A Running Photographer’s Perspective of the Tarawera Ultra Marathon

Many that raced the Tarawera Ultra in March this year would have noticed photographer Mead Norton during the out and back course,  trucking along, camera in hand- here is the story behind the amazing images Mead captured during his race-

I have always loved shooting big events and I have covered quite in my career as a photographer and when an event comes around- particularly an event that weekend warriors, like myself, can enter, I am always torn between shooting the event and photographing it.

That was the dilemma I was facing with the Tarawera Ultra this year. I had decided to take on running an ultra in honour of my younger brother who had a serious spinal injury while playing Rugby in the States and was originally planning on running in the first ever Hilary Trail Ultra until it was cancelled and so I entered the Tarawera Ultra instead.

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have the best lead up to the race since my training was severely limited between shifting down to Rotorua in January and loosing a lot trail time to house hunting. Then a few weeks out from the race, I crashed on my mountain bike (was scouting for a photo shoot) and spraining my shoulder. I was not even sure if I was going to be able to run in the race based on my physio’s reaction to my question about being able to run a 100km in four weeks. So, I started to think about pulling the pin on the race and focusing on shooting it.  But I had made a promise to myself that I would run the race for my brother who was having to relearn how to walk and I didn’t want to break that promise.

Then came the announcement that the course would be changed due to the fire risk. I am sure that I was one of the few people who were actually pretty happy about this announcement, because I had decided to compromise between racing the ultra and documenting it. I was going to do both… and with the change in the course meant that I would be able to get shots of the front runners as they doubled back to the finish instead of getting a few shots of them before the start and watching them disappear into the distance. Plus I had done a few training runs along that section of trail and knew that it was probably the most picturesque section of the course- With the river right next to the trail and the falls, though it was also the most technical as well.

My plan for the race was to start off with a point and shoot camera in the front of my Ultra Aspire pack that I would use to shoot most of the race with and then when I got to the Tarawera Outlet Aid station, I would pick up my DSLR camera and run with that to the Falls and back to the Outlet. Though the camera was much heavier than a point and shoot, this section of the course was the most scenic and as long as I was within 4 hours of the elite runners, I would have my “Pro” camera with me to get shots of them as they ran toward me.

A few things that happened during the race:

  • I underestimated how much condensation would build up on my point and shoot camera so a lot of the shots I got early in the day ended up being a bit foggy, fortunately it was waterproof camera
  • It was actually quite a bit more work having to think about composing images while trying to run and waiting for people to run into the frame and then running past them
  • I got quite a few funny looks from the volunteers at the aid stations when I would jump behind the tables to get shots of people grabbing treats and sculling cups of coke instead of fueling up myself.
  • Running with an extra 1+ kg in your hand leads to quite a bit of fatigue (though I did try to build up extra strength by going for a few training runs with either the camera in my hand or using a handheld water bottle)

It was the running with the extra weight combined with my lack of training leading up to the race that ended up forcing me to pull out at the 85km mark. Though I did miss both Sage Caniday and Tim Olsen with my DSLR, I was not far from my mark and did manage to get them both with my point and shoot camera.

Would I try to shoot an ultra again while running it? Probably not, though it was kind of fun and interesting, I would rather either just focus on doing one or the other and since I did not finish the 100km course this year, next year I will be focusing on running it and finishing the 100km race.

Mead Norton Photography, Twitter: Meadphoto, Facebook: Mead Norton Photography

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