One year ago today, we officially “flipped the switch” on digitalrunning.com by publishing an article about running for beginners. Like any good project, The Digital Running Club has taken on a bit of a life of its own and has headed in some directions that I never imagined when I first came up with the idea of forming a virtual running club. Although we’ve been working hard on new additions to the website that will make it more interactive and bring new challenges and bling-earning opportunities to our members in 2012, it’s always fun to look back on the previous year:
After launching the site in late January, February 1 brought the first article in the Downsizing series. Barb Bergerson weighed well over 350 pounds when she answered my advertisement for a couch potato looking to write about the journey to becoming a runner. I’m not sure either of us knew what we were getting ourselves into at that point, but we developed a nice working relationship. Although her first article published in February, I’d been virtually coaching her since November of the previous year, and her progress in those first few months was astounding.
February also marked the introduction of our “Catching Up” series, where we interview runners from all over the blogosphere. We began the series with Lindsay, a long time blog buddy of mine who I finally met in person during the 2011 Florida Keys Ragnar Relay after we had been following each others’ blogs for over 2 years.
In March, nutrition writer Katherine Pennington hit her stride with an article and series of recipes on the endurance power of Chia. “Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia! The Original Endurance Food” served as my own introduction to the benefits of consuming these nutritious seeds and remains the 5th most popular page on digitalrunning.com.
The month of March also saw the publishing of the year’s most popular article – “Top Ten Items to Pack for a Ragnar Relay“, which always sees heavy traffic in the weeks leading up to an overnight running relay. As the Ragnar Relay Series and other overnight relay races grow in popularity, the article serves as a primer for relay rookies who have no idea what to expect from the experience.
After 4 months of working together online, Barb Bergerson traveled down to Florida to visit family and to meet me for the first time at the end of March. Together, we walked her 100th mile (and her first 4 mile walk). Back in New York, several people from her hometown walked in her honor. It was fun to meet her and it made me realize how similar her challenges were to mine. Although she was hitting 4 miles for the first time and I was bumping myself back up to 16-18 mile runs for the first time in over a year, our apprehension before the new distances was the same and many times we felt the same little aches and sore spots after our workouts. I think she was surprised that I would get sore after a workout, but when you challenge yourself, soreness is often the result. Even Olympians get sore after some of their workouts. The experienced reinforced my belief that we’re all born runners. Our challenges may be different in distance and speed but in principle, they’re all the same.
In April, I developed an idea that changed the face of the Digital Running Club. My original intention for the first year was to simply publish articles about running and the experience of runners, building a loyal base of readers who would be receptive to the interactive features we’re introducing in year 2. It occurred to me in April that people join running clubs for the camaraderie and shared experience. Thus, our first events were born. We began recruiting people for a team at the Disney Wine & Dine half marathon. Team members received a custom training plan for the half marathon, a team shirt and some other goodies, along with the promise of team meetups at the event itself. We recruited 12 team members before the end of the summer.
May marked the beginning of recruiting for our team at the Tennessee Ragnar Relay. This experience was a little more intimidating than the Disney Wine & Dine half marathon. For the Disney race, it didn’t matter how many people filled the team. For the Ragnar, I had to have 12 and if I didn’t get 12, everyone else would be disappointed. On top of that, I had to front the registration fee – so I’d be out $1200 if I didn’t get the team filled. I’ll admit I was pretty nervous when team members trickled in one by one through mid-summer. I had meticulously planned every detail of the relay, but the early bird registration deadline approached in mid-July and only 5 members had committed to the team. I contemplated giving them their money back and just giving up on the idea, but I decided to plan for success rather than failure. I nervously paid the $1200 early bird registration fee.
A lot of other captains did give up at the early bird deadline, and the list of runners looking for teams swelled in the days following the deadline. My attention to detail appealed to many of these runners and by the end of August the team was full. It was a valuable lesson in team recruiting that has served me well since.
Aware that our readers enjoyed following Barb’s weight loss journey online, I decided to add another columnist to the website. I was looking for someone who wanted to run regularly and could talk about training and racing amidst life’s other commitments: career, family, etc. Unfortunately, I was not in a position to pay this new writer. Although many people were willing to write for free, I knew from past experience that the deadlines would get old without any kind of compensation. All I could offer was my coaching. We decided to run an “American Idol” style contest by collecting entries and narrowing those down to 5 finalists. Each week, I’d give the 5 finalists a topic and they’d write a short piece on that column. Our readers voted via Facebook “Like” buttons. The author with the fewest “Likes” at the end of the week was eliminated from the competition. The last writer standing would be awarded 1 year of free coaching and their very own bi-weekly column on digitalrunning.com. The five finalists were announced in July and the competition continued through the summer. After a long battle and an exciting back and forth competition in the final round, Tracy Gariepy was announced as the winner of the competition in September, and began her column, “Time on Feet“.
