Last-minute Grand Race and Photos

After the Chuckanut 30K, I was cutting back on my mileage a bit before cranking it back up in preparation for the Portland Marathon.  Cutting back meant two days of strength training with some short runs and then two 30-min runs on Friday and Saturday.  Unfortunately life got in the way and Friday night came without my run.  No biggie…  Finding an hour on Saturday was easy.

Late Friday night, my ultra-buddy Robert Lopez decided to join in the Evergreen Trails Grand Ridge Trail Run 50K.  They also had Marathon and Half as well as a 5-mile option which gave me the perfect 1-hour run.

I also wanted to try my hand at race photography.  While we certainly appreciate the awesome photographers we have in the area, it’s not until you don’t have them that you really appreciate them.  I missed them when I ran the Dirty German Endurance Fest in Philadelphia and most recently at the Chuckanut 30K.  I’m not saying every race needs a photographer, but I know I really appreciate it when one is hired or volunteers to help out.

When my kids were young, I bought a nice DSLR camera (Canon 20D) and nicer lens (Canon 70-200 IS 2.8L) in order to capture their every moment.  I got many great shots and loved taking pictures, but eventually I found myself relying on my compact cameras more and more which have gotten much better over the years.  The best camera is the one you have with you and my current Panasonic DMW-ZS3 does a “good enough” job with images as well as HD video, replacing not just my heavy camera but my camcorder as well.  As good as the bigger equipment?  No way.  Good enough?  It has been.  But now I had an excuse to bring out the “good” equipment and give it a try.

Race Day

I was up early the next morning so I could find out who the official photographer was and see if he/she would mind if I took a few shots.  I also wanted to be there early enough to catch the start of the 50K which my friends were running.  There is usually one of the professional photographers present for the Evergreen Trail Runs, either Glenn Tachiyama or Steve Sanders.  Frequently an ex-MSFT coworker Tim Harris covers the races.  Today however it was Takao Suzuki who has been kind enough to discuss photography once or twice in the past.  Takao was kind enough to allow me to join in the shooting for the day.

As the Marathon/50K lined up, I hung out by the start line grabbing a few shots of the crowd and start while Takao staked out a place 3 miles up the course (but likely took a 2M short cut).  Once the pack had passed, I headed off after them w/camera bag in tow also taking the short-cut hoping to cut them off.

This was my first intro to Grand Ridge.  The course (mapymyrun) starts with 3/4 of a mile fairly flat and then quickly does a grueling uphill gaining 460′ in 3/4 of a mile.  Fortunately the short-cut is relatively flat while the main course drops back down and then goes up again slowing down the runners and giving me time to get ahead of them.  Takao had gone further along the course so I headed the other direction so the runners would hit me first.  I wish I had been further away from Takao but this was as far as I could go given the time constraints.

It was only now that I realized how challenging trail photography can be.  I found a location with as much light as possible and I was still getting 1/30 – 1/60 shutter speeds @ 2.8, which can get a shot of still or slow objects but struggles with movement such as runners.  There are many things I learned from this that I will cover below.  I was especially bummed when people did cool things such as throwing their arms up or doing jumps and, while I took the picture, I knew it would never be more than a blur.  Unfortunately this was sometimes the only shot I got of a runner, which leads to the great lesson that if you are signed up as the photographer you better know what you are doing so you don’t miss anyone, or at least as few as possible.GrandRidgeCameraRun

After what I thought was the last runner came by and my time was getting short, I headed back up the hill to the short-cut.  For the fun of it, I kept running with camera in hand up to where Takao was shooting.  I’m not sure he recognized me before shooting but he took some fun shots of me running up with my camera in hand.

I then grabbed my bag and dashed back down to the Start Line with 35 minutes to spare, plenty of time for 2 downhill miles.  One thing I hadn’t counted on, however, was that the Half Marathon started 30 minutes before the 5 mile and therefore the runners were coming up the hill as I was going down.  This is where I tell a story that reminds me of the old Bricklayer joke.

Rather than continuing down as quickly as I could, I temporarily lost my mind and decided to stop and take pictures along the way.  Of course I wasn’t set up and was now deep under tree cover.  I did my best but of the 50-75 pictures I took on my way down, absolutely none came out well enough to share.  Worse, I was now pushing how much time I had to get to the start.  Alley Kloba recognized me from the Chuckanut 30K and was kind enough to say “hi”; we had run a few miles together at Chuckanut exchanging upcoming race plans but I had forgotten she was running Grand Ridge.

Looking at my watch, I now had 10 minutes and about a mile to go when the last of the Half-ers passed me.  Absolutely doable but with a heavy pack on it was going to be annoying.  I hoofed it back to the start, only to get about 1/10th of a mile away before I saw a mass of runners surge past the start line right towards me.  Resigned to my fate, I once again without thinking dropped everything and prepared to take pictures.  This time, however, we were out in the open and I was actually able to get some decent shots.

