While the idea for this campaign was slowly simmering within us for quite some time, the discussion started with an exasperated exclamation by a Nest employee at our weekly marketing meeting.
“Oh my god. If I have to look at another airbrushed, over styled, body effortlessly holding a quad stretch on the cover of Runner’s World, I may quit running altogether."
Which led us to ask ourselves an important question - Where did we go wrong? Where did our actual experiences running, and the representation of this sport in media, grow so far apart? And what are the implications of advertising showing the running community a version of the sport that is largely artificial?
We have strong thoughts on the implications of inaccurate representation, but that’s a different blog post. More importantly for us was a need to start the conversation. To elevate an idea which holds weight to us as a company - the burden of representation.
John Tagg writes about this idea — the burden of representation — and media's effect on societal norms:
“The camera is never merely an instrument. Its technical limitations and the resultant distortions register as meaning; its representations are highly coded; and it wields a power that is never its own. It arrives on the scene vested with a particular authority; authority to arrest, picture and transform daily life.”
If we represent runners, and create media that reflects the community, then we as a company bear the burden of that representation. Why? Because the mirror of media shapes our community’s perception of what’s normal. Failure to accurately mirror the experience rejects the realities of its participants, isolating individuals who aren’t reflected in that media. And that is a very dangerous thing.
So we made a promise: to work, relentlessly, to show the sport as it actually is. To represent our community as they actually live. To be ruthlessly real in our representation of running.
This promise, for us as a company, is actually a journey. We are currently in the process of overhauling the standard operational procedures of our industry so we can better reflect the diversity of our audience (more to come on this). But all journeys have milestones, and we felt like this photoshoot was an important one to acknowledge. So to continue to embrace our commitment to representation - I’m excited to share our real running shoot through the voices of its participants - the real runners!
This photoshoot was different. Our goal was to capture the essence of real running. So, we did just that. This morning when my alarm went off at 5:45am, I felt a wave of relief wash over me. Most early morning wake up calls are associated with getting up to race or workout. And the weight of those tasks make me want to snuggle up and stay in bed and continue to hit snooze. A photoshoot day is usually a slow burn start. Drive to the shoot location, sip coffee, grab a bite to eat, pick out outfits, talk shop on photoshoot strategy, play with hair and make-up, AND then around 9am go out and shoot.
We warmed up, we stretched (just a little, because I typically hate long stretching sessions before working out), we did some strides and we started a Lauren Fleshman favorite workout: "The 2, 1, 1, 2". After the first warm up mile, shit started to get real. We weren't doing the bouncy run-for-a-photo-run, we were going to hurt and sweat and channel all things running and workout. The real excuses started coming out, my nose was stuffy, I didn't sleep that well last night. How serious are we really going to take this?
The answer? Serious enough that the moments that we ran by the camera crew at sub 5:00 pace, I wasn't thinking about how my stride looked, what I was doing with my face, or if my make up and hair looked the way it should look. I was thinking of running fast and surviving the workout. My eyes were locked on Lauren's effortless stride and I was in the zone.
There have been race photos that I've been critical of in the past. Why did I look like I was trying so hard? Often, the face I was making didn't match the story I told myself of running down the finishing stretch. I'd feel so certain there was more gas in the tank, more room to improve for the next time. But the pain face captured in the photo would tell me otherwise. It's kind of a beautiful thing. To capture the true spirit of running. Real running. We are so locked in during these moments. So present. When we cross the finish line, the experience of running hard or racing translates into a new story in our minds. We pick apart the moment and omit the moments of pain and struggle. But the photos capture the feelings in the midst of the hard work, and give deeper meaning to it.
I look forward to sharing what real running looks like, because that it what real running is all about.
The concept was simple, just put on these clothes and do what they were made for. Just run. I can do that.
Lauren set us up with a nice fartlek workout sure to get the sweat levels high. As someone who sweats A LOT (trust me, it’s like “did you just take a shower?” status), I was initially a little nervous, but then again, the point of the shoot was to get sweaty, so the nerves morphed into feelings of “Hey! That’s the point!”
My sweat glands did not let me down and sure enough by the end of the workout I had wet hair, a soaked shirt, and several lines of sweat framing my face. And I was proud, really proud, of the work I put in. I felt like a badass. Snot rockets were blown, bushes were made into bathrooms, encouragement was given after each set. It was just like any other team practice, and that’s what made the shoot so great, we got to be ourselves and do what came naturally. Even after the workout portion, we played. Literally played, letting the kids (and parkour master Fleshman) come out to get sweaty in a different way.
I admit that in the past I was a victim of being caught up in how race photos turned out (even though I absolutely nailed the race), how much swass I got going on in any non-black bottoms at the gym (even though someone just came up to me impressed with how hard I was working), or the feeling of a shirt sticking to my skin after I have sweat through it (even though I am absolutely beaming at how amazing my body is for taking me to all the places it does). And I can’t even say that I don’t still fall victim to negative thoughts (I am human), but holy crap this shoot made me feel so freaking proud of sweating, working hard, feeling tired, pushing through. But that's what the shoot was about, capturing how beautiful putting your heart and soul into something really is.
Each day running is my tiny victory, some days it’s my big victory. Running is my way of establishing equilibrium in my life. When I am lonely, I find others to share sweaty moments with, when I am overwhelmed I take solace in the miles I can run by myself. It has helped me discover strength I previously thought unfathomable, and truly appreciate the miracle the is the human body.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
It's really inspiring to push yourself alongside a group of women who know what it means to run within themselves. And it felt painfully good. It is so satisfying. I felt inspired, not only by the amazing athletes I ran beside today — I was also inspired by myself (it's okay to be your own inspiration).
To go out and do something that was a little outside of the norm for me and finish the workout knowing that I gave it my all is rewarding and encourages me to keep working. It is always fun to get outside of your comfort zone to see what you are capable of. That is what makes you a better athlete, getting a little uncomfortable.
To me, real running means digging deep both mentally and physically. Running is such a mental sport, you have to be your own number one supporter sometimes. Real running is not just going through the motions. It is being present. It is pushing yourself.
Real running is simply that: real. The upbeat and the downbeat. The before and after. The tight ponytail anticipation and the windswept satisfaction. Real running is not buying into the bullshit that you must be doing it wrong if you look like you're trying; if you experience gravity; if your personal representation of aspiration falls outside what's been served up. Nobody knows real running better than a real runner. I want us to see a photo of a race and not give it the power to re-write our memory of the moment. Yes, effort is beautiful, but I'm over fighting to fit more and more things into the beauty bucket. Forget beauty. I want you to feel the urgency of my blood pumping and taste the weather that splotches my angry skin.
And who could forget Lauren’s powerful meditation on the idea.
Equally powerful was the response from our community. The photos you shared of your real moments with the sport. This idea belongs to our community. And we are proud to bear the burden of representation on this exercise - because all of you are right along here with us.
For me, the most memorable part of the shoot was the moment right as the group finished the workout. Pain and determination dissolved into relief, vulnerability, presence, and ultimately, connection. We were stronger because we went through it together.
There was a point where the group, in unison, seemed to collectively exhale not a sigh of relief, but satisfaction. As if to say, together — “this is it”.
Well, this IS it. The people, the sport, the work, and the sisterhood. That shifts the burden of representation, to a privilege. To share the beauty of these real moments with the world. Let’s keep showing the world how truly powerful real running can be.
Head Up, Wings Out.