“I put a callout for someone to do a guest post on my blog and John from Galway responded. Three years ago he weighed over 19 stone and smoked 20 cigarettes a day. He’s now lost 7 stone and just finished his 7th marathon”
A good photo keeps a moment from running away, and when it comes to running I find something in a photograph taken at a race that just can’t be captured anywhere else.
I am a runner, I love it. For me, running is a reflectively positive experience. I never look back and remember the pain, the blisters or pounding from your lungs as blood pumps around your body as fast as it can to deliver oxygen to your burning calf muscles. I look back on a race and see moments of personal success, things that disappointed and nuggets of learning scatted back around whatever course I’ve just run.
For me, photography at a race captures an exact moment in time, freezing it forever. You’ll never be at this point ever again. Even if your situation or circumstance change, you will never go back to that exact moment a photograph was taken as everything that has happened in between has changed who you are.
You could run the same course/race again and have a photo taken at the same point in the same gear but nothing can ever line up in the way a photo was originally taken.
I’ll bring you back to a photo of me that was taken by a friend in July 2012 as we climbed Croagh Patrick as part of a charity outing with work.
Shortly after this photo was taken, I stopped climbing (about a quarter of the way up) and turned back, broken and unable to continue.
At the time I was 29, weighed over 19 stones, smoked 20+ cigarettes a day and never exercised. My body was physically unable to do what I needed it to do, walk the 3.5km to the top of Croagh Patrick.
“This day changed me – shortly afterwards I joined Weight Watchers, lost 7 stone (45kg or 98 lbs), started running, stopped smoking and turned my physical health around. I’m currently training for my eighth marathon.”
Running can be a solitary sport, particularly when it comes to Marathons. Most people I know train on their own. A typical training plan lasts twelve/sixteen weeks consisting of long runs (3hrs), interval runs and recovery runs.
While you may turn up to the start line with friends, have supporters along the route or loved ones waiting at the finish line for you, the only thing that stands between you and that finish line is your own determination, training and effort.
It is at this point a race photographer captures those moments of race which, if they could speak can’t tell you about the countless hours of preparation and training that went into this run. The moment the camera captures the photo, the subject of the photo is a combination of everything that is and has happened to them up to this point in the race. The weather, body fatigue, emotional state, hydration and current physical strength are all playing against each other and you can see it frozen in that picture.
There are photos of me which I love, partly because they remind me of a race memory or a feeling, they remind me of a time I was chasing or how I conquered whatever was going through my mind at that time to cross the finish line. There are other photos which are in no way flattering: salt dried on your forehead, spit coming from my mouth or pockets of fat visible due to the way the light was hitting you on the day or the way your top started riding up. You have to take the good with the bad – in order to get the great photos, bad photos had to be taken. I always try keep an eye out for a camera but it does happen where you get lost in the moment, caught in the struggle to keep moving forward.
This post is a homage really to all race photographers, the ones who stand there for hours and capture runners as they pass. Although I’m sure you are rarely personally thanked, I am thanking you on behalf of the running community. Next time you find yourself at a race snapping runners push on by, know that runners really do appreciate it. We love to scour a Facebook/Flickr album after an event in the hopes of catching a glimpse of ourselves. We imagine we look fresh, powerful, graceful. Sometimes you strike gold when it’s a good photo. Before I ran my first marathon a friend told me (in jest) ‘Pain is temporary, but your finishing time posted on the internet is forever’. Same is true for the photos! So remember to smile (and say thank you!).
If you want to have a look through some really great race photographer portfolios, I’d recommend the following:
I currently blog over at From 19st to 10K if you want to stay in touch or read more about my racing/weight watchers journey.
Also, at the moment I am one of the finalists in the Rock ‘n’ Run Idol Contest where one person will be sent to Vegas to take part in the Marathon this coming November. I’d really love if you would take the time to vote for me.
You can do so here: Rock ‘n’ Run Idol Contest
Thanks for your post John. If anyone else like to guest on my blog or would like me to do the same for you, get in touch. As always, feel free to leave a comment and thanks for reading this far.