Friday, 26 April 2013

How My Twitter "Friends" Helped Me Run The Marathon

What is a friend? 

In this social media age of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram that question is invariably asked rhetorically by people in their thirties and older. I say “rhetorically” because it is often followed with a criticism of how shallow these “friendships” are. The argument goes that no one can really have 200+ “friends” and the people who are listed as “friends” on Facebok are far from that. The argument usually concludes that this all points to the superficiality of the digital times we live in today. 

I normally agree with this view and staring middle age in the eyes I am condescending enough to think that somehow I know best and the young people on Facebook etc don’t really understand what friendship is.

Last Sunday when I ran the London Marathon I was forced to rethink this.

In the preparation for the marathon I asked people to sponsor me (and you still can even though I’ve now run it by clicking here: A lot of my friends and colleagues sponsored me, but more surprising is that a lot of people who follow me on twitter sponsored me.

On the day of the marathon I also received a lot of tweets of encouragement from Twitter “friends” I have never met. Emotionally those tweets meant a lot to me, and psychologically there is no way you can tell me I didn’t feel these were people I had a real connection with.

In this social media age far from these people not being “real friends” I had a whole new reservoir of “friendship” to draw on for strength. And at 23miles when running the marathon I was drawing on every possible source of strength I could.

Every sponsorship I received and every tweet I was mentioned in helped me to keep on going when I thought I couldn’t take another step.

At the end of the marathon when I tweeted that I didn’t do quite as well as I’d hoped one of my twitter “friends” said I should run in Berlin. And in the true spirit of friendship suggested I do it with a group of them who are also doing the Berlin marathon. The only reason I didn’t take them up on their offer is because the Berlin marathon is already sold out. Now you can't tell me that isn't friendship.

When it comes to Instagram I’ve surprised myself by looking for a possible marathon in Atlanta to meet one of my “instagram friends". You don't travel half way around the world to meet someone who isn't a friend. 

Once again running has taught me something far more than how to place one foot in front of the other as fast as possible for as long as possible.  It has taught me about friendship, social media and how I can still be emotionally surprised.

(The picture today is of a map of the different countries that use twitter, I wonder where my next “friend” will come from?)


  1. That's a nice thing to read Marcus.

    I often think about how the idea of friendship has changed in the social network age and I used to be cynical too - how can someone you've never met be a friend? But now I believe the definition of friendship has simply been widened.

    I now talk to people, on Twitter mainly, that I've never met and some I never will perhaps. But they still enrich my life. And I've now met some people I never would have were it not for Twitter, and that makes me happy.

    I think there's a lingering suspicion of virtual friendships, as though they're not quite valid. And for me, while they'll never replace meeting up with people and having a laugh, they're still great in their own right. And I met my partner online, so I've A LOT to thank the internet for.

    It's nice to know you can call on those friendships for emotional support when taking on an enormous feat like running a marathon. Reminds me of that saying: "A stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet."

    Perhaps now we should add on: "...and perhaps you never will."

    1. Melissa,

      I like the reworking of that old phrase for the online age, I might have to use that in the future. (Don't worry you'll get full credit)

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