Social Network of Running

FinalSurge, Runopia, Strava, Sweat Mobile, Map My Run, RunKeeper, SmartRunner, Runtastic. This is an incomplete list of the personal databases that allow runners to share their workouts with their friends and others among the running community. A group of researchers from MIT followed over 1 million runners for over 5 years and recorded how they themselves and their running friends responded to posted workouts from one another. This is what they found:

You change your running behavior based on your friends’ running behavior.

  • When a runner noted that a friend ran a little longer, the runner increased their own run duration or length.
  •  Friends that are less active had a higher influence than friends that were more active. The motivation a friend has on not working out is greater than a motivation to go workout.
  • Men were equally motivated by women and men; however, women were only motivated by other women.
  • Runners that are around the same skill level motivated each other more than a runner that was a lot faster or a lot slower.
  • The influence your running friends have on you diminishes over time. People tended to be more motivated by new friends rather than friends they’ve known for a while.
  • The number of mutual friends that run directly influences motivation to run. The authors speculate that this is due to the additional people to hold you accountable, as well as greater social rewards for running.
  • The number of separate running groups you’re in contact with was directly associated with motivation to run. If your work peers run, the other parents in your neighborhood run, and you have friends from your childhood that run, you’re more likely to be motivated to run as well.

So if you’re lacking motivation to get out the door, here are a few things based on the science of social contagion that might help you get your running shoes on:

  •  Expand your running network! Join a running club like Flatirons Running, Inc’s run clubs on Wednesday night or our Fun Runs from Sanitas Brewing (first Monday of each month) to meet new people who like to run.
  • Make note of your friends that always convince you to skip an evening run for happy hour. We’re not telling you to ditch your current friends who are less active; balance in all areas of life is key. Just be aware when you’re making the decision to put off a run as a result of someone else, and make sure you’re not making that sacrifice every time, or find a way to fit in a run around happy hour.
  • Look for running partners who are around your same skill level, and if you’re female, try to have a few close girlfriends that you can count on to meet you for a run. 

So what do you think? Do these results make sense to you or are you surprised by what these scientists found?

As always, it’s important to note that these findings are for the general population; everyone differs in why they’re motivated and who they're motivated by. Regardless, it will benefit your training and your health in general to take some time to figure out who and what motivates you to get out for a run. 

In addition, if you have a running social media account, do not be shy to update it. You never know when your posted run, no matter how long or how fast, will help inspire one of your followers to get out the door for a run of their own!

Full paper: Exercise Contagion in a Global Social Network

Aral, S. & Nicolaides, C. Exercise contagion in a global social
network. Nat. Commun. 8, 14753 doi: 10.1038/ncomms14753 (2017).