Take your half-marathon selfies, but don't be a jerk about it

kellykkroberts via Instagram / kellykkroberts via Instagram

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By Melissa Dahl

We take selfies at the gym, in the car and at funerals; we take so many selfies in so many different situations that the word is beginning to lose its meaning! But in the past week or so, a new kind of selfie has emerged: the half-marathon selfie.

Last week, a woman goofed her way through the NYC Half, taking selfies with “hot guys” in the background for each of the 13.1 miles:

She got a copycat this week in Ashley Hesseltine, who saw the NYC Half photos, thought they were hilarious, and decided to do her own version of it in the Georgia Half-Marathon this past weekend. Hesseltine, however, got some harsh feedback from the running community (including this spoof-y post from Runner’s World), because she ran the race “bandit” – that’s runner-speak for running a road race without paying for it, and it's something runners have very little patience for. Bandit issues aside, it's the mechanics of the running-while-taking-selfies that has runners talking.

"I just don't get how she could run, take pics and type all at the same time!" said Patty Rivas on Twitter. 

The selfie stunt seems mostly innocent — just a funny, cute way to make the miles pass by a little faster. But anyone who’s ever tried to walk and use a cellphone at the same time knows how distracting it is — how could someone simultaneously run a race, take selfies, and write cutesy captions? Because a recent study published in the journal PLOS showed that tapping away on a cellphone literally makes it harder to walk in a straight line, and using a cellphone while walking around is increasingly becoming one of the stupider reasons people are visiting emergency rooms. 

Ohio State University researchers recently reported that in 2010, more than 1,500 people were treated in ERs for injuries caused by trying to use a cellphone and walk at the same time; the researchers also said that number had doubled since 2005. That PLOS study, published earlier this year, also showed that 35 percent of their participants said that they’d had some sort of accident while walking and texting — and a poll of our TODAY.com readers showed the same percentage.

Last fall, a story circled around about the Hong Kong marathon, where a woman stopped to take a selfie just after the starting line and caused a “pile-up that resulted in battered and bruised participants,” according to a Time story from September. Race officials launched a sort of “awareness” campaign to encourage runners against taking selfies during subsequent Hong Kong races.

“First and foremost, the runner experience is really our priority, and safety’s a big part of that,” said Chris Weiller, vice president of media and public relations for New York Road Runners, the organization that put on the NYC Half. “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.”

If you must take a mid-race selfie, be aware of the other runners around you. Because the thing is, a road race, whether it’s a 5K, a half marathon or a full marathon, is a cool accomplishment, and the urge to share that accomplishment with friends on social media is totally understandable.

“The personal experience is a big part of this, and storytelling is a big part of the personal experience,” Weiller said. “This is the world we’re living in these days. Everyone has their way to document what they’re doing, or to enhance their experience.”  

And, hey – whatever gets you through the race, right?

“I’m all for whatever gets you through the half,” said Twitter user @mentalplex. (Personally, he says, he looks at people’s socks.)