Running, data and community

BvH header

As if I wasn’t already busy enough trying to capture what’s happening in Bournville on the hyperlocal website I edit, I’ve now committed to managing the website for my running club, Bournville Harriers. I though it worth sharing here how we work the online stuff, which makes a change from me boring on about the offline stuff.

At its core, our running club is about community. We meet a couple of times a week, we chat, we get out of breadth and stop chatting, we compare achievements, we moan about injuries, we even have a beer together if our personal fitness regimes allow. In some ways creating an online space to replicate that is fairly straightforward and our previous website had a forum that was pretty active at times.

But, as forums often do, it veered towards nitpicking and complaining, lacking that essential quality that the offline running culture has, ‘praise’. So in re-thinking our web presence it was a simple process of switching to a blogging platform and enabling comments (we’re a self-hosted wordpress blog with a very slightly tweaked free theme).

There was some feeling amongst club members that we’d end up having the sarcastic forum comments replicated on the blog comments but I doubted that since the dominant offline culture in the club involves congratulating people on their runs. The blog comes closer to replicating that, so when Mike Berry completed his seventh marathon in seven months he got some nice comments online as well as the usual slaps on the back on club night. Even the briefest of reports gets a nice response for our club members who run all over the UK. To date I’ve not had to moderate a single comment.

In shifting to a more web 2.0 platform we can also begin to plug in other resources that someone other than myself can manage. Our images are largely hosted on Flickr, our club records are a series of google docs maintained by our club chairman and our race/training calendar is on google calendar, easily updated by a range of club members.

One of the development areas for us to make better sense of our running data. When we compete in a race the organisers might produce a spreadsheet or a pdf file or sometimes even a Word document. We copy and paste and then put the results into a blog post (quite easy to do, just use Excel or google docs to cut and paste the data in, and then out of) but we lack a coherent way to make sense of every runner’s data as opposed to just the elite ones. Although if you are elite then UK Athletics take the trouble to record just about every run you do – take a look at the data for one of our quick women runners – every competitive run since she was 15.

So in using a range of free online tools we keep the central website fresh with new content. I may manage the thing that pulls all the elements together but there’s a whole team of us supporting the process and doing their bit – which is what being a part of any community is all about.

Dave Harte edits and runs the MA Social Media at Birmningham City University

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