Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why do I keep coming back to the Internet?

The road curves southwest, and a line of hills rises up over the horizon as I make my way nearer to them. Soon I'll be able to see the remains of an old watch tower. At least, I'd be able to see it if it existed. It's actually a place in Tolkien's Middle Earth - one of the milestones along the way in the Eowyn Challenge's "Walk to Rivendell" challenge. Several years ago that challenge was my sole motivator to exercise. I logged my miles daily and used to put in countless hours walking on the treadmill just to make it to my destination faster than the other participants. After a year or two of walking alone, I signed up for the message board and received support, motivation, and inspiration from many other participants. After a while, my participation lagged. I graduated college, and although I continued running, walking, and biking, it was sporadically. I didn't log the miles, and I've long since forgotten my message-board login information. I have kept coming back to the Internet, though, for running motivation and information.

The Internet can be a pretty scary place. It provides an anonymity that people often use when they want to say that most hurtful, prejudiced, and downright offensive things. Just browse some comments following newspaper articles or even the comments about YouTube videos and tell me that you won't find some serious haters exploiting the First Amendment. And then there is the huge privacy risk associated with using the Internet. I am reluctant to reveal personal data about myself on this blog or anywhere online because it is so out there for absolutely anyone to find, whether they be employers or identity theives.

So why do I put my thoughts out there on this blog?

Because at the same time that I resent the way that the Internet provides a mask for hatred to hide behind, or that I fear too much private information being made public, I really value how the Internet has connected me with people across the globe with whom I share similar interests. When the people "out there" are inspiring you or providing information or holding discussions about topics that you just can't have with your regular circle of friends, they become an example of the best that the Internet has to offer. I've corresponded with running bloggers across the U.S. from the east coast to the west, from the great plains to Alaska, and outside the states from Canada to Vietnam. Each person has a unique perspective that broadens my horizons.

I recently joined, a social networking site for runners and cyclists. Coming from the Eowyn Challenge background, I was excited to see that members post challenges for themselves and each other and are constantly supportive of each other along the way. I haven't taken on a challenge yet, but I'm looking forward to doing so. If you're interested in joining, it's a nifty tool for keeping track of workouts, and it has some fun features, like a meter of how many televisions your total mileage could have powered, or how many donuts you've burned. Most of the people who participate in dailymile are highly motivated and will not only motivate you, but keep you to your word if you take on a challenge.

As for the Eowyn Challenge, I no longer participate in it as a group activity by posting my progress on the site or by corresponding with other participants, but it has become a deeply personal and meaningful part of my training and motivation. The purpose of the challenge - to break free of the cages imposed by negative self esteem and body image - will always be part of my journey, so every once in a while I tally up my miles and find out where I am in Middle Earth. I know that at the same time that I'm approaching the watch tower of Amon-Sul, there are runners elsewhere following parallel personal journeys, and it's good company to keep.

So you can say that this public blog, with all of the personal meaning in its Eowyn Challenge roots, represents an ironic blend of public and private. When you think about how the public element has helped shape what I feel personally, though, it's not that surprising an irony.

When I started writing this post, it reminded me of a good friend I had a few years ago who participated in the Eowyn Challenge with me. She moved and we fell out of touch, but she just reconnected with me on facebook. Just another example, I guess, of the Internet's ironic blend of public and private, and why I do keep coming back to the Internet, despite its faults.

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