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Running My First Trail Marathon

When I first started running I never thought I would be doing the things I have done. They were not things thst I wanted to do. Some of the things I’ve done I didn’t even know were things people do when I first started running. Like trail running; that’s a thing? Running a trail marathon; people really do that?

As I began to run more I met more people. I made amazing friends. I learned more about running and the amazing things that runners really do. I learned about what the human body is capable of. More importantly I began to learn whst my body was capable of. I began to push myself farther and farther, literally. First a 5k, then a 10k, then a half marathon, several half marathons. I began to trail run more and more and conqured those same distances on the trails and thn pushed farther to 25k trail runs. Looking for that next challenge. Looking for that next beautiful trail I could experience. Wondering where tht next trail would take me.

Last year I was invited to participate in the event that really set all this in motion. My friend invited me to particiapte in an event with her and a couple other firends. We would run the Sehgahund Trail Marathon relay together. Once again, this was a thing that I didn’t realize even existed at the time. This was sucha fun event for me. It doesn’t get much better than spending time out on the trails with your friends working as a team. I don’t know if my fiend will think if this event with as much appreciation for the path it has sent us down as I do, but for me it was a formative event that has helped lead me to where I am now.

After building up by running loner distances last year culminatiung with a chalenging 25k I returned to the idea of Sehgahunda. We had all begun running more and more trails and I thought what if we all trained together and ran the full solo Sehgahunda Trail Marathon together. I almost couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of my mouth, and I don’t think my friends could either at first. A marathoin was never something I had thougtht about wanting to do. But now that the idea had formed in my head I just couldn’t shake it.

I spent all winter training and continued into spring. As the day of the race approached I began to feel nervous and anxious. I really has no idea what to expect. I just had to hope my training had me prepared for this. My wife was going to be at the race crewing and cheering me on at the aide stations and check points. Even though I really had no idea how this race would go for me I told her that I felt like if everything went well and I felt good I thought I could be done in six hours.

My friends and I spent the week leading up to the race watching the weather forecast for race day. The two conditions we were hoping not to have for the race was for it to not be too hot and for it not to be too wet. If it was wet we knew the trails leading to the aide stations/check points would be muddy disasters. We were fortunate enough to not have heat, which for me is the worst possible condition. However, we had plenty of rain leading up to the race including rain the night before the race and it actively rained during most of the race itself.

The trails that take you to the aide stations/check points lead you out of the woods and generally into open fields. The fields were completely saturated with water. It was a mud-fest. There was standing water in areas. The mud was at least ankle deep on most of these trails. You just slipped and slid all over. You couldn’t get any footing. You couldn’t push off because your feet just slid out behind you. As a mid pack runner another problem is that half of the runners are ahead of you so they have all already trampled through this area and degraded the trail a great deal. The traffic out in front on these trails basically created a narrow steep rut of mud to run through. You couldn’t step off to the side because it was so muddy that you slid back down into the trench. Gravity was doing its job. And it got more complicated. Not only did you have to navigate the water hazards and the deep slippery mud these sections were out and backs with two way traffic going down a path that especially due to the mud was basically single track. Trying to continue to move forward without colliding with your fellow runners was not as easy as it might seem. Combine this challenge with the possibility of passing other runners going the same direction as you and it was even more difficult. It basically became more effective to divert so far off the designated path that you were basically out in a field of knee high grass. But even that wasn’t possible most places.

On the way to most of the aide stations/check points you were going up hill. So, you were working against gravity in ground conditions that made it very to push off or use any power or strength to propel oneself forward as the ground just continued to shift under your foot as you pushed against it. The factors combined to result in a lot of walking up through the mud. On the way down from the aide stations/check points you were presented with a different kind of challenge. The mud was obviously still there but instead of going against gravity you were going with gravity down the hill. And instead of the mud preventing you from pushing off of to propel yourself up, now the mud prevented you from planting your feet to slow yourself down and control your descent. It was like mud skiing except there was much less control of direction and footing than with actual skies on snow. You slid and splattered down the hill at the best speed you could manage without completely losing control and either falling or colliding with a fellow runner. I’ve heard running described as controlled falling and this was as close to that as I have ever felt. The fall was barely under control but felt inevitable. However, I managed not to fall on any of those sections.

