Don’t Sweat The Race Face

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Six months of solid training. Six months of blood, sweat, blisters, chafing and tears. Of doubts, fears, nerves, and triumph — you’ve done it. 

You’ve completed your event, and the experience was everything you had visualised during all of those training sessions. The times are in and you are pleased with your efforts. The sense of pride you have in your own ability, strength and perseverance is unwavering — until the official photos come in. As you stare at the watermarked images, you get that familiar sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, and your heart sinks.


I will freely admit that I used to have terrible trouble with my expectations around my race photos. Here I was conquering 10km runs, first triathlons, 17.5km runs where my body hurt so much I sobbed on completion, you name it — amazing life experiences I will always treasure, and all of that joy, pride and elation could be wiped away at the first glimpse of a race photo.

This seems to be a common occurrence for many of us, and we all seem to find it equally disappointing. We feel like we have come so far in our personal development, yet of all of the things that have the potential to ‘undo’ us, it’s the sight of ourselves.

So what is it about these images that makes us so uncomfortable? It is actually the sight of ourselves, or does our discomfort in fact reflect bigger factors at play?

After thinking about this long and hard, I theorise that 50% of the answer is found in our socially constructed beliefs around what ‘effort’ or exertion should look like, with the remainder equally attributable to our newfound discomfort with candid images and our mental confusion of what a race/event photo actually represents.

It only takes one look through a mainstream fitness publication or media account to see the first clue about why or how our expectations of what we look like in ‘effort’ are horribly unrealistic. For years we have been consistently been presented with images of women who have mastered the art of ‘graceful exertion’ — or let’s be honest and call it for what it is — staged exertion. A perfect combination of pout and perspiration with a slightly determined look in one’s eyes. We all know the images I’m talking about: the ones that create the false expectation that exertion should be elegant. 

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We all know that in reality there is nothing too elegant about true exertion. True physical exertion is uncomfortable. It’s sweaty. It leaves us breathless. Our hair resembles less ‘Pink’ and more ‘Rod Stewart’. Our skin is hot and all shades of pinks, reds and purples. We chafe and we bleed. We lose toenails. Exertion is a primal effort; it’s raw, strong, fearless, and it is amazing. It is also a space in which we are our most vulnerable -a space where every emotion is amplified and at times visible on our faces. We lose our sense of obligation to smile. The energy, feminine power and aura around true, uninhibited exertion is something that cannot be staged. The only time we get to see it visibly represented is in our own race images. 

Which brings me to my next point: our discomfort with candid images. Since the dawn of the digital camera, we have been able to instantly review our images and re-shoot for a more flattering result. We have filters and editing software at the ready. We know our ‘good sides’ and our optimum camera angles. In this era of the ‘selfie’, we are so aware of our own digital image that to throw a candid shot of us out there, of which we had no opportunity to pose for, review or edit prior to publication, puts us in a state of utter discomfort and loss of control. So when the race or event image comes in and we see it has been taken from *gasp* behind, our first reaction is to think “WHYYYYYYYYY would they do that, they should know I HATE my bum/hips/legs!” We have, in essence, lost our appreciation for the candid image and its purpose as a greater representation of a ‘moment’.

This also brings up the final factor – our understanding of what the image actually represents. This popped up as a common theme among conversations with members of my Body Positive Athletes community. Many people who had overcome their event image issues (including myself) had experienced a small yet significant shift in their perception of what the image actually represented. This shift was away from the image being a visual representation of OURSELVES to it being a visual representation of a MOMENT or an EXPERIENCE. The images were no longer about us per se, they became about everything else happening the moment the image was captured; the emotions, the scenery, the sounds, the people. 

With this shift in focus, we all spoke of the value that we inherently started to place in these images as memories. No longer were these images the catalyst for that old ‘sinking’ sensation or the horror of our bums being visibly documented, but the source of great joy in remembering what was happening at that exact time the image was taken.

So do we need to just get over ourselves when it comes to our event images? To some extent, yes, and to some extent, no. It took me running exactly 21.1 kilometres for my event images to represent something more than just ‘me in a picture’.

Once we realise that expectations around images of ourselves in effort/exertion are a societal construct and not actually our own, we become free of them, and our event images begin to represent that moment in time which they were designed to capture. 

The next time you get the email: ‘Your race images are ready!’, do yourself a favour and look at what is happening in the image beyond you — whereabouts on the course was it? What were you thinking and feeling at this point? How was your body feeling? Give your images the context they are trying to provide you and let them tell your story, because I guarantee that each and every story is one worth telling. 

Below: A collection of race day images fromTPL Founder Kez….some not so great photos (her words)  but great memories & some funny stories.





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