Kate Van Buskirk is a 2021 Olympian and a must-follow on Instagram. Her posts are positive, thoughtful, and inspiring. She’s fit, comfortable in her own skin, outspoken, and a role model to runners from Toronto to BC. Yet she knows that every photograph she posts is a risk: will she be seen as a bragger? Is she showing off? Will her physique turn off runners who are frustratingly missing their running, not hitting goals and will never, ever look like Kate? Kate thinks about these things before posting. Even at her peak physique, she goes through periods of insecurity. She thinks about everything, but then, ultimately, does what feels true to her.
“My number one barometer for social media is: is anything I’m posting harmful to a marginalized community? That’s my number one: intentionality,” says the Olympian Van Buskirk, who also produces and hosts The Shakeout Podcast. “Beyond that, I don’t care if someone feels like I’m bragging. There are many people I follow who are my role models who inspired me to get to where I am, and if it’s braggy, whatever. If I’m proud of something I’ve done and post about it, my hope is not only to share my joy, but inspire someone else to do the same.”
It’s a fine line between inspiring our friends and family, especially those that do not run, and pissing people off with our posts about running on our social media feeds. Lots of us have gotten static from our friends who aren’t big runners about what we post. Almost everyone says they’re supported by the running community, but catch flack from people outside of our world of bananas, vaseline and split times. Meanwhile, the narrative has broadened with the body positivity movement, which encourages all shapes and sizes to celebrate being healthy, happy and active. Still, the public sphere can be a difficult place.
“I once had someone tell me that my running posts made them feel bad about themselves. Oy! I hated hearing that and it still bothers me,” wrote one reader, a race clinic leader. “Those that are bothered by my social feed are free to scroll on by, but I’m encouraged and inspired by others in the running community. May we continue to build each other up and celebrate the victories together.”
Another reader said: “I had someone ask me if I actually worked as it must be nice to just run/race. I told this person nothing was stopping them from doing the same and yes, I do have a full-time job and work my arse off on a family farm.”
“It’s always in the back of my mind that I may get a negative comment,” said one reader.
Another reader said, “I get teased occasionally, but not nearly as often as people tell me they appreciate my posts as a nudge to do their own thing. I do get concerned sometimes that people think I do way more running than I actually do because of posts.”
Runners use social media to inspire one another and keep us connected to a broader community, especially now during COVID with in-person races and run meet-ups increasingly difficult to pursue. It’s also helpful when chasing a goal to telegraph it, the science saying that once a goal is spoken out loud or shared with a group it becomes more real.
In that sense, posting about running on social media can be a tool, just like new shoes, speed work and carb-loading. Virginia Lee is famous in the running community as the face of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, her image used in the STWM marketing campaign. Lee, who is 48 and has run 48 marathons—including every Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront marathon—posts often on her popular Instagram channel.
“The negative part comes from people not in running or fitness, likely my own age and their thing is: how can you spend that much time on yourself, that must be such a luxury,” says Lee, “but any runners knows that we make time for it, and maybe that’s why runners are more accepting of our social media feeds—the only way to get to our goals is with training and sometimes, posting helps.”
Some people post lots of pictures of their children, or of their animals. People post photos of their sourdough bread loaves or their political views about vaccinations and Maxime Bernier. Obviously everyone is free, within limits, to post what they want, and just as easily, people are free to stop following the feeds of a runner if our posts aren’t eliciting their joy.
Kate Van Buskirk understands all these things. She also understands anxiety and imposter syndrome and has been injured to the point, during the run-up to the 2016 Olympics, after moving to BC for the express purposes of making the team, where she thought she’d never run again. She couldn’t get out of bed without help and returned home to Toronto unsure about what she’d do next.
“Mentally and physically,” she says, “I felt broken.”
Eventually, she got back out on the roads, fell back in love with the sport, and trained herself, in 2021, to the Olympic fighting form she had in 2015. It hasn’t been an easy ride. But it’s been rewarding. And one she feels proud, haters be damned, to share.
“Humble is something we put on a pedestal, why? I don’t think it should be and if you post about something you worked hard at and other people can relate to it, it’s a beautiful thing,” she says. “I am continually inspired by and grateful for the folks in our community who challenge me, educate me, and offer an honest lens into their struggles and joys. This is what I strive to do as well. Sometimes, good or bad, on social media or anywhere else: you just have to own your own shit.”