The wonders of a 72km run

The annual Wadi Bih run is a great gig comprising the perfect balance between sport and entertainment, social runners and competitive athletes. The 72km out and back course is generally run as a relay in mixed teams of five; I say generally as there are always a handful of hardy soloists.

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Starting in the small Omani coastal town of Dibba, the first few kilometers of tarmac are fast replaced with a track leading into the mountains, followed by a dried wadi canyon with a kick ass hill at the end. An exhausted arrival at the top however, signals only one thing … turning round and returning along exactly the same route. The course is awesome with breathtaking views from start to finish.  Combined with a fantastic crowd and it becomes a pretty special event.  Well done to John Young and team for making each year work wonders.

The soloists are true heroes, tackling the entire distance on their own. Darryl set the course record in 2011 with a time of just 6 hours 30 mins.  Jeremy Curran knocked 15 minutes off that this year however, which may induce a return visit from Darryl 2013!

I’ve been in this wadi a fair few times, either camping or climbing. It’s heaven for off road hill training.  Park the car at the base and you’re treated to hours and hours of solitude and fresh mountain air.

But back to my purpose at this event … shooting the run. It was an early start with the soloists setting off at 4.30am. Night shots are always interesting using car lights and flash to create some fill. On the edge of Dibba sits a majestic mosque so I played around there for a while. The backdrop combined with the motion of the runners created a nice feel for speed. I decided against using a tripod; adding more hardware would have only slowed me down. Laying flat on the floor did the trick.

The relay teams started from 6am onwards and this is when shooting became a major task. The mountains, drowning in shade, appeared dull and featureless, until precisely 8.44am when the first patch of sunlight came into view. What that equated to was three lost hours. I then had to play catch-up, chasing over 1,000 runners and 200 SUV’s on a mission to cover the distance at paces they could withhold.

No sooner had I laid out a nice composition with a runner in sight, was another car filling the frame and kicking up swarms of dust as it trailed by. Once or twice was fine, expected even, but one after another after another and it became frustrating. Needless to say, it’s just the nature of the race I know.

I was on a mission to capture the general race ambiance as well as two Nike teams in particular. On the eve of the race, a joint start had been agreed but as race nerves kicked in, eagerness to get going got the better of one of the teams resulting in the two setting off 45 minutes apart.

As you’d expect, rushing between the two teams was a challenge; a rushed job which probably didn’t do justice to either of them. At least, their bright Nike tops meant they stood out in the masses.

Half way up the mountain, I wasn’t feeling happy with my shots. I always keep a rough track in my head of what I’m shooting and how well it’s working … and on this occasion, I knew I hadn’t captured what I had envisaged. As any photographer will tell you, you just want to bank a few killer shots early on in the shoot leaving time to play and push the boundaries thereafter. Since the start, I‘d been up against a lack of decent light, great swarms of dust, a barrage of cars and too much dashing between runners … and it was already gone 9.30am … so I made an executive decision to slow down, focus on the beauty shots. The Nike athletes could wait a while whilst I put my creative energy into shooting this incredible race in such a stunning environment.

Slowing down proved the perfect call as everything suddenly fell into place. Blessed with complete and utter harmony, I shot a variety of great frames showing runners’ sweat and toil, the camaraderie amongst teams and the scenery that lay beyond. Popping on a fisheye at a sharp bend in the road, you can pretty much guarantee a great shot with the right framing and such a distorted lens.

Looking back at the grand total of 4,764 frames, it turned out alright at the end. It’s only when all the pieces of the puzzle come together at the right time that magic happens. In this case, it was a fantastic day out, in the company of great friends and an atmosphere to match.  I gave the shoot a seriously good bash and resulted with a selection of decent images at the end.

I left feeling eager to return for a commercial adventure sports shoot … just a small team, clear skies and lots of energy … perfect. Till soon then I hope.