My 5-mile Run

Once the pack passed, I ran back to the start, dropped my camera bag, grabbed my water, took advantage of the aid station having already put in 4-5 hard miles, and at exactly 5 minutes after the start I headed off.  The aid station worker was nice enough to offer to talk to the officials to see if I could have the time taken off but I explained I was just out for my weekend run and didn’t care about my time which turned out to be a foolish answer.

GrandRidge5MileRunI headed out at a good 8mm pace until hitting the hills when I slowed to something closer to 15mm.  However, I passed several walkers before the hills and once I was on the hills started passing some slower joggers.  I was able to keep the pace up pretty well, especially for the downhills where I take advantage of gravity more than the smaller, lighter runners.

I crossed the finish at 1:08:15 which put me at 59th out of 110 (5-mile results).  However, if you take out the 5 minutes I was late at the start for a 1:03:15, I would have come in 45th for my first finish in the top 50% (Top 41% to be exact).  I was 10th out of 13 in the M40-49 division, so not so hot there.  When did these old guys get so fast?  Must be all of the just-turned-40 runners.  I am incredibly happy with the results given that I’d already put in 4 miles carrying a heavy pack and I went in not planning to push too hard.

Here’s the race profile from my Garmin:

GrandRidge5-mile

More Photos

I hung around the finish line capturing the remaining 5-mile finishers and then the other Half, Marathon, and 50K runners.  Again, open area so now shooting at 1/200+ at 2.8 and 400 ISO.  Much better shots than anywhere else.

Once my friends Robert Lopez and Kristin Parker (and her sister Kandace) had passed I got in the car and drove up to the Aid Station.  Unfortunately the neighborhood is newer than my car’s GPS and the Issaquah Highlands is a mess of curvy roads so it took me a bit longer than expected (20 minutes).  Takao had been there earlier but had left to head off for some family commitments (I’m amazed at how much he gets done given how many things he does with his family as well as the time he devotes to race photography).  I found a nice corner where I could catch runners heading deeper into the course as well as those heading back to the finish.   I was once again in the 1/100th range which, while better than before, was still not great.  My exposure was also off with the runners all being too dark.  Once most of the runners seemed to go by as well as my friends, it was back to the finish line for some final photos.

When I got home, I spent a bunch of time reviewing the photos.  Sure enough they weren’t nearly as crisp as I would have liked and there were many great shots that just failed because I didn’t have the shutter fast enough.  This was especially true for runners who did cool moves like throwing their arms up, doing leaps, or just screaming around a corner too fast.  It was heartbreaking culling out photos that I knew were the only ones I had of a particular runner but were just too crappy to keep.  I got some advice from Takao and once he posted his I posted mine.

Takao’s awesome photos are at http://www.runnersphotos.com/Running/Grand-Ridge-Trail-Run-Aug-2013.  My not-as-awesome ones are at http://comer.smugmug.com/Running/2013-August-Evergreen-Trail.  Someday I’ll have a cool URL.  Maybe.

Learnings for next time

In looking back at my picture-taking experience, I have a lot to learn (and re-learn).  It’s been far too long since I used the Canon and I need to review the features in detail and get off the automatic modes.  In reviewing his photos and watching how he shot, I learn from Takao that I need to push up my ISO, think about my exposure, play with the focus points to make sure the runner is in focus while still framing the picture the way I want, show feet, and take burst shots to get that perfect floating-feet picture that everyone loves.  I had some nice close-ups and they are worth getting but I think secondary.  I also posted far too many photos on FB but it’s fun to see people tag themselves so I’m torn on that.  Takao’s latest blog post contains some of the information he used in making his Grand Ridge photos great.

If I continue, I’ll need to think about equipment.  My Canon 20D is now over 8 years old and while it takes great pictures, it’s now on the lower end at 8MP with an older, less-sensitive sensor and can’t push the ISOs nearly as much as newer cameras.  And of course there are lots of other bells-n-whistles in the newer stuff such as built-in wifi, 3″ swivel screens, etc.  Also the only lens I have right now is my 70-200; my Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 is busted and I need to think about fixing or replacing.  I love, love, love my f2.8 long lens but the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II is way out of my price range at $2300.  Ugh.

I also need to decide if I’m running or taking pictures.  If I try to both, I need to recognize I’m going to miss lots of important stuff and not get bummed about it.  It was awesome knowing Takao was there getting great shots of each and every runner.

If you got this far, you are either a Rockstar or are nuts.  I really just write these for my own notes but know that I do appreciate your interest.

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