Running tip #378: Know how to cope with event photos

fit_one race photo manicmumbling

The one, halfway decent race photo ever.

I saw a post recently in a fitness-oriented social media group: a woman running, wearing a race bib. The photo was taken from a low angle, the watermark of an official race photographer in one corner.

I expected a “yay me!” message underneath instead of the anguish this woman poured out. She’d been proud of finishing her first 5k – until she opened the results email with the event photos. She hadn’t realized her thighs were that big. She didn’t remember feeling as awful as she looked. Heck, she appeared to barely be moving.

Rookie move, that: expecting too much from race pics. They’re bound to disappoint. I don’t know the woman, but I’m familiar with the feeling.

I always eagerly open the post race results email hoping to finally find a picture to commemorate all my hard work actually making it across the finish line. A memento. Particularly one that fits my running self-image: something of a cross between Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Cheetara from Thundercats.

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Yes, that’s me walking. 18 percent grade, near the summit in the Aldape Challenge, 2013. Photo: Susan Clark.

I’m not fast. Not very graceful, either. I don’t really expect to see Jackie’s doppelganger in the photos. But I’ve finished about three-dozen events at this point and every dang time the photos are awful. I’m nearly holding my breath as I open the email, clicking on the icon, and entering my bib number. If I’m smart, I’ll have left time to recover in a crumpled heap on the bathroom floor afterward. I’m never quite prepared for what I get. Not Jackie. More along the lines of a beluga whale with legs. It’s quite the blow to my self-esteem.

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Walking again. Zeitgeist, 2014. Photo: Gary Green.

Okay, it’s not quite “beluga” bad, but seriously, three-dozen events – maybe three or four photographers per event, so at least a hundred photos of me running. I’ve found maybe one or two ever that don’t make me want to throw my laptop across the living room. I’m about as likely to get struck by lightning as get a good running pic.

I’ve given this a lot of thought and come up with a few reasons why it’s unlikely I’m ever going to get a good race photo:

  1. My body, in order to expend as little energy as possible, actually keeps my feet from lifting as high off the ground as it feels like when I’m running. The airspace between my foot and the ground could probably best be measured with a micrometer. No matter what I’m doing when the photo is taken, I’ll look like I’m walking.
  2. Okay, maybe I really was walking. Just that time. They’re called intervals. Legit. Shut up.
  3. My expression. My determined face looks a lot like my trying-not-to-barf face, so that’s not good. If I see the photographer, I’ll smile, but I’ve learned my smiling-while-running face looks a little like my I’m-going-to-kill-you-in-your-sleep face. You don’t want to frame that and hang it on a wall.
  4. My clothing. That big, loose shirt looked fine hanging on my stationary form, as did the shorts. But when I run, I sweat, and there’s a lot of sticking and bunching in ways I’d rather wasn’t recorded.
  5. My running buddy. On the off chance I think I look more fleet than a beluga in sneakers, I’m running with someone who isn’t happy with how he appears. Happy marriages sometimes swing on the ability to refrain from ordering the running photo that isn’t absolutely the most flattering of both of you.
  6. My gear. Phone, earbuds, sunglasses, CamelBak, hydration belt, a shirt tied around my waist because it was o-dark-thirty and chilly when I left the house that morning. Seriously, there are astronauts in outer space less suited up than I in some photos. I should have jettisoned some gear after mile 1.
  7. That whole thing about objects in motion tending to stay in motion has a lot to do with what’s going on with the flab on my arms in almost every, single shot. So unflattering.
  8. That dark spot on my running shorts? It’s sweat, all right? I know it looks like pee, but people do sweat there, you know.
  9. Okay. It’s probably pee. Happy?
  10. Speaking of which. I don’t sweat like a normal person. After the first mile or so, I’ll look like I just jumped in the pool, never like one of those people in the Nike commercials. Do not offer assistance during one of these moments, by the way. I’ll probably punch you in the business.
  11. The photo bomb by the guy in the gorilla costume, or the tutu, or the Santa hat. I don’t understand why people dress up for events. Don’t they understand how serious this is? Jackie never had to deal with this nonsense.
  12. Random acts of awkward. There was that nosebleed incident last fall. Lovely. Ahem, a little PSA for photographers: if a sweaty woman approaches, looking like death with her nostrils packed with tissue, she probably wants to avoid the paparazzi. Do not press that button.
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Action shot, Grand Teton Relay, 2015. Photo: Jose Cervantes

Here’s the deal: I don’t actually have any proof things are as bad as I say, because I’ve rarely ordered any of the outrageously bad photos. The pictures I’m sharing here are mostly ones friends have taken and forwarded.

That’s the trick. If you want to commemorate a run, do it with friends. Take your own photos. Take dozens. Pick the one where your smile looks sane and the guy in the gorilla suit has moved on. You might still be sweaty and no, you actually won’t be moving (you’ve stopped for the photo op, duh). You can crop out anything unflattering and hold onto that self-image of Cheetara you had going on.

Thundercats. Ho.

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2 thoughts on “Running tip #378: Know how to cope with event photos


    1. Thanks, Mel! Funny, it took me a long time to appreciate “strong” looking legs, when what I really wanted was a thigh gap. That’s what happens when you start a running regimen later in life, you appreciate things in a different way.


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