On a Lakeland Trail

A complete departure from my landscape pursuits this weekend with job in Cartmel photographing the runners at the Lakeland Trails races. The area may be famous for its sticky Toffee Pudding, but amongst trail runners it’s famous for its sticky muddy trails! After several days of heavy rain the course lived up to its reputation with swollen river crossings and thick mud all around the course. As you can see from a selection of my images from the day that didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of those taking part!

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Working under the guidance of experienced Pro James Kirby  my task was to capture at least one action shot of each of the 5k and 10k runners.  We had scouted out a couple of good spots to shoot the runners shortly after the start, and again at a water crossing near the end of the course. For this, my first full on race assignment the weather couldn’t have been more difficult! Overcast and dull from the beginning with a dollop of squalls and drizzle during the event to really pile up the technical woes.

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I was shooting in jpeg format instead of RAW so there was little scope to rescue images in post processing. This made it even more critical that I keep to a consistent exposure at around F5 with a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action. Miserable light was pushing the iso up to 640 and even 800 at times, causing me to worry about noise in levels in the compressed format images. To add to the difficulties my lens needed constant attention to keep it clear of rain spots in the persistent drizzle!

After catching the first two waves of runners near the start, I headed over to my next spot and settled in to catch the fun at the water crossing. Runners had the choice of charging straight through the ford or detouring slightly to a little bridge to the left. I have never seen the waters so high at this spot, and a lot of the runners chose discretion over valour! This made it even trickier to catch consistent images as runners appeared from both left and right, sometimes at the same time!

After half an hour my shoulder and neck were aching from zooming back and forth and changing the crop just to make sure I caught every runner coming through. This was Photography as an endurance sport! Nobody actually managed to fall over here but there a few near misses, lots of squeals and laughs and a few runners taking the opportunity to wash off the mud that clung to them from earlier in the course.

Once the last runner had passed safely through I headed back to the start/finish area for the mass start of the 18k races, some scene setting shots, and a chance for a brew and half an hour rest.

I was a little worried that some of the shots at the water crossing may have been spoiled by the drizzle on my lens and the truly awful light. As a runner in these events myself in the past I know how much people look forward to their souvenir shot, and how disappointing it is when you don’t get one, (or its out of focus, cut off at the knees or half obscured by other runners). Just to be on the safe side I decided to extend the brief given to me by James and set up on the finish straight to try to take as many of the runners at their moment of glory.

This presented its own set of difficulties but was hopefully worth it for those who ended up with a decent finish line shot. My framing wasn’t as consistent as I would have liked and there never seems to be an ideal spot to ensure a good view of every runner. Once I had started, it was pretty much impossible to stop and walk away so I ended up trying to photograph everyone from all 4 events as they came in!

By the end of the day I was as exhausted as I used to be when I actually ran in these races. Mud spattered clothing, soggy kit and aches all over from crouching, bending and jogging about resulted in just over 3,000 images taken! Massive thanks are due to Mr Kirby for his priceless instructions and guidance on a job that is immensely more difficult than it looks.

For many years I took great pleasure in racing these events. I then joined in with various marshalling jobs around the courses and have now added the role of photographer to my resume. Having recently started to learn the guitar, Pete Lashley may have something to worry about if Graham Patten ever decides the events need a barely competent guitarist who cant actually sing…..

All the images from the day taken by either James Kirby or myself are available as free downloads from the Lakeland Trails Facebook page.

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Race Registration and a host of timing chips ready for runners

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