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It's the race photo that's most important

Spending part of this morning with A’s second-best camera at a good spot approaching the six-mile mark of the Falmouth Road Race got me thinking. There is, after all, only one winner in any given race (two, if you subscribe to the theory that the men and women run separate but concurrent races on the same course,) and everyone else is chasing some kind of watered-down title like “first over-50” or something completely subjective like a personal best performance. Clearly the really important thing is the race photo.

(Can you tell yet that I now have my tongue firmly in cheek?)

Anyone who has ever run a big road race has received in the mail some dreadful photo taken during the race by the official photo service. (I have a small gallery of these postage-stamp-sized proofs. Least likely to be purchased: the ones taken at a marathon I dropped out of.) Obviously, the photographers are trying as best they can, so for the education of the race-running public, I offer these suggestions for achieving a race photo to be proud of:

  • Don’t run with headphones. I won’t even half-push the shutter to auto-focus on you. Seriously, now, you can’t go an hour without your tunes, particularly when you may need to be focused on where the photographers are? (Or whether some oblivious spectator is about to cause a collision by stepping out onto the course right in front of you?) Would you bring your iPod to a magazine cover shoot?

  • Run by yourself. A good fifty meters of space between you and the runner ahead of you should be sufficient. Hanging on to some kind of “pack,” or that silly “drafting” idea, are both sure-fire routes to a lousy photo. Running in front of a pack may be OK, but the other runners in the pack will divide the photographer’s precious attention.

  • Ditch the hat, or at least wear it backwards if you look good that way. A scanned my photos after the race, stopped at one, and said, “That’s a great shot. Too bad you can’t tell who it is.” The hat’s shadow completely obscured the runner’s face.

  • Speaking of identification, wearing your number where it belongs—on the front of your shirt—is a good idea. Some people like to pin theirs on their shorts, presumably so they can wipe sweat off their faces with their shirts. Not only does this make them hard to identify, but who wants a picture of themselves wiping sweat off with their shirt?

  • Particularly since you’ve skipped the hat, sunglasses are good on sunny days: not only do they reduce the amount you squint (with the less-important side effect of allowing you to relax more and therefore run faster,) but they hide any remaining squint.

  • If you tend to grimace when you run—twisted mouth, tongue out, whatever—well, I don’t know what to tell you.

A word or two for the spectators: It’s lovely that your spouse/parent/child/drinking buddy is doing the race. This day is not about you. When you see someone with a professional camera (you’ll know it: it has interchangeable lenses and lacks stickers indicating how many megapixels it captures,) and a lens as long as their forearm, do not set foot on the pavement. I don’t care if the closest Starbucks is on the other side of the race course and you’ve got the shakes from caffeine withdrawal: cross the course somewhere else and pass behind the lenses.

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