Note to readers: This series features the behind the photograph stories of images from the past year. These are not always my best photos but they are photos that have some meaning to me. Of course, sometimes that meaning is simply the photo was one of my best images.
The Jesse Owens Cross Country Classic Invitational at the Oakville Indian Mounds Park is a huge, high school cross country event now in its fourteenth year. Jesse Owens, the noted Olympian, was born in a sharecroppers shack about a mile from where the race happens in the rural Lawrence County community of Oakville. It literally draws thousands of cross country runners from across the south.
Covering cross country can be a tremendous challenge, first because it can be terribly boring from a visual standpoint. There is nothing to break the visual monotony of the running stride. If you don’t happen to know the course you will have no idea where to shoot from to get the best images so you end up hanging around the start or finish lines. The event gets very spread out as the race progresses, especially in a high school event where the disparity between the best runners and the worst ones are measured in minutes, not seconds. Finally, even at a relatively short distance of 5K, the course is spread out over three miles so, even if you want to roam around, there are logistical difficulties.
For the race this year, there were more than logistical difficulties, it was raining, cold and just plain nasty. The parking area turned into a four wheelers paradise but a nightmare for folks in regular automobiles. The course was soaked and it was still raining. Confession time: I kinda like that nasty stuff. Weather is always fascinating to me and combining nasty weather and sports is just plain fun. Well, except for keeping the camera dry, and keeping me dry and staying warm. Maybe I liked that kind of weather better when I was younger. Still, you can make some pictures in bad weather.
I have done the Jesse Owens a few times before but there is always a catch. I never have enough time to hang out and do it justice. This day was no exception. I had about thirty or forty minutes of shooting time. From the times I have been there in the past I knew I could fill my quota by shooting in two spots that are fairly close together. The first turn is a great place to get the pack still bunched up. The last turn is also good giving the runners a 180 degree turn to the finish line. The final turn is where the runners go into their kick to the finish so you can get good stuff there.
This year, with all the rain, there was a huge, huge mud puddle, almost a mud lake, in turn one. I tried shooting from a slightly elevated spot just beyond the first turn where I had success before. It just didn’t look right so on the second race I got on a wide lens and got down near the mud. Much better. As this group of girls ran past I laid down on the shutter while the largest cluster moved past. There were three nice frames with this one being the best. You get mud and water splashing everywhere with girls looking like they would rather tip toe through the muck than run through it. I couldn’t ask for much more than that.
Okay, okay, I confess, I did wish one of them would fall right in front of me. I know, that is just nasty. I don’t want any injuries, just a big, big splash down! Obviously, I didn’t get that or you would be seeing it instead of this frame. Photographers are such nasty dudes and dudettes but you would have been thinking the same thing so put down the rocks.