I thought that the main trails that ran through the woods would remain mostly firm with only a relatively small degree of mud despite the rain. I even advised my friend against running in her trail shoes with more aggressive tread for better grip in the mud because I thought the main trails would not be so bad as to require it and the side trails up to the aide stations would be so muddy that they wouldn’t make a difference. Luckily she was smart enough to ignore me and follow her own instincts. The main trail was much muddier than I had anticipated. I lost a shoe in a mud hole in less than two miles. I saw all the runners ahead of me running around this muddy spot and I thought it made no sense to take the extra steps to avoid it since we were going to get plenty muddy anyway. I ran right through the middle of the mud I went through it just fine. I didn’t slip at all. Unfortunately though one of my shoes did not follow me through those several steps and remained lodged in the mud. Being early in the race I was still moving along at a decent pace and despite my shoes being tied as tightly as I could get them my foot slipped right out and I took several muddy steps with no shoe on one foot. Then I had to retrace my steps and shimmy my foot back into my shoe.

I love the trails that make up the Sehgahunda course. They are almost entirely single track until the last 4 miles. The trails twist and turn and wind their way through the woods at Letchworth State Park. You get to see and enjoy so much gorgeous woodland scenery. You can see out across the gorge created by the Genesee River at times. You run along sloping ravines as you traverse the forest. You you run down into than back up out of countless gullies created by water runoff over the years. I was actually pleasantly surprised that there wasn’t more water in the gullies considering all the rain we had been having and were currently experiencing during the race.

I didn’t really have a plan for the race other than do whatever it takes to finish. I didn’t have a set plan to try to average a certain pace or anything. I started out the race running whatever pace felt comfortable. I wasn’t running hard but I wasn’t holding back either. I felt really good the whole first half of the race.

The race has a fair amount of elevation gain overall but there aren’t really any particularly steep climbs, which is good for me because I am not good at climbing and it always seems to just suck the life right out of my legs for whatever follows. Despite there being no steep elevation gains there are still some really nice long gradual downhill sections where you can pick up some speed and run faster. I was able to use these features to my advantage throughout the first half of the race.

As I approached the first side station/check point, about 6 miles into the race, I caught up to a couple of my female friends who were also running the full marathon. So I was able to chat with some friends out on the trail for a few minutes. At the aide station/check point I got one of my Calorie Bomb Cookies, that I made from the recipe in the No Meat Athlete Cookbook, out of my pack and ate and drank there. I said hi to my wife who was there to cheer me on and crew for me. Then I was back off on the trail.

After getting back down into the woods I eventually caught up to my two friends who I originally hatched this crazy plan with. We were able to talk for a little while out on the trail. We were all in good spirits. I also took some video of them running which I don’t know if they were aware of at the time. I continued to move along in the trails at a pretty good pace for me. I was just casually running down a relatively nondescript section of trail when I apparently failed to pick my size 14 foot up high enough to clear a root or a rock because I went down. I tripped and went straight down flat on my chest and face. Luckily I was able to brace myself somewhat with my outstretched hands like superman. Fortunately I was not hurt and I popped back up and continued to run. One of my fellow runners asked if I was ok and my response was that “I’m a professional faller at this point. I don’t get hurt.”

The large number of participants from our running club, Southern Tier Running Club, included several teams running the relay. The relay teams from our club included some very fast kids. Kids who are much faster than me on my best day. My friends and I had been talking about how long we thought it would be before I was passed by one of our club’s relay teams. Even with a 30 minute headstart it was only a matter of time before they overtook me. I said I would be happy if I stayed ahead of them for 10 miles. I actually did better than I expected. I didn’t get passed by the first member of one of our relay teams until mile 12. He went flying past me like I was standing still.

As I approached the 3rd aide station/check point at mile 15 I was starting to get tired. The plan here was to take the time to change my socks and reapply anti chaffing ointment to my feet because I have had problems with blisters on my past long runs. First I had to scrape the mud off my shoes just so I could get to my shoe laces. Changing my socks felt so good. It was much more noticeable than I had expected and even though I didn’t change my wet and muddy shoes my feet still felt dry and comfortable. I don’t know if that was a byproduct of wearing Darn Tough brand socks or what, but I was happy for it. The second half of the race was a little drier and less muddy so the change in socks was a good decision even though it took a significant amount of time to do. It also helps to keep your feet dry if you keep your shoes on while running which I managed to do during the second half of the race by keeping my weight more on my toes through the muddier areas. I was able to see my wife again and talk and absorb some of her positive vibes and every as she cheered me on and then I was off from the third stop.

The second half of the race was kind of a blur. The aide stations/check points were closer together and I took advantage of that. But the second half of the race felt like much more of a grind. Just trying to keep movingforward. It also seemed to have more elevation gain or at least more sustained segments of elevation gain requiring more walking. One part I do remember was falling once again on a very nondescript section of trail. Not doing anything that really should have lead to me falling. Just failing to pick up my feet. When I got up I saw another pair of runners standing over me and one said that they had just fallen there too. So it must have been booby trapped. At least I wasn’t the only one it took down.

