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Marathon selfies are putting runners in danger

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

You thought running with scissors was bad?

Running selfies are definitely a trend, but that doesn't make them a good idea.

From playgrounds to red carpets, selfies are everywhere these days. Unfortunately, selfie etiquette hasn't caught up with the trend yet, as evidenced by the student who recently tried to snap a picture of himself in the lap of a priceless 19th century statue — and broke its leg off. But nowhere is the topic more controversial than with the rising popularity of the "running selfie."

Kelly Roberts made headlines when she snapped pictures of herself, along with a "hot guy" surreptitiously included in every frame, at every mile during the New York City half-marathon.

“I didn't really train for this race because of the crazy winter we had, so live Instagraming was kind of a way to take my mind off the race,” Roberts explained. “And finding cuties, making myself laugh, is the best distraction from the cold and exhaustion.”

As a runner myself, I can definitely sympathize with needing creative ways to keep your feet moving. (And who doesn't need more hot guys in their life?) But, I've also tripped over more than one runner who has stopped suddenly to answer a phone or swerved in front of me while trying to find the perfect song on an iPod. And I'll admit that the few times I've seen someone actually texting or Facebooking from their phone while running, I've feared for their safety as much as my own.

Usually runners wait until after the finish line to snap their sweaty selfie and post it. But as Roberts' stunt shows, running and tweeting (or Facebooking or Instagraming) is becoming more and more common and has reignited the debate about running while distracted.

Many races ban or strongly discourage all electronics on the course to avoid a pileup, like the one that happened during the 2013 Hong Kong Marathon when selfie snappers caused "an influx of battered and bruised participants."

Chris Weiller, vice president of media and public relations for New York Road Runners, the organization that put on the NYC Half that Roberts ran in commented, “First and foremost, the runner experience is really our priority, and safety’s a big part of that. We encourage all our runners to avoid distractions — headphones, mobile devices, those are all on-course distractions. We encourage you to be self-aware, not just for your safety, but for the safety of other runners.”  

A 2013 Ohio State University study found that being distracted on a phone while walking or running caused over 2,000 ER visits in 2011. The researchers noted that the actual rate of injury is likely much higher as most people won't go to the ER for more minor injuries and added that they expect that number to more than double by next year. Running selfies are also bad for your running form. A 2014 Australian study published in the journal PLOS ONE found that people changed their gait when they were on their phone and it seriously affected their balance.

But official policies and science labs are one thing, bragging rights on Facebook are entirely another. Running a race is a huge accomplishment and part of the fun is getting to tell everyone you did it! And, as the social media saying goes, "Pics, or it never happened!"

Race veteran and running coach Amanda Loudin suggests that if you really must document your race while running, make sure you start in the back of the pack and follow basic race etiquette, like not stopping suddenly and being aware of other runners around you. But, she adds, "I think races should be races — not events where folks have the time to take selfies."

Overall, I tend to have a "live and let live" attitude about racing — I'll run how I want and other people can run how they want (as long as they don't run into me). I think Loudin is right that teaching people proper race etiquette for phones might be more realistic than banning them all together. But I'd also add that while taking pictures of hot guys is funny and I doubt the men minded being called "hot," it's probably best to not take pictures of other people unaware.

More running tips

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How to train for your first half marathon

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