The Planet Wave: Trials and Tribulations of Race Photos
by Bob "Wish" Wischnia on February 16, 2012
I am not one of those racers who has a lot of fears. But the one aspect of road racing that absolutely terrifies me is the post-race email from the race photo company that appears in the inbox a few days after the race with a link to all sorts of mid-race and finish photos. I dread that seemingly innocuous email so much that I always hesitate before opening it.
Clinically, the fear of having your photo taken is called camera phobia (seriously), but I don’t actually mind getting my picture taken. It’s the result that makes me open the email with such trepidation.
Let me explain. I realize that picture-perfect running form is not one of my attributes. Quite frankly, I suck. I might be a determined, persistent runner who can stubbornly hold onto a pace all day long, but my form stinks. I realize that graceful, effortless running is just something I dream about.
Which is OK. I just don’t like having my less-than-perfect form shoved in my face. Or on my computer.
Obviously, I can spare myself the agony and simply delete the email from the photo company, but it’s kind of like turning my head at the sight of a train wreck. I just have to look.
Determined to put an end to all this race-photo craziness, I had one goal in the Houston Half Marathon last month: To strike a pose.
Brightroom Event Photography was shooting Houston and, as usual in major road races, there were signs at various spots along the course, alerting the runners to look good for the photographers who were just up ahead.
Here was my chance to erase a lifetime of rotten race photos and maybe if the Houston photo was good enough, to even buy one which would be news in itself. (The only race photo I have ever bought was from a triathlon in California where I was shot emerging from the water, all oxygenated and buffed in my trisuit. Looked good, but wasn’t actually running.)
Anyway, as soon as I spotted the first photo sign in Houston around the seven-mile mark, I immediately got up on my toes, repositioned my hat so it wouldn’t cast a shadow and painted a broad smile for the cameras.
Didn’t work. Must have started to pose too early because when the mid-race photo arrived, I looked just as terrible as always. There was snot hanging off my nose, my feet were going every which way but straight ahead and my skinny arms looked like they were pulling weeds. At least, my hat was straight.
A few miles later, at the next photo stop, I tried a different tack. This time I got as much air as I could with a few loping strides, but the results were similar. Instead of capturing me flying gracefully, the cameras just happened to catch me landing awkwardly.
As I neared the downtown Houston corridor and the finish, I still felt pretty strong and easily picked up the pace in the last mile. Approaching the long straightaway to the packed finish area, I was determined for once to look triumphant, rather than crushed for the finish cameras.
Miraculously, I sprinted the last 50 meters and felt secure in the knowledge that I had—finally--beaten the cameras with a classy, celebratory finish. I didn’t exactly thrust my arms Rocky-like, but I launched myself across the finish line with one last exultant burst.
But then a few days later the email arrived from Brightroom. In addition to the lousy shots of me flailing away on the course, it included a 30-second finish video. Every single runner in the clip—most of whom I had run the 13 miles with—looked great as they cruised through the finish, arms joyfully waving.
Me? Even though I felt fast and smooth, the finish video captured me waddling to the line, looking as decrepit as normal.
Bummer. My time was fine and nothing to be ashamed of, but the race cameras beat me again and consigned me to the clumsy plodder division. Cameras don’t lie.
But, there are no style points in road racing. Unlike figure skating, diving or gymnastics, there aren’t any pesky judges waiting to award a score.
I might not have stuck the landing in Houston, but fortunately running is a bottom-line sport. My race photos might not look like much, but the results and satisfaction of finishing are always much sweeter.