By Khem Suthiwan
As a four-time IRONMAN finisher, I’ve really enjoyed being on the other side of the proverbial “fence.” Not only does it give you a way to experience the race without all the training, but the change in perspective gives you a true appreciation of all the moving parts that makes race day happen.
Being behind the lens and capturing so many special moments, you realize there are stories with each grimace, smile, sigh, and hug. One by one as they crossed the finish line, I couldn’t help think about how they’ve been through hell and back…and not just on race day. But every day since the submit button on the registration form was pushed. Because of this I feel some level of responsibility in capturing as many moments as I can, and because of this I thought it would be a good idea to put these thoughts to paper (well, the internet in this case) and share with you all some things I’ve learned and experienced as an amateur race photographer. So here are a few considerations, including some that I’ve shared with the athletes I coach, for the next time you race, spectate, or volunteer at an event.
Smile. Especially if a camera is pointed at you. You’ll soon forget about all the pain, even if it’s for a quick moment. Otherwise, you’ll have this not so pleasant look in all your race photos and someone will probably hijack it and incorporate it in a meme, or ship you some Metamucil for Christmas. You don’t want that, do you?
Finish Line Catchers. If you’re waiting for your person at the finish line, give them a few moments alone in the spotlight to celebrate their accomplishment before rushing in to hug them. They’ve earned it. Plus, your backside will be forever etched in your friend’s finish line photo, ruining a perfect moment they spent the last 6-8 months training for. Don’t be a dream killer. There were a few times I just gave up and couldn’t take any photos because there were so many people congregating with an athlete. More is not always better in this situation. A volunteer actually heard an athlete tell their friend who was hugging her while jumping up and down, “I’m going to throw up on you if you don’t get off me.” So there’s that potential biological hazard to worry about too.
Sprinting to the Finish Line. Athletes, before you get to the finish line, look in front and behind you. Allow the person in front to have their 5 seconds of fame. Don’t go sprinting to the finish (which means you had way too much gas left in the tank, but that’s a different discussion). You’ll end up ruining finish line photos of two people. Your fellow athlete and YOURS! In this case, photo-bombing is not cool, so don’t do it. Unless you’re okay with being THAT guy…or in my case, that girl from Japan who sprinted past me in the finish line chute in Kona only to hear Mike Reilly call my name first, and then hers as an afterthought because she couldn’t wait. She will be forever known as THAT girl. Choose wisely folks.
Celebrate and Get Out of the Way! If there’s another athlete finishing behind you, be courteous and do your end-zone touchdown dance and clear out. The person behind you should also have the opportunity to celebrate their finish…WITHOUT you in their picture. A set of triplets crossed the finish line at IRONMAN Boulder and spent what seemed like an eternity dancing around the finish line arch. A friend of mine along with several other athletes, were completely robbed of their finish line moment because of these three guys. She was only planning on racing one IRONMAN, so there’s no redo. Thanks guys, thanks a lot.
Distractions. There is nothing more fun at a race than seeing so many friends out racing and spectating. However, there is a time and place for catching up. Working media at a race is an entirely different beast. Not only are we tracking our own friends, but we are also keeping tabs on professional and notable athletes. Time is of essence and we are constantly looking at our watches and athlete trackers. Figuring out where to be and what part of the course. Sometimes we have a short window to use the restroom or grab a quick bite. If we seem distracted and not paying attention to you, it’s not because we don’t care. We have a job to do and don’t want to miss out on capturing special race moments. At IRONMAN Boulder, each Colorado-based athlete had a 303 sticker on their race bib (we hope to continue this tradition). Our mission was to take as many photos of these athletes along with many others. Being ready to point and shoot while two people are chattering in each ear takes sensory overload to a different level.
Look Up and Leave the Garmin ALONE! No one on Strava is going to care that your Garmin went over by 20 seconds. Your official finish time will be based on your timing chip, not your GPS tracking device. And if you are wearing a cap or visor, look up. We can’t see your pretty/handsome face if you are looking down at the ground. There’s nothing there but red carpet, concrete, and puddles of puke from the last person whose friend wouldn’t stop jumping up and down and hugging him. Eyes up folks!
Even with all these tips, sometimes the best photos are those capturing the human spirit. You might think you look awful, but someone else might be inspired by that image. Try to look beyond the ratty hair, salt stained clothing, and sunburnt limbs. Because behind that crusty and rough exterior is an awesome story of how that person woke up one day and decided they were going to be an IRONMAN.
Khem Suthiwan is a 4-time IRONMAN finisher (Canada, Lake Tahoe, Arizona, and Kona), triathlon coach with Mile High Multisport, IRONMAN Foundation Ambassador Athlete, and staff content editor/media correspondent with 303 Endurance Network. In addition to triathlon, she also races for the Palmares Racing cycling team in road and cyclocross. She’s an avid skier, SCUBA dives, and as a Colorado resident since January 2001 – enjoys all things Colorado. On December 31, 2017, she reached Everest Base Camp (elev. 17,600′, 5,380m) after trekking for 8 days in Nepal. If she’s not racing, you can find her out on the course supporting her friends.