Twitter is a great way to communicate with people who are looking forward to a shared experience. Whether it’s an upcoming concert you can’t wait to attend, or a weekend festival for which you need suitcase packing advice, strangers can become friends when you communicate about an event via hashtags, @ replies, retweets and lists.

I’ve been looking forward to a recent event for an entire year, and spent a total of 8 months actively preparing for it: my first Ironman triathlon. There are few milestones in my life such as this, that I have actively thought about every single day – but with registration a full year in advance and the amount of preparation and dedication required to successfully complete a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run, it pretty much consumed my life, Twitter feed included. I discovered a community of athletes training and tweeting their experiences, leading up to our shared big race, Ironman Canada. It was compelling, motivating, and really exciting.

The official Twitter handle of the race is @ironmancanada, which is managed by Ron Zalko, who founded the race in 1982. His ability to create a social media movement around his race was something incredibly unique and special. His passion for the event really shined and it was clear he truly cared about each of the athletes tweeting about their preparations. He would retweet mentions and he would reply every single time someone tweeted about the race – everything from a tough weekend of training, to making travel arrangements, to sharing the excitement once our bib numbers were posted. I even tweeted about catching a cold a week out, and got a DM from Ron making sure I was okay and able to race!

A few weeks prior to the race, I decided to organize a Tweetup (#IMCTweetup) to bring together the athletes that had used Twitter as a platform to share training and experiences in person for the first time. Penticton has an amazing Greek restaurant that not only gave us their entire second floor space but comped us twobottles of Greek wine. I made @nametags so everyone could but a face to the handle, and once everyone arrived (there were about 35 guests total) we went around the room and shared our real name, where we were from, and a little something about our journey.

Getting to meet people who had shared the emotional and physical ups and downs was great, and I recognized guests like @shetrisall3, @raflopez and @ari_o_speedwagon right away. The best part was that @ironmancanada himself came to the event and was able to meet everyone.

When I was out on the bike course, climbing one of the most challenging uphills of the day, someone behind me saw “Brianna” on my bib and said, “…are you @briannabear?” Yes! During the marathon I heard another group running the opposite direction talking Twitter when a girl introduced herself as @erin337.

And who was at the end giving out medals and congratulating finishers when I crossed the line at 11:09pm? Ron Zalko- who gave me a big hug and said he was very proud of me.

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