Friday September 14, 2012

Patty Spector may be one of the busiest people in the Berkshires in the final weeks before the Great Josh Billings RunAground. As race director, Spector spends each day making sure everything is ready for the biggest annual sporting event in the county, which begins Sunday morning in Great Barrington.

That doesn't mean, though, that she's constantly on her phone.

"The more information you [get] with your phone, the more you're on it," Spector said. "Whatever I'm doing, I don't always carry my phone."

Good thing, then, that she has a computer -- and that the Josh has a strong online presence, especially in social media circles.

Facebook has become the outlet of choice for the Josh, as the race's profile page has 1,384 friends as of Thursday afternoon. It has also become a valuable bulletin board of information for competitors and organizers alike, with many people posting schedules and/or requests for help in the weeks leading up to the race.

Spector started to notice the page having more of an effect in the last two years. She started to see activity inquiries, entries and race photos coming her way via Facebook, which meant one thing for her:

"At that point, I realized I'd better learn how to use Facebook," she said. "It was an extremely useful marketing tool."

The Josh even has a fan page, separate from the profile page. That page had 525 "Likes" as of Thursday afternoon, and was being used as more of an informational page than the profile itself.

Spector embraces the technology, but it took her a few years to feel that way. She is still apprehensive about parts of the social media landscape -- the Josh has a Twitter feed, but Spector doesn't use it, instead linking it to the Facebook page to automatically share the same posts -- but finds Facebook to be pretty easy to handle.

"You don't have to go into any major conversations," Spector said. "I think that's why all the stuff has become so popular."

One of the most important parts of the race for many competitors is the "Matchmaker." Bikers, paddlers or runners looking for a team, or vice versa, in the months and weeks before the race can post their availability on the joshbillings.com website and team up Sunday.

Spector ran the Matchmaker until 2002, when she became race director.

The Matchmaker then became the responsibility of Deb Goldsmith of Lenox, who has given the Matchmaker its own Facebook profile. Goldsmith, a nine-year committee member and 18-year Josh competitor, believes the social media has changed things "quite a bit" for her, and keeps her on top of the Facebook page throughout the final days and weeks before the Josh.

At times, she finds herself checking the site hourly.

"You also find out things like, ‘My biker just got injured,' and they're back looking," Goldsmith said. "There are so many more avenues of information out there.

"I'll put out, 'I need a paddler,' and most times, I've [gotten an answer] on Facebook."

Before Facebook became a staple of the Internet, the Matchmaker was largely done by phone, and then email. Now, Goldsmith finds she is sometimes out of the loop. Racers will often find each other on Facebook.

"It almost can be overkill," she said. "They've contacted me, they've contacted Patty and they've put it on Facebook. Who's in charge here? Overall, though, it's a good thing."

Once the race has ended Sunday at Tanglewood, Spector expects to see a number of comments and photos posted on individual racers' Facebook pages and the Josh Facebook pages. She may even have photos of her own to post, as organizers have even become photographers at biking, running or paddling clinics.

Don't expect to see Spector posting from her iPhone, though. As much as the social media has helped the Josh and made Spector's job easier, she doesn't want to be connected all the time. There's just too much to do.

"I try not to be on the phone all the time," she said.

To reach MatthewSprague:
msprague@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6254.
On Twitter: @EagleSportsZone.