Look for a new “Salty Triathlete” from Kelly O’Mara every month in Triathlete magazine.
I tried to do it. I did. I went out to the pool early and stood on the deck in the cold, holding my phone above my head, searching for just the right angle to frame the backdrop and myself and look good doing it. I even contemplated asking another swimmer to take multiple pictures of me, posing like I was casually adjusting my goggles getting ready to swim, so I could pick out the best shot. I wanted one perfect #mondaymotivation inspirational photo to post on Instagram.
Instead, I just weirded out the lifeguard.
It turns out my actual training doesn’t look anything like the inspirational training photos you see on Facebook and Instagram. And I’m going to guess most people’s don’t really look like that either—even the people who are posting well-lit, color-corrected, professional photos perfectly capturing them running mid- stride along beautiful seaside trails. It’s as if they’ve never run anywhere un-picturesque or had a moment where both feet touch the ground.
If we all posted photos that really showed the reality of training, it’d be a lot more boring loops jogged around the neighborhood. It’d be a lot more sweaty, ugly, red-faced messes. It’d be a lot less social-media filtered.
I get it, nobody wants to look at hundreds of boring pictures of everyone slogging it out on the trainer all winter. Instead, we want to imagine we could be as good as the best photo we see in our timeline. I know we need a little aspirational #inspo, but ultimately we’re hurting ourselves when that’s all we see. Eventually, we start to believe the lie of perfect training.
There is study after study about how social media distorts our perception of reality. Even when we logically know all of our friends on Facebook are only sharing the best versions of themselves, emotionally, we forget. Seeing so many perfect photos and updates about amazing training and epic workouts makes us feel like everyone else is doing better than we are. Even though we know that’s not true, it messes with our heads. And then it leaves us less prepared for the ugly reality of when training (or life) gets ugly.
I asked a couple “influencer” friends how they always have such stunning pictures of themselves training, as if they bring a photographer or a drone along for their rides and runs. It turns out they often actually do have a semi-pro photographer friend take bursts of photos, so they can later pick the best ones. Or, they set up their phone and run back and forth in front of it until they get just the right shot. There’s nothing wrong with doing that; it sounds like a completely normal photo shoot. But it also doesn’t sound like any actual real workout I’ve ever done.
The internet can be an amazing tool for sharing. It has helped break down barriers around the world and give us a better understanding of people we’d never know otherwise. So let’s put down the phone—or enact a five-second rule per training session to grab a quick, honest shot—and share what we’re really going through: boring, ugly, not-perfect training