Running Influencers: Who to Trust?

By Team RunRun Coach Jon Phillips

Fitness Inspiration or Financial Incentive – it’s hard to tell the signal from the noise when looking at the thousands of running influencers out there today. In this article I try to help equip you with the tools necessary for finding the best running influencers for you, and to ultimately get the most out of your running experience. 

Who is a running influencer?

These days it’s all too easy to get caught running under the influence. No, not your local beer mile or wine marathon (although if that’s your thing go for it!). We’re talking about running under the influence of individuals who have gained significant followings, notoriety, and influence within the running and fitness community. People commonly referred to as ‘running influencers.’ 

Running influencers are a blend of professional, elite, amateur, and recreational runners who have typically leveraged social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and even apps like Strava to gain followers by sharing their personal experiences, expertise, workouts, and insights related to running and running gear. They are folks who share their passion for the sport producing content, sharing their personal running stories, and reviewing products. Often they use their platforms to inspire, educate, and motivate others to take up running, improve their running performance, or to try out new products like running shoes. Increasingly, they are paid to do so either by the brands they promote, or through affiliate marketing that pays them a percentage of every sale they generate through their platforms.

The rise of running influencers

The landscape of social media and the influence of running influencers is constantly evolving. Much of the growth has come as a direct response to increasing public focus and opinion on improving health and fitness as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, running is a relatively accessible and socially distant exercise. Lockdown increased running’s popularity around the globe and running influencers have grown in proportion to the increased demand. 

The popularity of running influencers changes rapidly, but most have thousands to millions of followers on their social media accounts, typically have high engagement rates with lots of likes, comments, and shares of their posts, amplifying their popularity and reach. Video content, in particular, on platforms like YouTube has become increasingly popular. Brands often work directly with running influencers to create product reviews, orchestrate group running events, and promote their products in creative ways. 

Read the fine print

As the popular adage goes, moderation in all things. Skepticism around running influencers and their content can arise for a variety of reasons. While many running influencers provide valuable and genuine content, a solid dose of skepticism is healthy. Just as you might seek a second opinion for a serious medical issue, so too should you seek out second opinions on influencer content. 

Whenever scanning the fine print of product reviews and endorsements there are always disclosures and disclaimers. The shoes may have been sent to the reviewer by the brand, that hydration fuel the influencer swears by may sponsor the athlete, and the links to purchase products are almost always affiliate links. Credible influencers call attention to these things and mention their opinions are their own and no one is paying them or previewing what they say. While technically true, unconscious bias undoubtedly creeps in, and can affect the influencer’s objectivity. After all, no one wants to lose access to their revenue stream, free sneaker provider, and engaged audience. One influencer might positively review the Asics Novablast 4, and the next week show up at an Asics sponsored run halfway across the world. Another influencer might swear by the Coros Pace 3 one day, and the next might appear in Coros print and media advertisements. It’s important to put on your critical thinking cap and discern for yourself if the influencer truly believes in the product’s quality and durability, or is perhaps more motivated by financial incentives. 

Finding the signal in all the noise

Conducting a Google search for ‘running influencers’ provides a dizzying array of results. There are the best running Instagram accounts to follow for beginning runners, the top ten marathon influencers, 26 runners you need to follow now!, and so much more. Where to start? Who to trust? In the end, engaging and connecting with an influencer is a subjective matter. 

I follow a simple rubric: 

  • Have I heard of this person? 
  • What does their body of work look like? 
  • How often do others recommend them? 
  • Can I relate to them? 
  • Have they done what I want to do? 

I can guarantee you there’s an influencer for every runner. To help get you started, here’s a few that I think are worth following and, in my experience, have proven themselves to be credible, honest, and authentic. 

  • The Ginger Runner. Ethan Newberry has been reviewing gear, producing racing films, and providing running inspiration since 2011. Like me, he’s local to Seattle and the PNW so I’ve run the same trails in the same conditions and can personally relate to his experiences. 
  • Doctors of Running. Earlier I talked about the importance of critical thought. Well, Doctors of Running have it written into their mission statement! They are all Doctors of Physical Therapy and everything they do is science- and evidence-based. I can find gear to try based on their descriptions and analysis.
  •  The Run Testers. A group of UK-based runners and former tech journalists who test and compare a wide-variety of running gear from shoes to watches to heart rate monitors to nutrition. I find their reviews to be critical and honest and unbiased. 
  • Nobody Asked Us.Not running influencers per se, but who can resist Des Linden and Kara Goucher talking about running in an unfiltered and accessible way!

Get it on your foot

The proliferation and rise of running influencers is, on balance, a positive thing. Workout tips — running form, warm-up exercises, interval training, strength training, and recovery techniques — may help runners improve their performance. Race reviews, including course descriptions, personal race strategies, and post-race reflections can help aspiring runners prepare for similar events. Discussing personal experiences, challenges, successes, and setbacks, provides a relatable narrative and inspires runners to pursue their own running goals. Product reviews can motivate others to discover their new favorite piece of gear, and find shoes that work best for them. 

It’s important to remember the most trustworthy option is always to ‘get it on your foot,’ meaning hands-on experience by trying on shoes in a local running shop. It means speaking to a running coach, personal trainer, or nutritionist about your specific goals, challenges, and experiences. Most local running shops will let you try on shoes and go for short runs in them. They’ll also gladly answer all your questions and find the right shoe for you even if it’s not that fancy new super shoe that everyone is raving about on YouTube. A running coach is going to give you advice and guidance based on YOU and your personal experience.  There is no substitute for connecting with someone one-on-one to find what works best for you, but some credible and authentic Running Influencers are a great place to start your discovery journey with running! 

This article is brought to you by Coach Jon Phillips. To learn more or consider working with Jon as your running coach check out his profile on Team RunRun.