It all starts innocently enough with a question; “can we even do that?”
The correct answer to that question is always yes. Well, perhaps only when the people asking are amazing. In the case of my running origin story, the answer is an enthusiastic “fuck yes!”
This is a story about the power of community.
I’ve been arms length from running for quite some time. I’m married to an amazing woman who is a lifetime endurance athlete and marathoner. I’ve taken her photo at races since 2010. I’m a retired sports photographer, so it only makes sense that the camera’s come out at races, but running hadn’t become a “deep dive” subject for my curiosity.
I skim the surface some more in 2012 briefly running 23 times by myself when we first move to Edmonton. A friend donates me a Nike running watch, and I am curious about the data and technology more than anything. I use it as an excuse to try running for myself, and to explore the Edmonton river valley. My 23rd run is a 10km double loop around Victoria Park and along River Valley Rd. A sub-fifty minute 10K is the goal on this morning, I achieve it, dust my hands off, and walk away from running. Nothing drew me in. The data isn’t enough on it’s own to keep the fire going.
Fast forward four years when that opening question is posed to me by Andrea Rice and Sophia Gusous for a Lululemon project. It comes after I photograph the River City Runners (RCR) 24 Hour Treadmill Challenge in 2016. I think I am just donating my camera skills to raise money to buy kids sneakers that otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
I underestimate greatly.
Little do I know that I am walking into 24 hours of inspiration. 24 hours of support. 24 hours of the most amazing community of people I have ever experienced. 24 hours locked in Lululemon on Whyte Ave with this community changes me in ways I am still unpacking two years later as we prepare for the fourth 24 Hour Treadmill Challenge.
During that 24 hours I make a personal connection with Andrea. “Can we even do that?” leads to something so much more — my deep dive into running. It starts with chasing RCR & Run Collective around Edmonton for over 700KM’s in four months, and continues with me typing this out on a plane headed to NYC so I can chase some fasty-fasts around the greatest city on earth before documenting their journey at the end of March in The Speed Project — a team relay race from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.
I am now a runner. A run photographer. A run story teller. A run ethnographer. Running is my whole world, and I feel like I am finally lapping the track I’ve been looking for. Two thousand kilometers and counting laid down on tracks and pavement from Toronto to Vancouver, literally running through traffic in the streets of Manhattant he only way New Yorkers know how, with plenty of rural route gravel roads and mountain trails in-between.
Sure, I put in a lot of miles on my own. I’m still as much an introvert as the 14 year old computer geek hammering away at a keyboard in a Saskatoon basement learning how to build the internet. I might be more of an introvert now than ever, but what has made me a runner is the community.
The Edmonton running community primed my curiosity.
New York run culture blows my mind.
Vancouver runners continue to drive me.
Every single person putting one foot in front of the other on the regular ignites me.
Running is so much more than just data for me now. I’ve interviewed runners that turned their lives around through the power of the process that running demands. I’ve ran with elites battling through the depression of injury when running is taken away. I’ve watched entire families come together through the power of a running endorphine high. Every single runner I’ve met has a story. Everyone runs for a reason.
The common thread that sews all the stories together is the process of running, and the role community plays in that process. Setting goals. Holding each other accountable to those goals. Small disciplined inputs leading to large outputs.
The community brings people together in -30C for group runs in Edmonton. The community gets folks out of bed early on Saturday in the wet heavy snow of February in Vancouver. The community puts me and my camera on the start line of unsanctioned races under the Williamsburg Bridge, and in sub-zero rain under the lights of the Lower East Side in Manhattan.
When I first photographed my wife at a trail race in Michigan I didn’t see the community. I just saw a bunch of individuals smiling for the camera as they flew past. I didn’t see the training that went into the race. I didn’t see the reason why everyone on course pins a bib on.
I didn’t see the community. It isn’t obvious at first glance, but running is a connecting activity.