At some point as the day progressed it began to get warmer and more humid down in the forest and when you emerged at aide stations/check points you could feel the cool breeze out in the open and we bantered with the great volunteers regarding their nice weather. I took some ice and put it under my hat and tucked some into the buff I was wearing around my neck to help me stay cool.

As I traversed the trails over the second half of the race what I knew to be my weakness became increasingly apparent. My hips and core muscle were getting tighter and increasingly sore. All the muscles you use to lift your legs and stabilize yourself in you pelvic girdle were screaming at me. I pushed on through the discomfort. I walked when I needed to on inclines and stretched my muscles as best I could at side stations/check points.

When I began the flatter section that was basically old logging road or gravel road or some combination of the two I knew I was getting closer to the end from the preview run I did here with my friends. Only about four miles to go. It was both a relief and a bit of mental torture. I was relieved to know the end was in sight but felt like how can there still be four miles. And those four miles seemed to drag on forever. But despite that the simple knowledge of how close I was to the end and the relative flatness of this section of the course allowed me to run at a reasonable pace and push myself to sustain it.

When I emerged from the woods onto the park road I was almost done. The finish was literally in sight. Just one more hurdle to get over. That last section of road included a not so small hill and it feels especially daunting after 25 miles. Who does that? Who throws one last hill in within the last quarter mile of a trail marathon? I was determined not to walk up that hill. I don’t know how fast or slow I went up that hill but I maintained some version of running all the way up. I am sure it wasn’t pretty.

As I approached the finish I saw my wife there cheering me on. She has been such a huge support for me during all this insane training. It helped push me across the finish just to see her. It was a great feeling to cross that finish and just stop moving for a minute. It’s a great post race vibe at Sehgahunda. Talking to friends who’ve already finished, waiting to cheer friends on through the finish, and cheering on other runners is a great way to finish off the day. Oh yeah, did I mention there is food and beer.

The other aspect of all this aside from the running for me has been trying to document as much as possible as a photographer. Race day was not a good day for photography so I did not take many still photos with my GoPro, but I did shoot several segments of video, which I honestly haven’t even watched yet to see how they came out. I’m hoping I can compile the footage into something bigger at some point. Race photos didn’t turn out great which is a bummer but I did some creative editing to try to make them look as good as possible and they accompany this post. I hope you enjoyed reading this way too long race report.

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What IS a “good” Race Photo

As runners I we are all excited when we see that a race we are running will have a photographer. It is great to be able to have our photographs taken while we do something we love. We don’t have to try to take selfies for this one. We will have memories created for us of this achievement. It’s a nice feeling.

We wait patiently or perhaps impatiently for the photos to go live. We scroll through the photos looking for images of ourselves. We want to see how we look. We want to see that nice race day photo. And for many of us we don’t see that “good” race photo. We see the photographs of us running the race and for one reason or another it never looks like we imagined it would look or it doesn’t look as nice as we want it to.

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I have complained just like everyone else that I don’t like the way I look in that race photo, or in photos in general. I am pretty sure that I even posted a photo on Instagram that I captioned “This is the one race photo I actually like”, or something to that effect. We look at our photos and we judge and we evaluate. It is just how we are wired. But I would like to take this opportunity to dispell the myth of the “good” race photo.

As both a runner and a photographer I think I might have a different perspective. One that I am trying to embrace more wholeheartedly. I believe it in my mind and soul, but it is harder to apply it to myself as are most things in life.

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As a runner I run because I love it, but I had to learn to love it. It takes effort and practice and time. A race day photo should reflect those things. A race day photo is not a posed glamour shot. It is a photo of us doing that thing we love. That thing that we do that not everyone else can or is willing to do. Running requires commitment, perseverance, and determination and the photographs of us should show those things. It’s not easy and its not going to look easy in the photos. When we look at our photographs and we critique ourselves because we aren’t smiling, or we have this ugly facial expression, or we are in an awkward position, and on and on forever goes the list of reasons to be disappointed in the photos, we are relinquishing the strength that makes us runners. This photograph is you getting up and out there. Doing what others don’t do. Let the photograph stand for what it really is. Let the photograph stand for all the hard work you have put into the race. You ran that race and you put in the work and here is the proof in that photograph.

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Things that are hard, things that are difficult, things that are challenging often don’t look “good” until the finished product is put on display. You will have time to laugh and smile and high five for pictures when you have completed your race. When you are running you are putting in the work. You are taking on the challenge. Wear that grimace with pride at what you are achieving.  You certainly have earned it.

