase.

From Him, Through Him, For Him (Romans 11:36),

Paul J. Staso

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Click on any of the links below to see some of my adventure photos: