What started as a fun idea to post a fitness challenge on TikTok turned into the ultimate lifestyle change for content creator Keri Clarke. Like many during the pandemic, Clarke was searching for an escape from working 24/7, so she signed up for the 2021 New York Marathon.
“I needed an outlet. Work was the first thing I did in the morning and the last thing I did at night,” she said. “It changed my entire mentality.”
Shortly after, Clarke discovered Andy Frisella’s popular 75-Day Hard challenge that was circulating on TikTok. Followers of the program had to complete the following: a structured eating plan, two 45-minute workouts, drink a gallon of water and read 10 pages of a book for 75 days straight. For Clarke, running soon became part of her everyday workout routine and she used TikTok to show her progress.
“Much of what I was watching just wasn’t relatable. Nobody had a full-time job. It was just these really aesthetically pleasing videos. I wanted to bring an aspect that you can be career- oriented, work a really demanding job and still be able to make time for yourself throughout the day and challenge yourself [through running],” she explained.
Soon enough Clarke’s following grew to more than 100,000 as she offered up an inside look at her work-life balance, specifically her 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. routine before her 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule as a sales director. Her content runs the gamut — whether it’s prepping celery juice and ginger shots in her kitchen to marathon training tips or what sneakers she runs in.
Brick by brick baby #marathontraining #ultramarathontraining #runner #runwithme #runvlogs #runnergirl #runmotivation
It’s this authentic and raw type of experience that’s resonating with brands and consumers alike. Clarke is now a sponsored athlete with Nike and Dick’s Sporting Goods, while TikTok continues to boost the running community at large.
Brooks, which tracks the TikTok running community with its own hashtag, #RunHappy, is using the social platform to reach a new audience.
“These type of creators are showing their personality, and people are invested in them and their journeys,” said Brooks’ social media content lead Tory Musser. “[By teaming with them], it’s helping grow our brand love and awareness out in the community. They are creating content on their own channels, or creating content that we may repost on our channels as well, so it basically creates a content workforce.”
#RunTok is on the uptick, too. It has nearly a billion views on the platform, and the hashtag has seen significant increases across all metrics, according to influencer marketing platform Traackr. Comparing March 2021 to Feb. 14, 2022 vs. the same period in 2023, there’s been a 363% increase in active influencers, 303% increase in posts, 93% increase in engagements and 171% increase in video views with content mentioning RunTok.
Some of the most engaging and watched influencers include Erin Azar (@mrs.space.cadet), Matt Choi (@mattchoi6), Coach Alysha (@whatrunsyou), Clarke (@kerclarke), and Joslyn R (@therunningjoslynr), said Evy Lyons, CMO of Traackr. “What’s particularly cool about this trend is that the folks who are leading the way in engagements and views are a diverse bunch — some of them are professional coaches, some are just avid enthusiasts, and not all of them have the same body types — a nice reminder that everyone can run.”
The growth of #RunTok is a subset of a larger trend around running, with other terms like #runningtips, #runnersoftiktok, #runwithme, #runninginspo, and more gaining popularity.
One of the key ways Asics is utilizing #RunTok is as a monitoring tool, said Devin McGuire, global marketing manager at Asics Digital.
“It helps us see what the current trends are for running content, which creators are popular in the space, and sparks ideas on how Asics can capitalize on running audiences as a brand,” she explained. “TikTok has also recently added hashtag targeting to their paid advertising platform, so we are able to target users who have interacted with running-related hashtags with our TikTok ads.”
As TikTok continues this tailwind on capturing a Gen Z audience, brands need to lean on creators to create content to see results, said Eric Dahan, influencer marketing expert and former CEO and co-founder of Open Influence. “A lot of brands are still trying to figure how to strike the right tone now. With these type of niche creators, it’s sort of the starting point for getting the right content,” he said.
Take Maddy Thompson (@maddyrunstrails), a nursing student from Arizona. With 22,000 followers on TikTok, brands such as Merrell and Hoka have tapped her to create content, which often includes “Get Ready With Me” videos, Grand Canyon National Park runs, or a look into her 1-mile-a-day runs.
📍Grand Canyon National park, we went down South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch and back up Bright Angel #runnergirl #trailrunning #ultrarunner #grandcanyon #grandcanyonnationalpark #arizona #runningfriends
“I get to run in really cool places and I think it’s my energy [that’s attracting views],” said Thompson. “I try to be positive with my runs, but also realistic. If I’m having a shitty run, I’m not going to edit out those parts. I’ll talk about it.”
While #RunTok is a perfect storm of authenticity and information that’s cultivating a viable community for brands to tap into, there are mounting concerns about data security related to the social media platform, which is owned by a Chinese company called ByteDance Ltd.
For instance, more than half of U.S. states have banned the app on government-issued devices, and many major colleges — including the University of Texas, Wisconsin, Auburn, Georgia, Iowa and Arkansas State — have also imposed restrictions on access for students and faculty while connected to university internet servers.
Though, Dahan noted that TikTok creators will continue to create as long as there’s an audience, which will more than likely still be the case. “Let’s say tomorrow TikTok gets banned. Now you have YouTube Shorts and Instagram Reels that are looking to pick up the pieces. Already you have creators that sort of branched out to resharing their TikToks on those other platforms as like a hedge,” he said.
And for influencers and #Runtok enthusiasts, they are especially drawn to the opportunities for inspiration on the platform.
“I was not a runner,” said Clarke, who is currently training for her first ultra-marathon. “I was struggling to run a mile when I first started. I have followers because I am relatable. I work hard at it and it’s all through trial and error. What I care about most now is building a community that trusts me. I could get a million views, but if I’m not getting comments or forming a connection with my followers then it’s all for nothing.”