As a photographer photographing a race I have a different perspective on what makes a “good” photograph than others might. When I photograph a race I am not necessarily looking for a posed photo, its not what I am looking for in most of my photography. It’s just not my style photographically. If you see me on the course and you want to wave or pose or anything you want to do I am more than happy to oblige, it is your photograph I am creating and I want you, the runner, to be happy with it. But there is a deeper meaning in the photographs I take.

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I grew up loving sports and that love of sports manifested itself in collecting baseball cards. One aspect I loved in collecting the baseball cards was the photography itself. The ability to capture an athlete performing. I loved the artistry of it. I loved more than just the photos of my favorite players I loved the cool photographs that occur during a sporting event that you will not find anywhere else.  I loved the black and white posed portraits and I loved the mid action shots of the baseball hitting the bat. But if there is one thing you notice when you collect baseball cards and study the photos it is that in the action shots none of those athletes are smiling. The athletes look intense. They are focused. They are locked in. They often have a grimace on their faces.

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Look at a photograph of a pitcher as they are in the middle of throwing a pitch as their arm is coming towards home plate. You can usually see their face. Thy often have some of the most awkward looking expressions on their faces and that is because they are doing what they have worked hard to do and they are not worrying about anything else. It is an expression of pure intensity and effort. As a photographer at a race this is what I am looking to capture.

Don’t get me wrong I am not saying that you have to be a professional level athlete to have this expression or that I am only trying to capture professional level photos. If you are out there and you are competing at any level from race winner to DFL and you are bringing it. If you are putting forth your best effort then you are the athlete I am looking for. You are what makes a good race photo. I want to see the blood, sweat, and tears that make our sport. Those are the things we should be celebrate.

Celebrate the effort. Celebrate the hard work. Celebrate the dedication and commitment. Most importantly celebrate what those things look like when they are photographed and be proud of your race day photograph.

Photography Flow

I have talked in the past about how my photography has a tendency to flow with other passions in my life. There are many things I am passionate about and they have all become part of my photography. However, the subject that becomes most prominent in a given time frame often has to do with what I am experiencing in my life. Nothing ever fall completely out of my photography repertoire but there are definitely times when some things fall to the background and new things arise.

As running has become a more prominent part of my life I find myself photographing more running. I have been trying to find new ways to photograph my adventures in running. As running has become a prominent influence in my photography I want to find more ways to showcase that influence.

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Next year I will be having a gallery exhibit and I think this might be a good time to try to showcase some of my running photography. I have been wanting to create some new work for exhibits and a lot of my new work has focused on running. It makes sense that my next exhibit should also center around this new passion in my life. So, now I am constantly thinking about ideas of how I want to create a gallery show to show of some of the best things I have seen in running.

For me one of the most important things about running are the things you see while running that you may never otherwise see. Running has lead me to go places I wouldn’t have otherwise gone and do things I wouldn’t have otherwise done. I think one of the goals of my 2018 exhibit will be to show off some of these experiences I have had.

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I have really been working hard on incorporating my photography into my running to get the true feeling of what my experiences are like and photograph as much of my journey as possible. I haven’t officially started to review my work to make sure I have enough images that are of high enough quality that I would want to share them in an exhibit yet, but I feel like I do. If I don’t then there is even more incentive to get out there and run and photograph over the next few months.

I look forward to having an opportunity to share my work and my passion with people again in another gallery exhibit and I hope to see you all out there. If you have any ideas on how I could further incorporate my photography into my running experiences I would love to hear it. I would also love to hear any ideas you have about my exhibit. Please comment here or find me on Facebook and Twitter and connect.

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Woof and Wine Fest

For me there is not a whole lot better than an event with dogs. The only thing that can make that better is if it is an environment where I can take photographs of all the dogs. Last year we went to this event for rescue and shelter organizations at a local winery. It is so much fun to see all the shelter/rescue dogs out int he public getting attention.

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The event is not designed for photography so it takes some creativity to capture the nice images that these shelter dogs deserve. Shelter dogs are such amazing animals. They deserve to get the best I can offer them. So I really strive to capture great images of them. It makes me so sad that I didn’t get around to sharing these photos until now.

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I am sure that by now all these fine dogs have found warm loving forever homes. They were all at the event with great organizations that were taking great care of them. Getting to play with dogs and photograph them is pretty much a day in my own personal heaven. The only downside is when you meat adorable friendly dogs but you already have so many dogs at home that you can’t take one of these adorable shelter dogs home with you.

