Last year, I spent 18 weeks waking up at 5:00 am each morning to train for one of the most incredible experiences one can have in their lifetime—running the Chicago Marathon.
It had been on my bucket list for many years and after completing a half-marathon the year prior, I rustled up the courage to go for broke and accomplished my first marathon.
As those of you who've also done it, it is an incredible experience I will never forget and hopefully do again.
As I think about all of those brave souls getting ready for this year's Chicago Marathon, I thought about how my personal experience running would have been affected if I could integrate social media into the experience.
Why? To me that's an easy answer.
It's all about encouragement. As much and in as many ways as possible.
You see, outside of top elite runners who finish the race even before I hit mile nine, the rest of us amateur runners feed strength and encouragement off of the thousands of fans who line up to cheer their butts off for the thousands of us who have prepared for that day.
However, in my personal experience, there were more stretches of empty streets than they were full ones, especially in the latter half of the marathon. You end up looking for every holler from a passing car or a "keep going" from someone on their porch that gives you that little morsel of energy to keep going.
On the flip side, my biggest fans were desperately trying to pick me out from a crowd at some mile marker, only to attempt to yell something inspirational for the few seconds I ran by. Those who couldn't come had to wait until after the race to send me an e-mail or call.
While I'll take what I can get, where I need the most encouragement is the long stretches between miles 18-25. Like when I'm running north on Michigan avenue trying to take the next step with two miles left while I'm being passed by grandma using a walker.
That's where I think the concept of social media can help.
I believe these new technologies can help create opportunities for people near and far to encourage runners throughout more of the race in real time, especially in areas where they need it most. It can also act as a way for fans to engage and be a part of the marathon, any marathon, like never before.
If I was running (or had a friend running) the marathon this year, I came up with five quick social media ideas that I'd know would make the Chicago Marathon even better:
- Create a marathon Hashtag. Create the #BOACM (Bank of America Chicago Marathon) hashtag and allow attenders and followers a way to Twitterate (Twitter-celebrate) the Chicago Marathon throughout the event. People with mobile phones can send tweet and twitpic updates from all over the city instantaneously for everyone to see. Allow for tweets/twitpics to be posted on digital screens placed all around the city so runners can see what people are saying. For those who aren't there, use www.twubs.com to keep up with the latest action as it happens.
- Chicago Marathon iPhone Application. Develop an iPhone app that ties in a runners' GPS coordinates from their timing chip so that people can know where they are at all times. In addition, afterward runners can get almost instant feedback on their pace and overall time they've run so far. In addition, this app acts as a locator for where friends and family can position themselves to cheer without the fuss of wondering if they passed already!
- Skype Encouragement Call Centers. In tandem with the iPhone app & GPS locator, allow areas in the back half of the marathon where amateurs (like me) start to get weary and would love to get encouragement from people far away. Allow special walk/rest stations where a runner can get a 30-second to one-minute call from a loved one far away who can encourage them.
- Facebook FanPage/Broadcast Page. Just like the NBA and PGA have used Facebook to broadcast live event video and real-time chatting, allow fans to use Facebook to get involved in the Chicago Marathon via Facebook. The page could show real-time competitor results, allow people to look up where their friend is and/or tag all the friends who are competing. Facebook could have different pages for different mile markers so people can see multiple parts of the marathon at the same time. People could also post messages of support that would be posted on digital boards at various mile markers. Related, numbers of runners coming into view could be posted online so that people can send real-time encouragement to them as the runner goes by.
- YouTube Encouragement Video Areas. Fans and friends of runners can record short videos of encouragement before the event that runners can play at different part of the race. Ideally, a runner could enter a rest/walk section and trigger the start of the videos playing or they could be playing in a loop. This would be great in those long stretches where spectator support is lower.
Please keep in mind that these ideas are purely subjective and the actual integration of technology to make these things happen may not be there yet, but I know if someone put their mind to it, one or more of these things could potentially be a reality.
Since social media is here to stay, the sky's the limit on how many way you can integrate it to help make something like the Chicago Marathon, any marathon or any sporting event even more fan engaging.
If you have your own ideas, let me know below. I'd love to hear them.
Steve Raquel is sports fan and an online social media expert who helps individuals and businesses navigate and succeed in leveraging social media. He also manages the online lives of dozen of professional athletes as the VP athlete relations of FanFuego.com, an online sports social network that connects pro athletes with passionate fans. Contact Steve directly at email@example.com or follow him on twitter at @sraquel.