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Bridge Of Flowers Foot Race! August 15, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Action/Adventure.
Tags: , , , ,

I spent a good deal of last Saturday photographing, or trying  to photograph, the annual Bridge of Flowers 10K Classic, as well as its little brother, the ’round-the-village 3K starter.

I say “trying”  because the results were fairly disastrous from a number of perspectives, which I’ll try to parse as we go.

The first hurdle one encounters in this endeavor is that police and race officials close the village streets before the race starts, so you as an observer/photographer pick your spot, and there you are. No hopping in the chariot and whipping the horses to get ahead of the action, and good luck packing up your kit and running  to get ahead, unless you’re accustomed to changing your clothes in a phone booth…

…So the logical one spot to be at is the Start/Finish line, which are blessedly one and the same. Forget the along-the-course drama and the rural ambiance which inform the character of this race from the participants’ point of view, and settle for the Money Shot at the race’s end. The official race photography outfit apparently deals with this problem by working as a group, with people at all of the important spots.

But as I’m just me, I tried to game the venue, so to speak. I got in early for a photo of the Start line, with a bit of bustle but no massive crowds:

Racers will line up behind the timers and fill the town’s central Steel Bridge, then stream past where I’m standing and loop the village before heading back across the bridge, up over the killer Crittenden Hill and down around a loop of paved an unpaved Buckland roads near our Regional High School, finishing with one more crossing of the Steel Bridge and a dash for the finish.

I got out of “downtown” just before the roads closed and set up at the farthest reaches of the in-town loop, hoping to get some 3K racers, then get out to the countryside for some action.  With any luck I could shoot for a while, then head back into town to get the last finishers bringing it home. As much as the glory goes to the winners, I think the real heart of these events resides in those who work the hardest only to finish last.

I set up on a corner of Maple Street with my 35-16mm tele on a tripod at knee height, all settings on auto, and Gizmo on a monopod, with the expectation that I’d snap away at 400mm as runners crested a nearby hill and get close-ups of folks cutting the corner close to my lower set-up. Gizmo did his job as admirably as a long lens might without a tripod:

…which is to say, I got something which was viewable, albeit not crisp.  I threw away a lot of these, either because they were blurred or because they were boring, usually both.

My knee-high wide-angle tripod set-up was even less productive; the camera’s auto function was stupidly satisfied to focus on the distant background (hey, it can only do what I tell it to do!) and consequently didn’t do the racers justice:

Sorry, folks.  Perhaps next year.

Oh, one more from the 3K, a really crappy photo of a really inspiring effort:

This smiling little girl flew by me on what looked like a “Cheetah” prosthetic. I’m sorry to have neither a decent photo of her nor her name, but uplifted just knowing that she’s out there in my world.  🙂

I packed it in after the bulk of 3K runners had passed and got back to the car, which would have been boxed in if I hadn’t had four wheel drive and a willingness to plow through tall weeds, and reviewed my shots, cursing and scheming for a way to do better at my next set-up.

Gizmo, I deduced, needed a steadier hand, especially as I’d next be shooting at 800mm with my tele-extender, which also meant manually focusing.  Jeee-zhus! What tangled webs we weave! I resolved to shorten my mono-pod and kneel next to my low tripod, bracing against it for more stability.

Hope springs eternal, or so they say.

During the short drive to the high school I decided to switch out my 16-35mm lens for Elliot, my 24mm tilt-shift job.  I figured if I swapped the tilt for swing and preset the manual focus to catch a near and a far object, my task would be reduced to pushing the shutter button at the moment when runners were crossing that plane.

Ah, “The best laid plans…”  😆

I got to my spot well ahead of the runners and had time to get this all set up, with a little bit of wildflowers as a foreground to keep Elliot from getting bored on me and falling asleep at the wheel, then waited.

And waited:

Finally, the pace car:

…and the first runner:

…Frikadu Lemma of Bronx, NY, well ahead of his closest competitors, and looking very much in control. Thinking of the grueling Crittenden Hill he’d just climbed, I was absolutely amazed. He would go on to win in a time of 32:22. Congratulations, Frikadu!

The second and third runners passed, then came the rest in small and large groups, including the first woman, Renee Knapp of Eugene OR, who would later finish third among the women with a time of 39:12, half a minute behind leader Amelia Landberg of Boston:

I didn’t get a shot of Amelia, but Renee here was very focused and running hard, as were all of these front-runners.  Amazing to see, it was.

The groups and singles flowed by, some in pain, some in ecstasy:

That woman in black was the happy hare to a group of glistening greyhounds, perhaps the most Zen-looking bunch to pass. Thanks for the smile, #549 (Francia Wisnewski of Greenfield, I looked her up!)  🙂

Francia was an example of the range of humanity passing my lenses, not all the stereotypical “runner type.” There were Specimens:

You’re welcome.  😉

…there were folks young and lovely:

…old and lovely:

That’s Kathleen Scotti of West Hartford, CT.  You Go, Grrrl!

…There were graceful gazelles who floated lightly over the course:

…and more determined sorts, some of whom pounded the pavement hard enough to leave a mark:

That’s right – cammo, a full rucksack and jump boots. Don’t even think  of saying anything but “Yessir!”

I was surrounded by race workers handing out cups of water, some of which were snatched up by the racers and dumped unceremoniously over their heads, some of which saw an attempt at ingestion:

…not an easy feat at a gallop.

A cheer went up from the cognoscenti around me as they recognized the man coming down the hill, local legend Ray Willis of Charlemont, my home town:

At 83 years young and running through a knee problem, Ray was the “oldest” participant in this year’s event, and proved that chronological age doesn’t necessarily dictate desire.

Q:  How humbled am I???

A:  Quite!!!

…but not as humbled as I was a bit later, when I found my way back into the center of town in time for this heart-swelling moment:

Ray Willis, official time 1:24:17, and still smiling, as was everyone who was there to see it.

And in case you were wondering, Sean Sullivan of Springfield finished his mission as well:

At Ease, Sir.