Photographing an adventure race

30 April 2014

As far as one day adventure races go, the Artemis Great Kindrochit Quadrathlon is epic in more ways than one.

Needless to say it makes for quite a spectacle to photograph, but it isn't a walk in the park. This gives a little insight to a commission I was given to photograph Team Hope & Glory, consisting of Allan Dickson and Mark Taylor, who were aiming to finish the race in under 12 hours.                                                               Ultimately, I'm as a guilty as any of the entrants for being addicted to physically pushing myself via exercise, so I always like to photograph from within the team or adventure that I'm documenting, in my eyes it always makes sense to be as much a part of it as you can. This means preparation, firstly training to be fit and experienced enough to gain access to locations in good time, keep pace with subjects, and sprint ahead for shots you can see coming, but bear in mind whilst training that on top of mandatory gear, you'll probably have around 10-15kg's extra on your back in professional camera kit, which to some extent will always have a limiting effect on your top speed and some access (ie. doing the swim isn't an option).                                                                                   The weekend prior to the Kindrochit Quad I went on a recce of two Munros included in the running/walking stage of the event, where I'd been informed there was potential for great shots. This was particularly important for me, as my plan was to be at the top of the highest Munro on Allan and Mark's arrival and do the following three hills alongside them, sometimes waiting back or sprinting ahead to get shots. This period would be the most physical in my day, so having an idea of timing and potential images here was important, as on race day I'd be exerting myself at this point, and it's very easy for exertion to become exhaustion, at which point the last thing your brain wants to do is think creatively! _DSC4312       Having chatted with Allan via email and over the phone, I finally met he and Mark the evening before the event, but following introductions and a brief chat, I had to go address an over sight I'd made. I'd not anticipated the swell in traffic or seen how much narrower the south side road was compared to the north side of the loch. I needed to photograph the start and the finish of the swim, but driving around either end of the loch after photographing the start would see me arriving about half an hour after the entrants had been through the transition, and commenced their run up into the hills. I'm an experienced kayaker and the solution presented itself in the form of an old plastic kayak that was upside down, as if laid in semi retirement, in the long grass over looking the starting beach. Through the organising team I acquired a buoyancy aid, paddle and spray skirt, and had a brief float to check that the boat stayed on the surface. Allan and Mark helped me with a shuttle to drop off my car on the other side of the loch, problem solved. All that was left was to put up my tent and set my alarm for 04:30, so I'd be fed and watered before the race start at 06:00, it was going to be a great day in the office. _DSC4385             It's a mass start open water swim, so needless to say I'm up to my thighs in the loch with a camera around my neck, I can't help but think someone is watching me waiting for the £250 You've Been Framed moment. Swimmers are all around me and I love the energising atmosphere, even if my legs are a little chilly, but it's going to be a beautiful mid summer day and I'll be begging to dip myself in cold water latter on! Allan and Mark are soon lost into a shoal of yellow caps, which is the signal for me to wriggle into my acquired kayaking items and set off with my camera bag between my legs and the spray skirt covering a third of it as a token gesture to keep some water off.                               _DSC4446             Spotting two specific characters in a mass of people all wearing wetsuits and swim hats is a challenge, it turns out that my time searching through Where's Wally books as a kid pays off, Mark comes in a few minutes ahead of Allan but has some ankle strapping to tend to before the run, which balances the transition. I spend my time trying to capture a transition shot of the pair without any semi naked competitors in the background. This is where we go our separate ways, while Allan and Mark go straight up the hill, I drive along a few miles before going up to meet them at the highest peak in their run, of Ben Lawers. It's tempting to rush the ascent, thinking that they must be getting close to the peak from the other side of the range, but this is where the recce and the timing comes in, I pace myself, cautious not to be burning energy prematurely. I take a mental note that wet feet and fast hiking don't mix… take some tape for the blisters. I arrive at the top of the hills with 20mins to spare before the first competitors come through, I also realise I underestimated team Hope & Glory who are not far behind the front runners. _DSC4617       Pacing alongside Allan and Mark definitely ups the tempo as I try to capture the shot I'm after - the two of them with heads up, ahead of other competitors with both the trail they've come along and the loch they swam across in the background. It's a lot of ingredients, but the moment comes below the clouds. Jogging between taking shots I avoid thinking about a potential slip and crashing a camera into the ground. Sprinting ahead on one occasion I hear Mark make an observation that I'm going into the next level of exertion, I'm sweating a lot, so I check myself, and when one competitor wants to loose some weight from his pack and offers around spare juice, I gladly take a sip.             _DSC5034             After a descent to visit the check point/water and snack station, I photograph Allan and Mark heading towards the final two Munros before jogging a quick road mile back to my car. From here I head back to the loch, to the start of the kayak leg. I take in plenty of food and water at this point to help keep the creative thought process going… apart from getting around to the kayak-bike transition at the other side of the loch in time, the kayaking section is no drama to photograph, it's just a case of a refreshing wade into the water again. My mind is in decision making mode about how to approach images for the bike section. With 54 kilometres to choose from it's a photographers dream in one respect, but on a very narrow and slow road, it's easy to bite off more than you can chew. I come to the conclusion that driving, or trying to take a bike, over complicates matters and will risk missing the shot, and no matter what mode of transport I use, the most I'm going to get is a couple of chances to photograph Allan and Mark passing me. Keeping it simple, after Hope & Glory dock their boat for the transition, I set off on foot.                         _DSC5095             It's a longer transition, which gives me a solid head start to sprint a mile or so up the road, to a point I'd noticed on the drive in, with the line of the trees converging to make a natural arch. Also - coming back to planning - I knew I wanted to photograph the cycle on the south side of the loch, as due to the time of day and the clockwise cycle route, the sun would be behind them on the north side road. It made sense to stay close to the start/finish line, at the event base, during this section for numerous reasons; a vantage point just up the road meant more chance of competitors being grouped together for a great shot, I could photograph them near both the start and the end of the cycle with a visibly different expression coming through and a key point being that I wouldn't risk missing Allan & Mark as they crossed the finish line (hopefully in just under 12 hours). _DSC5269       Photographing the guys coming into the last few hundred metres of the cycle, my last bit of exercise for the day was sprinting through a short-cut to the finish line as bikes were discarded, and Allan and Mark put a last blast through tired legs to cross the line in 11hrs 56mins. Whilst physically knackered, they're positively buzzing from a battle they had (and won) with another team on the bikes, which Mark suggests might just have been the push that got them across the finish line before the 12 hour target time. It doesn't get much better than photographing this kind of uplifting elation, and although I only covered a fraction of the distance, I definitely feel a sense of pride from being a small part of the team.                     After packing up my tent and paddling across the loch to recover my borrowed kayak and gear, I'm gutted I can't stay for the evening festivities. But the guys buy me a coffee for the road and I crank up some ACDC tunes on the sunny drive home.

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