shooting an ultra marathon

November 03, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Fathom running 50 miles...  Before the November 1st, I thought the longest foot race would be a 26 mile marathon.  I didn’t know for some folks, that would be just the halfway mark (and I learned there are races out there that pass 100 miles).  This past Saturday, I documented a 50 mile ultra-marathon.

It started at 6am at the Two Rivers Park in Nashville, TN.  This was a beautiful park surrounded by a golf course and nearby a river.  It is one of the entrances to Nashville’s extensive greenway program spanning 190 miles of Nashville City - Davidson County.     The Ultra marathon is the child of Dennis Freeman, a native of Nashville and a runner.   I learned that an injury ceased his running activities but became the catalyst for him wanting to set up an ultra-marathon here in Nashville, TN.  He would eventually recover and run again but for a while, this was his effort to keep a foot in the running world.

It was a long day but as I said to the many who complimented me for staying the whole time, “Those runners did all the hard work; mine is easy compared to their accomplishment.”  I'll note that I did go through 3 camera batteries, 12 AA batteries (flash) and filled (2) 16GB SD cards.  At 7:30pm, I got into my car utterly exhausted but completely satisfied; It felt good to be a part of this.   Their joy from their accomplishment was contagious.

At the end of the race, runners traded war stories.  Mile 35-42 had some of the toughest wind.  That last stretch after the pedestrian bridge was brutal.   Someone threw up on mile 32.     Since this is a blog to document my own journey as a photographer, I thought I’d share my side of the story with my observations, thoughts and lessons...

Run with someone  One of the first things I noticed was the brotherhood/sisterhood among the runners.  They ran in groups and at the least - pairs.   I was talking to a certain family member waiting at the finish line.   Her daughter had called during one of the latter miles.  Originally, their daughter's husband would go run the last 6 with her but she was having trouble much earlier... "She was breaking down." The mother said.  The husband without thinking twice, joined his wife runner immediately.  He ended up running 14 miles with her.  He never ran that far before but he was there for her and they finished together.  When they finished, his body looked utterly destroyed but in him I saw the strongest heart and love I’ve ever seen in person. 


I was originally going to be the only one to cover this event but I was so glad when my friend Jason joined me that day.  He was there at 6am and we teamed.  He was shooting with a 50mm which on a crop sensor, works somewhat like a zoom.  He would be able to get some amazing bokeh with it’s extremely short DoF while freezing action with its fast 1.8 aperture.    I shot with a 24-105 and shot mostly wide.  Not only would we be able to different shots, we played off each other and while he was with me, it made for an extremely easy first half of the day.  I missed him in the afternoon when he had to go; that’s when I realized how important it is to always have a shooting buddy. 

People are more important than projects  I’ve been to many events that are photographed and this is just my observation - as photographers, I think we need to make a connection to the people and not just work the event.  This is why I love street photography (not the shooting from a zoom hidden behind a bush type but going up to someone and talking/mingling with them – the photograph is just the fridge benefit of the act of connecting with someone.  I met the most wonderful people for the first and perhaps last time, but it was awesome none the less.   I won’t forget the brother waiting for his sibling to finish.  They came from family who were never athletic but from a dare, this brother ran a 5K and then got hooked (just a year ago).  He's since changed his family structure of getting everyone else to run and be healthy.  The love between those two brothers was genuine and perfect.  It made me love my siblings even more by seeing their example (Jedee, Edree and Jered, if you are reading this – we are going to do a 5K together!)

Check your gear  Shoes (and shorts/shirt) and passion.   That’s all you really need to enjoy running.  Likewise with photography – it’s easy to get caught up in the gear and want to keep upgrading (I feel the same way sometimes).  I brought every one of my lenses in my bag but in the end, I ended up shooting with just my basic and tried/true 24-105mm.   It’s not fast like a 2.8.    It is an L-series lens but there are sharper out there.  This is the lens folks sell off on Craigslist when they buy their packaged camera.  (That’s how I got mine.)   But it’s 90% photographer and 10% equipment.    Master your equipment, and then let your own skill be the indicator of when you need to upgrade, not the latest B&H catalog.

Pace yourself.  It’s not a race.   I heard several runners say that.  I was so excited at the start that I didn’t eat until around 3pm.  I ignored the pizza and snacks that was offered to me earlier that day.  By the time I ate, I was dehydrated with a headache.   Pace yourself and don’t forget to take care of yourself when you’re out there shooting especially a long event like this one.  Next time, I’ll force myself to eat/drink every few hours.    Photography is meant to be enjoyed – don’t let it be 'work'.  Enjoy the scenery. Be in the moment.




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