People are realising that while digital is a crucial part of their lives, it's real world experiences that they crave, and now they’re hungry for more, writes Gavin McDonough.
In 2012 I finally succumbed to mounting social pressure and participated in my first ever fun run, the Sun-Herald City2Surf.
Up until then I'd always thought the idea of a 'fun run' to be a bit of an oxymoron – what was fun about pounding along on hard surfaces until your lungs burned and your body ached? To my surprise, it was actually ‘fun’.
Fun runs have been around in Australia since 1971 when The Sun newspaper came up with the idea of copying San Francisco's Bay to Breakers footrace and calling it the City to Surf.
The 'fun' bit was added in to differentiate the run from athletic competitions. The 'Life. Be In It.' campaign started up in 1975, followed by the 1980s jogging boom and within a few short years it seemed like every city or large town had its own fun run.
As so often happens though in our fast paced modern world, fun runs eventually became a bit pass√©. However, unless you’ve been living in a cave with no Wi-Fi, you have probably noticed the ‘fun run’ is 'the' thing to do again, albeit in an array of new, interesting and in cases ‘out there’ forms.
Led by the British SAS-designed Tough Mudder early in 2012, a new generation of weekend workout warriors powered down their laptops and headed to Phillip Island in Victoria and Glenworth Valley on NSW's Central Coast to slop their way through 20kms of mud and military training obstacles – for fun!
Before Tough Mudder inspired a new generation, fun runs had become events mainly for the charity driven fitness freaks among us. With the exception of runs like the City2Surf which have become social institutions; for most of us, seeking out and paying to attend events where we sweat it out ‘for fun’ seemed uncool and not at all fun.
So, how did we become so cynical?
When the Internet exploded and sites like Facebook became an integral part of our social lives, it allowed us to achieve many of the things that fun runs did, but with a lot less effort. We could reach out to friends and likeminded folks and show our allegiance to the tribe or participate in activities with a simple ‘like’.
The problem is that digital is now such a powerful medium for reaching and connecting people it's become a victim of its own success. It's becoming increasingly cluttered on one hand and just wallpaper on the other.
Many people have maxed out their friend circles and brands' online engagement tactics often fall short of leaving lasting impressions. For many, the ‘like’ has lost its lustre.
Yet we still have an insatiable appetite for social engagement so people began searching for more, scouring their social networks to find something, anything to fill their rapidly growing social void.
What they found was not a new online social network, but new social events like Tough Mudder and Nike’s She Runs the Night; events that recruit people online to bring them together in the real world.
Today brand lead or supported fun runs include the Colour Run, Spartan Run and ‘the Walking Dead’ inspired Zombie Run. Big brands like VB, Solo and Swisse have jumped on people and flocking to participate, in their thousands.
After an extended social-media honeymoon, people are realising that while digital is a crucial part of their lives, it's real world experiences that they crave, and now they’re hungry for more.
Gavin McDonough is co-founder and director of Urban