Tarmac Meditations #113: Why I Shoot Ultras – Part 1


rollin' on ...

I pitched an idea to both Marathon and Beyond and iRunFar about following several runners as they ran four one hundred mile races over the period of sixteen weeks. When I am not writing Tarmac Meditations for Life as a Human I am a race photographer who loves to shoot ultras and a writer who likes to write about shooting images, photography and running; that is when I am not wandering around in a dream state about the Great American Novel. To my delight both entities thought I had a good idea-following these two non elite, middle of pack folks and telling their story.

So there it was. Commissioned article and photo stories and the year wasn’t two weeks old. That was too easy, way too easy. Ask any freelancer and they will agree. The catch? No travel expenses, no sponsorships for the pieces, nothing that might compromise the journalistic integrity of the work. Oh my. Sad face. But wait!

Kickstarter, the Internet crowd funding entity was a place to go with projects like this. Happy face. But no! You can’t really use articles and photographs for legitimate magazines as sales pieces, reward in Kickstarter lingo, without compromising the whole thing. For every one involved.

It didn’t take but a minute to realize that the stories for the magazines were the necessary motivation to look at the bigger picture. Just as many books are generated from magazine articles as way of expanding the scope of the story, a book could be built on the story of these several strangers attempting the 2013 Ultra Grand Slam an event begun in 1986 to encompass ALL of the one hundred miles races in existence at the time: Western States, The Vermont 100, The Leadville Trail 100 and The Wasatch Front 100. Without knowing each other they were already becoming a band of brothers/sisters in pursuit of something magical. A Facebook page emerged and the participants showed up one by one.

My little idea had suddenly become big enough to encompass writing a book. Back to Kickstarter. Photographs and books are great rewards for people who support the efforts of writers and photographers. It all made sense now. Raise the money to travel, research, photograph and produce a coffee table book and Bob’s your uncle. I don’t know who Bob is by the way but I take it to mean that all the pieces were in place.

Remember the image at the head of this piece? These are runners in the Javelina Jundred 2012. I caught them in the very early morning. A line of individuals, not talking to one another for the most part, concentrated fully on the task at hand. The back lighting darkens their faces and in so doing raises them above their individual personalities, creating archetypes, meta runners, representations of everyone who ever laced up and set out for something “over yonder”, someplace down the road, one peak too far. I kept looking at this image and recognized that it is a journey for the runners captured in the lens, and equally for the photographer behind the lens. Our lives have brought us to here and where we go from here will be, in part, the result of what happens this day and night.

My job is to bear witness, to tell the story, to paint their images on the walls of metaphorical caves(this generation’s social media)in much the same way as the cave painters of early humanity told the stories of the hunt and their glorious adventures scratched on the walls of real caves.

Come have a look at the Kickstarter proposal. There is an ad in the right hand column of this magazine. Check it out. Let your own dream factories go to work. Keep your eye the Grand Slam this year. There are some wonderful stories out there just waiting for the 24 runners and for me. I can’t wait. It’s gonna be a time for all of us to celebrate the most precious gift we have been given, our lives in this particular time. Let’s go get it.


Photo Credit

Photo is © Michael Lebowitz – All Rights Reserved


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  1. avatarMartha Sherwood says

    Impressive photo. I’m making a point of leaving at least one comment a week on somebody’s article, by way of encouraging writing. I wish other authors would do the same.

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