July – September
In addition to the competition for our next running columnist, the mid and late summer focused on the basic fundamentals of training. To support a previous article on easy running, I released articles on threshold training, improving running economy, aerobic capacity and fast aerobic training. The different types of workouts presented in these articles provide the basis of training for just about any race. The article series culminated with the development of our first tool, a training pace calculator that allows users to easily determine their ideal training paces for the various workouts presented in the articles. Since the tool is also available on Facebook, it marked our first Facebook app as well!
At long last, our first official event arrived with the Disney Wine & Dine half marathon on October 1. I’ll admit the turnout was a little disappointing. As it turned out, 2 of the 12 joined our team but never registered for the race, a few others were injured by race time, and the rest either left town the morning after the race or spent that day with family at another park.
My original intent was to run a half marathon team at a different race almost every month, and I had already started recruiting a team for the Disney marathon weekend in January. The low turnout at the Wine & Dine forced me to rethink that plan. I temporarily scrapped plans for other half marathon teams and refunded the two people who had signed up for our Disney Marathon weekend. That freed me up to recruit a team for the Florida Keys Ragnar Relay. I somewhat riskily registered a team just before this popular relay filled to capacity. Astonishingly, our team filled in only two weeks!
Our second event of the year happened on a cold but beautiful weekend in Tennessee. Twelve strangers from all corners of the United States converged in Chattanooga, TN, as teammates for the Tennessee Ragnar Relay. I had arranged all the details for the team, but I had never met any of them. Although everyone pretty much knew what they were getting into, I still felt a little strange shaking their hands and ushering them into a white van for the weekend. Isn’t this what our parents always warned us against?! In fact, an early suggestion for our team name was “Strangers with Candy”.
Any fears I had about running with strangers were quickly squashed, and Team 196 Proof gelled almost immediately. After we crossed the finish line, I looked over at our table of teammates eating pizza and laughing together, and high-fived my wife, assured that the whole thing had gone off flawlessly. Everyone had enjoyed themselves, and most were talking about running an overnight relay again. In fact, three teammates wanted to immediately sign up for our Florida Keys relay team, but it was already full! Our new motto was born that day: Strangers at the Start, Friends at the Finish!
In anticipation of Springtime races and many New Year’s resolutions, we released our first set of training plans in December. The article, “Training for a Half Marathon”, presents 4 different training plans for runners of varying abilities. We started with half marathon plans since the half marathon is presently the fastest growing race distance among runners in the United States. The popularity of these training plans, however, means that you’ll be seeing similar plans for other distances in 2012.
Early January had me traveling down to Key West along with our Team Mom, Raffi, for the Florida Keys Ragnar Relay. Our team, the Glade-iators formed up quickly in October, but we lost two team members only two weeks before the race date. One was easy to replace, since I’m always happy to serve as a runner in just such a case. We had to scramble to find one more, though. Five days later, we had a full team again, but our replacement runner fell ill 48 hours before the start, and her doctor forbade her to participate in strenuous activity until her blood test results came back. Since an overnight running relay counts as
insanity strenuous physical activity, we were left scrambling again. We found our replacement 26 hours before the start as we were getting ready to load up the vans for the trip to Miami! It was a crazy few weeks leading up to the relay, but just like the Tennessee Ragnar Relay, the team of strangers gelled nicely and a good time was had by all. Some of the Glade-iators have already signed up to join us for relays in Cape Cod and Chicago.
The pace calculator was just the beginning of our suite of tools. In the coming months, additional functionality will be added to both digitalrunning.com and to our Facebook page, allowing our users to track their workouts and workouts of their virtual training partners more closely. We’ll use this new tracking capability to offer some exciting challenges and awards for our users – virtual and real life bling for their collections! We’ll also be continuing with our Ragnar Relay teams. We’re currently recruiting team members for the Cape Cod Ragnar Relay and the Chicago Ragnar Relay. Soon, we’ll begin recruiting for the Northwest Passage, Great River and Napa Valley relays. If you’ve been itching to try an overnight cross country running relay, and you’d like to see some beautiful scenery along the way, then all of these relays will deliver – and we’ll cover the logistics for you. Just show up, and run! (Watch our events page for dates.)
Most importantly, we’d love your suggestions along the way! If there’s something we’re doing right, please let us know. Conversely, if there’s something you think we can improve upon, let us know that too. Just use our handy contact form. We love hearing from you!
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