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That is one reason I try to photograph the dogs and share their photographs. I would love to take them all home but we have already done our fair share of rescuing and adopting dogs so there is no room with us despite what our hearts might want. So I need to share their photos and help them find great new homes. This is something I have collaborated in with our local shelter and the more I think about it the more I need to find a way to get back to the shelter and photograph more dogs and share their stories so they can find a way home. If you want to help support me in that mission you can support me on Patreon so that I can spend more time working with the shelter pets. https://www.patreon.com/KRNaturalPhoto

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If you are anything like me just seeing cute and friendly dogs out and about melts your heart and I just love the opportunity to capture nice images of dogs in general. But then there is a chance to help a shelter/rescue dog find a home it might not otherwise find I think my heart grows three sizes like the Grinch and I strive even harder to capture images that really capture the personality of these dogs and presents the best they have to offer so that potential adopters will get the best look at them that they can and maybe be persuaded in part by my photography to look into one of these dogs and maybe go meet them. And sometimes just one meeting with a shelter dogs is all it takes for them to steal your heart. Then off they go to a new home. I love the idea that I could be a part of making that happen in any small way. But it is really about the dedicated staff at the rescues and shelters. They make it happen.

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I really need to focus on this part of my photography more and post photos in a timely manner so that they can have the most impact. If nothing else I hope that my photos help to give shelter/rescue dogs a better reputation. They are too often portrayed as broken scared dogs. Anyone who has been loved by a shelter dog knows that in most cases this is the furthest thing from the truth and if one person sees my photos and decides to check out their local shelter and falls in love with any dog then I have played my small part.

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But also, cute puppies. I mean come on. How do you not love that. Look at that face. That tiny nose and those cute eyes. That is all it takes to get my attention.

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After a long day at an event it is time for a puppy nap.

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Even the older dogs need their beauty sleep. So if you ever hear that there is a rescue event going on nearby do check it out. You might just meet your next best friend.

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Randomly selected photo from Ossian

I’ve been wanting to share more, but I have been so busy trying to get a bunch of different projects done. So, here is one randomly selected photo from the Ossian Mountain Run at Swain Ski Resort. Many more to share in the future.

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Ossian Mountain Run. Swain Ski Resort.

Photographing Mendon Mauler

One of the reasons I love trail running is that it brings me closer to nature. Trail running gives me another reason to get outside and enjoy nature. Even better trail running encourages me to explore areas I might not otherwise visit. Trail running also allows me to cover more ground in a shorter time than I would be able to on a regular hike, so I see more nature on one trip than I would be able to without running.

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As a photographer and a runner my mind is in constant conflict. Run as best you can Vs. Stop and take a photo. I love taking photographs of nature even more than I love running through it. So, I’ve developed a strategy to be able to do both as equally effective as possible. I found the perfect hydration pack that allows me to carry water and fuel as well as my camera and cell phone, the Nathan VaporAir.

You might be thinking how on earth are you fitting a camera in a hydration pack? I am able to do that because I have a Nikon 1 J4 specifically for easy travel. It is about the size of a cell phone but bulkier and fits right in one of the front pouches. So, now on almost every trail run my pack and my camera is along for the ride.

Mendon Mauler was a tough race for me. One of the longest trail races I have run to date. It was also a race that started at 6:30 pm. I don’t usually run in the evening. And the temperature at start time was around 80 degrees. I do not like to run in the heat and usually avoid it at all costs.

The first 4 mile lap felt brutal in the heat. When I got to the end of the first lap I could have decided to stop at 4 miles and boy was that tempting. Being done and getting out of the heat sounded like a very good idea. But I had sign up for the 8 mile run and I was committing to the 8 miles and passed on the opportunity to finish at 4 miles.

Lap 2 felt much better. I was tired and slow but the temperature started to drop as the sun went down. I was actually cold for half of the second 4 mile lap. Then I cam to all the hills and warmed back up. The course was challenging for me. No huge hills but a lot of short steep inclines and declines. They were just burning up my legs.

Near the end of each lap there is a steep incline followed by an even steeper decline covered in slippery rolling rocks that defy description on the decent. It can really only be experienced as you try to maintain your balance on the slippery sliding rocks under your feet.

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I decided that this spot would be the perfect spot to stop and take a break for a minute. Stop. Soak in the nature. Remember why I am out here and remember why I love doing these things that most other people probably think are crazy. I got out my camera and composed a few shots of the incline as a fellow runner ascended. Then a paused again at the top to compos a few shots of the sights from the hi-point before I descended. It was then that I was really happy about my decision to go another 4 miles. Without putting in the extra effort I would not have been able to capture these nice images.

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Then a relatively short time later came the part I was now really looking forward to. The finish line and a chance to rest, re-hydrate, eat food, and reunite with my friends that also ran the race. I was also able to capture some nice photographs of the sun setting on Mendon Ponds Park.

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