The rise of the running selfie

Can't resist the urge to turn your phone around and take a pic during your runs? It turns out you are not alone, but there's more to it than just a selfie.

by Rhalou Allerhand
Getty Images

Love it or hate it, since its inclusion in the Collins English Dictionary last year the selfie is officially here to stay. Listed as ‘a photograph taken by pointing a camera at oneself’, the emergence of smart phones has led to the concept of turning the lens around really taking off. Thanks to technology we can now retake or edit our images with the click of a button and immediately share our sweaty post-run faces with our friends online. But the selfie is not a new phenomenon. If you include paintings and sculptures, we have effectively been taking self-portraits since the dawn of time; it’s just a bit quicker these days.

Running and selfies go hand-in-hand. Since amateur running took off as a mainstream activity almost everyone has been documenting their journey and taking photos to show off, motivate one another or simply have a laugh. But are selfies about more than just taking a picture? And what’s the best way to take a good one?

The community

‘As runners, we're used to getting sent emails from races with photos of us, and sometimes we buy them as a memento of a particularly good or meaningful race,’ says running coach Laura Fountain. ‘It's only natural to want to record other runs that aren't races but can be just as memorable or important to us.’

Laura believes selfies are an integral aspect of the running community. ‘Running can be quite a solitary sport and I think that lends itself to the selfie - logistically there isn’t always another person there to hold the camera. But it's also about making a connection with other runners through sharing your image. I see it as people saying “this was my run, show me yours.” Not as a way to brag, but as a way to connect.’

She also uses selfies to improve her running form. ‘When I look through race pictures, the first thing I look at is what my feet are doing - not my face,’ Laura explains. ‘From a technical point of view, a running selfie can tell you a lot about your running form. Are you picking your heels up? Are you standing tall? Are your knees coming up enough? Don't disregard the outtakes, as they can give you vital information about how you run and what could be improved.’

The selfie queen

Long distance runner and self-confessed selfie queen Susie Chan thinks photos are all part of the fun.‘I like to document the runs that I do with my friends and see places I have been,’ she says. ‘I admit, it is a little bit narcissistic and I know lots of people who hate them. I get ribbed for it all the time so I try not to take too many in a row, but the selfies are always really popular!’

Susie usually has a cameraman in tow. ‘My poor husband is the unaccredited person behind many of my photos!’ she says. ‘I run a lot by myself too so set the timer if there is a particularly good backdrop. I prop the phone up, set the timer, hope no one nicks it, and run towards it. Some days I can't be bothered with the faff and just run along holding my arm out. I think I've gone past the self-conscious stage of worrying if I look like a tit. I've been doing it for so long.’

Susie admits it is a bit narcissistic. ‘How can it not be? But if they are inspiring people, and making people want to pick up their trainers and go out for a run isn't that good?’ she says. ‘I love looking at interesting places and real people looking like they are having fun running. I'd rather see that than another boring ripped off inspirational message, cup of coffee or avocado for dinner.’

A run-commuter, Susie also uses her selfies as inspiration for new routes. ‘I try to be more creative and imaginative about the photos,’ she says. ‘It really has changed my running - especially on the run commute. Rather than go the same old routes every day, I've been seeking out new destinations that will make a great photo or backdrop. It's fun exploring, and I've taken some great photos too.’

The exhibitionist

‘Running makes me feel happy and alive and taking selfies is a great way of capturing those positive emotions,’ says Mike Wells from Nottingham. ‘I nearly always turn the camera around and I quite often take them on the move,’ he explains. ‘It’s about capturing the joy and also the places I run and people I run with.’

Mike particularly loves running in fancy dress. ‘After running a few races I didn't feel I could ask people for more sponsorship for "just" running another marathon, so someone suggested I run in a tutu. So I did... I was a bit nervous about it to start with, but the crowd reaction was fantastic and I got such a buzz from it, I was hooked on fancy dress running (especially tutus) from then on.’

Selfies are an important aspect of Mike’s exhibitionist side. ‘I think runners often get a real emotional high from running and are keen to share this with others, so selfies are a great outlet,’ he says. ‘A lot of runners (me included) have narcissistic tendencies, so for us selfies are perfect - they allow us to show off as well as capturing memorable running moments!’

The storyteller

Famous for taking mid-race selfies featuring good-looking guys during the 2014 New York Marathon, Kelly Roberts, a freelance writer from New York, started taking selfies as motivation when she first started exercising. ‘Running felt impossible to me but I had just graduated from college and didn't really know what to do next with my life. I was struggling to move forward after my brother passed away and I had recently lost over 75 pounds, and I was feeling really lost,’ she says. ‘I started running so I would have something I could feel proud of. I would post selfies running - as vain as this sounds - to show my friends that I wasn't just watching the world pass me by. They kept me accountable when I didn't want to run and five marathons later, those running selfies are memories of the days when 5K felt impossible.’

Kelly believes runners take selfies as a way of communicating. ‘When I share funny selfies during a marathon, I get to show the world not only that I've worked through doubts and insecurities, but that I'm having fun doing it,’ she explains. ‘So many people who hate running or who aren't athletic feel like it will never be possible for them. I show them that it is; it's just really hard when you're getting started. I love seeing where other people run or what they're going through. Selfies really are another form of storytelling.’

Fitness blogger Laura Stewart agrees. ‘For me, taking a running selfie is simply about sharing running joy. I take a lot of selfies that I just send to friends and don't put on social media. It's a way of communicating beyond boring words about running - sorry running writers!’

‘Running and selfies go hand in hand because the running community is innately supportive and inclusive,’ continues Kelly. ‘We love competing against one another and being motivated by one another. If I see that my friend got up and went for a run, I'm motivated to do the same. If I see someone having the time of their life during a half marathon, I find myself online looking for my next race to register for. The online running community has become a huge support system. I have friends that I met online and we try to meet up once a year at a race. If there is one thing runners love more than running, it's talking about running. Selfies are just another way to share our passion, goals, triumphs and setbacks.’

Keen to join in the running selfie game but hopeless at taking snaps? Click here for our guide on how to take the perfect running selfie.

Once you've perfected your running selfie, share it with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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