Winners stand alone. Always alone. At every event I photograph I notice that the one who wins is a solitary figure, a figure who rarely betrays any emotion or expression other than pure focus. It is almost as if a smile, a wink, a wave or any slight distraction would be a waste of precious energy; it is as if the economy of their body’s energy has been carefully rationed to such a degree that even a wave could cost them victory. John Meade, the first man to enter my camera’s frame in Dingle is no exception; nor indeed are those in hot pursuit of this man, this inexorable running machine, this man in pursuit of victory and all the glory it affords.
I arrive in Dingle completely exhausted. I never sleep the night before photographing an event as I’m full of excitement and apprehension. What if it rains and I can’t get any good shots? What if my overly abused camera explodes?
Rain batters my car for half the morning and it appears the forecast of ghastly weather was correct.
I decide to move further up the course to maybe find a sheltered spot but the rain lashes down relentlessly and I’m convinced I will not get one worthwhile shot today. Part of me considers going straight back to Galway when, just about half an hour before the race starts, the clouds disperse and I’m captivated by stunning scenery.
A huge impulse in me wants to forget about the race and just spend the day snapping the landscape, and I just about manage to resist.
I said the winner stands alone at the start of this piece, but so does everyone else in a marathon. Runners are like lone wolves; panting, running, moving forward and nothing else can get them to the finish but their own two legs.
Native American Geronimo famously said, “I trust nothing but my own two legs” and the reality is the same with all runners. For this reason, I always try and capture every single runner’s unique struggle by holding my camera so as to get a portrait shot. However, the sheer numbers of people in this race, many coming at me in packs, make me realise that this, on this occasion, is actually impossible.
I love the realities of pushing one’s body to the limits of its physical capabilities, the pure focus on the faces of the winners, the smiles of others, and the emotion in general. I feel some strange obligation to capture every single competitor at such events and often crack off 5-6 shots to make sure I get a decent one. I want to capture their essence, power, determination, and struggle. I want to make them look dominant and am continually striving to improve my technique.
Kneeling, sitting, standing, running, changing position, turning my camera sideways, zooming in and out, rapidly locking my focus points and cheering on contestants are all facets of my efforts and every race I photograph goes by in a blur of ecstatic elation and euphoria with the movement and energy filling me with a sense of oneness with all the positive aspects of human nature and of the universe.
By the time the Dingle marathon ends my arms and hands feel like lead and looking around at reality again is a little weird. For several days afterwards I look at everything like it is a photo I want to frame in my viewfinder.
I speak to some contestants after the race and they are an embodiment of pure happiness.
Leaving Dingle, to return to Galway, my body shuts down and I have to pull in to the side of the road to sleep. To sleep perchance to dream as Shakespeare wrote.
Beautifully exhausted but wonderfully content, I glance at my camera as my consciouness fades. I can’t wait to view the results of my day of smile catching.
Today was worth going the extra miles.