July 13, 2010 in Features

For some, networking online really working out

Dallas Morning News
 

Tommy Johnson connects with other triathletes online while training for competitions.
(Full-size photo)

DALLAS – When Libby Jones, who is four months pregnant, posted on Facebook that she was going to take a Zumba class, a comment immediately popped up:

“It will get your heart rate waaaay up there, so be careful!” To which Jones, 30, replied: “Oh, I didn’t know that! Thanks! I’ll wear my heart-rate monitor and keep an eye on it!”

After earning his MBA in 2003, Tommy Johnson had time to ride his bike again. He went online in search of coming races and found beginnertriathlete.com. Next thing you know, he’s connecting with strangers, recording his workouts and doing seven to 10 triathlons a year. It’s even led him into coaching for Texas Triple Threat, a triathlon training club.

Exercise is something we do for ourselves. It’s also often better shared. In these days of social networking, that means a lot more than telling a friend at work about a good training run or grousing to a sister about hot your tennis match was. Instead, it means doing a little perusing, a little clicking, a little sharing. Feeling competitive? Then compare your workout to someone else’s, ask for advice, offer it.

You can register for any number of websites, usually at no cost for the basic level, or just update your friends on Facebook or Twitter. You can use the Nike+, which goes into your shoe and, through your iPod, tracks your pace, distance, time and calories burned. Later, you share the information online.

“In some ways,” Jones says, “it feels so nerdy or geeky, like a futuristic society where we’re so dependent on our computers, with all these social media destroying the framework of social interactions. That’s so ridiculous. It’s completely the other way. It’s bringing you together with people you never get to see.”

During her two years as president of the Dallas Running Club, Jones spent many hours and many miles at White Rock Lake with fellow runners. When her term ended, traveling 45 minutes each way from her home in Allen didn’t make as much sense. She began staying connected through dailymile.com, Twitter and her blog. She kept readers up to date on her running streak of 63 days. Without their encouragement, she says, she would have stopped.

When she became pregnant with her second child, and her doctor warned her about getting her heart rate too high, Jones began recording other workouts.

A time or two, she admits, she’s posted her workout before she actually did it. That way, she knew she’d have to follow through.

“It’s the ultimate accountability,” Jones says. “You’ve published it, and you can’t lie.”

Sample post: “Finished another Zumba class tonight. Okay, the Zumba thing is growing on me. It’s helped by the fact that this instructor didn’t insist on you shaking everything your momma did or didn’t give you the entire hour. I liked these dance/cardio moves better.”

When Johnson was training for the Ironman Louisville in Kentucky last August, he was corresponding on beginnertriathlete.com with a variety of fellow participants. One decided to order T-shirts so everyone in the group would recognize one another.

“We got to the athletes’ dinner before the race, and we all have these fluorescent, lime-green T-shirts,” says Johnson, 49. “About 20 of us showed up, and we all sat together.”

Without social networking, he says, he would never have met many of the people who are in his life these days.

“The first Beginner Triathlete person I met was at a race in Lubbock,” Johnson says. “We didn’t arrange to meet, but I saw her bike rack and her standing by it. I must have seen a picture of her online, so I went up and started talking.”

Turns out she’s in the U.S. Air Force and often posts from Iraq. Other U.S. troops do so as well.

“Pretty inspiring,” Johnson says. “People who’ve lost 100 pounds and are doing their first triathlon, or others who trained all year but didn’t finish. They say, ‘I’ll be back next year.’ ”

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