When you’re consumed with a passion for something, be it a person, a place, or a purpose,you’re left with no option but to follow it. It demands everything of you and cares not for reason or rationale. This sort of attitude has landed me at the start line of a good few races I was ill prepared for, but I’ve always figured where’s the fun in doing something of which you’re certain and sure of the outcome?
The reasons we find ourselves stood in nervous expectation at the start line of yet another race are numerous and varied. The journeys, incorporating months of mileage and sacrifice, are as interesting to me as the race itself. Scratch the surface of any grizzled distance runner and you’ll uncover tales to out burn any campfire. It’s a beautiful thing and why I’ve dedicated 15 years of my life to making a living from photography and the outdoors.
Admittedly the term ‘a living’ massively flatters the years spent surviving on a skint Londoner diet of baked beans with pasta, frankfurter noodle stirfries and Fosters, but owing to an irrational conviction that photography was my only option in life, it was a necessary period in my ‘career’ development. My running story bares a similar path of irrational and misunderstood proportions; hard times, good times, a journey of discovery which every runner understands. And so it was that in the Spring of 2010, freshly married, I found myself at a crossroads following a deceased business partnership. I was in dire need of new creative direction and a more fulfilling set of clients. It was at these crossroads that running and photography collided and connected like a drunken dance floor liaison.
I had no idea of the how or the what but I was gripped by the sudden realisation that the two were, somehow, inextricably paired and were to become best buds. Again, making ‘ a living’ from the two for me was surely a consequence rather than a rational decision making factor. Facing up these new beginnings I plunged straight in: a 10km winter Ice Run on a muddy Army base one December led straight to a 16 week training plan for a 100km run from London to Brighton. Surely those 90km in between aren’t important?
Trail running around our new home in leafy Surrey became a release, a recovery, an addiction. When I wasn’t getting lost in muddy woods I was photographing runners, scheming, planning, dreaming of ways to pair two passions that had suddenly gripped and consumed me. One early photographic project saw me drag my wife onto the North Downs one wet and windy Saturday morning to hold a white bedsheet whilst I shot portraits of runners. I was, at this point, in the questioning stage of the affair and sought answers to the perennial question “why do we run”? The portraits, shot within a minute or two of runners crossing the finish line, were full of red faced, panting, sweating people clutching medals and bananas and beaming from ear to ear. I loved that attitude. Here were people who, like me, had decided a lie-in was not what the weekend was created for. I wanted to revel in it, share it with the world online and rave about this amazing thing I’d discovered called running.
Fast forward five years and running and photography have led me around the world on assignments I dreamt I might one day experience, opened doors to advertising campaigns for global clients and put legends such as Mo Farah in front of my camera (his one piece of advice was to keep my cadence up in the latter stages of a race, thanks Mo). I was hired for one big photoshoot primarily because no other photographer had gone to the length of running in the Sahara for the sake of a story. Apparently it demonstrated passion: I cited stupidity foremost but didn’t complain.
I’m frequently roping in running friends, people off Instagram and randoms from local running clubs to take part in sunrise photo shoots in muddy fields and misty hillsides. I’ve let go of the need to shoot purely for money and learned to create for the sake of it whenever schedule allows. The personal project is often the first thing art buyers will look at on creatives portfolios: it’s where you shake off the monkey and let shit hang out and that’s what people buy into. It was a liberating and decision that brought more work in than any other method of marketing I’d tried.
I think when we let go of the goals we regularly set ourselves we become free to enjoy, experience, and thrive. I imagine for hardcore, elite runners that’s a really difficult thing to do when they expect to place, race and win every time they line up against others. In my meagre racing experience I’ve learned I can’t run someone else’s race: I have no idea what’s driving them so give up comparing. Really, the only thing we’re racing is ourselves and, even occasionally, if we put ourselves in a place free from expectation and objectives and open up to the experience we’re rewarded in ways we couldn’t imagine. Because when you’re driven by passion you don’t need a reason or an excuse, there isn’t one.
I still have a head full of dreams, I still haven’t answered the question of why we run and I’m not 100% certain there’s is one. I’m currently thinking of an exhibition based around knackered running shoes and their owners: there’s so much history in each pair of retired inov8’s lying in the hallway that they deserve it.