Monday, May 6, 2013

Social Media - Bane or Boon to Trail Running; Blog Symposium

This is written in response to the blog symposium at Trailrunner Magazine.  The May 2013 topic is Social Media - Bane or Boon to Trail Running.

Meet my friends Julie and Adam!   Julie, Adam, and I have a few things in common.   We like to run near Mount Wachusett, we sometimes run ultras, and we like social media.  Don't they look like nice people?  They are!

Now meet Sarah.  Sarah and I have a few things in common, too.  We look alike.

We both used to run trails in Inwood Hill Park in New York City.  I left in the summer of 2003, when I moved for work.  Sarah stopped running there on May 19, 2004,  when she was murdered on the trails.  Her body was found nude and ritualistically arranged, which brings us to the other thing we have in common: a self-proclaimed psychic by the name of Dimitry Sheinman.  Sheinman often tried to chat me up when I ran through the park, but he creeped me out, so I kept on running.  He either witnessed Sarah's murder or committed it, but the police don't have enough evidence to say it's the latter. Of course, I've often wondered....  why Sarah and not me?  I think about her often, and her memory influences some of the choices I make in regards to my running and my safety.

Last month, Adam, Julie, and I found the remnants of a campfire and a party in the snow.  Adam muttered about returning with garbage bag for the empty beer cans, but Julie and I noticed that a woman's belongings were strewn about:  a purse, several sets of keys, and her clothing.  I have on many occasions had too much to drink at a campfire in the woods, but I've never left that much stuff behind.  Julie and I were afraid that something unfortunate had happened to the owner of the purse, and we wanted to call the cops from Adam's house.

About a half a mile later, Adam turned to us and said, "Hey, could one of you call the police about this?  I don't want to have to say I found a missing woman's belongings while out running with two ladies I met online."   Adam's not creepy like Sheinman, but he was right.  If the woman was indeed missing, he'd face scrutiny that Julie and I would not.

Adam asked Julie and I if we worried about our safety, given that we both find running partners through social media.  Julie recognized the risks, but had made peace with them.  As for me, I get a phone number from potential running partners, test it to make sure it works, and give it to my husband.  I admitted to cyberstalking long run companions.  I surf Facebook photos, and I look them up on athlinks and ultrasignup.  My rationalization is that, if he opts to kill and eat me, he'd still need to go out on a long run after.   That's some poor time management.

Adam thought it was inadvisable to prey upon ultrachicks, as we're tough ladies and we might run away, but I thought that this might be the allure.  The whole scenario was starting to sound like movie. In the first scene, we see our villain getting chicked at the Tahoe Rim Trail.  Then he turns evil and starts ensnaring women he meets online.  As the movie progresses, the victims have progressively faster marathon PRs.

So, a question I have to ask myself is, do I feel safer now that I'm meeting trail running partners online?  Overwhelmingly, the answer is yes.  Prior to meeting Julie, I knew she existed because we have a mutual friend.  I heard Adam's name mentioned by my daughter's friend's mom.  She used to work with Adam and she knew he ran trails because they keep in touch with social media.  She asked me if I knew him.  I didn't at the time, but her smile as she spoke of him told me all I needed to know about his character.  Because of social media, I often have company on long runs now.  Even if I don't know my companions before the run, I'm able to quickly see that they are already valued members of their communities.  I'm less frequently out on the trails alone, as I was when Sarah was murdered.