Sports Photography – Muderella Chicago 2015
Last Saturday I was contracted by Gameface Media to shoot the Muderella mud race in Richmond, IL. The contract specified a minimum of 6 hours, which after the Tough Mudder the previous weekend, would be a cake walk. Or so I thought.
What we did not anticipate was just how bad the weather conditions would be. Now, I have to say, as a plein air painter, as a photographer, I am no stranger to discomfort while working. From fatigue, heat, cold, even rain or snow, you just learn to deal with it. But there are certain conditions that are just not conducive to good photography and this event had them.
We knew it was going to rain. The weather forecast said there would be thunderstorms rolling through that area, and that the temperature would drop from the 70’s to somewhere around 57 degrees. When I got to the venue, it was low 70’s and humid. We were all sweating to begin with, just standing there. The mud was slick but not yet sucking wet, and the rain was a constant drizzle. We checked in, got our credentials and took our stations for the start of the race.
For that event I was given the responsibility of shooting the Kids Mini Mudder event, which was a small course in the festival area that had some kid-sized obstacles. The kids would run through this course four times per heat. Each heat was run every two hours. There were not that many kids, probably due to the weather. When this was not going on, I was to shoot other nearby obstacles or the start/finish.
I spent most of my day sitting with Elliot and Joel at the slide. This is a large slide that the participants got to by climbing a cargo net. The top was probably 25 feet in the air, and the slide led down to a pool of frigid muddy water of unknown depth (probably 4-5 feet deep). Many people got to the top, looked down and couldn’t bring themselves to do it.
I started the day shooting the first few heats from the start of the race. I had an hour to kill before the first kids event. They released adult runners every 15 minutes, and the race began with a treacherous jog down a mud slick wide path with ankle grabbing corn stalks jutting up throughout.
The rain was beginning to pour, but so far the wind was very calm. After the first three heats, my pants were damp. I had a rain poncho over my T-shirt, and our photographer vest over the poncho. I brought a fleece jacket with me which was rolled up and in my backpack. My hat was soaked because I didn’t think to put the poncho hood up early.
At about 10 am, after the first kids heat, the temperature dropped pretty severely. When I left later I found that it was down to 48 degrees. The wind changed as the cold front moved in, and the rain got stronger, more insistent. By now my pants were completely soaked, and the poncho was not doing very much to keep me dry. With my t-shirt soaked from sweat earlier, I put on my fleece top and tried to get my hands dry. By now they were completely pruned and would get stuck on everything.
I set up my lawn chair and a couple of umbrellas near the slide, hoping to block the wind and rain, one overhead, one on the side of the wind. This worked well while I was seated, but each time I had to get up to shoot the kids event, I ended up soaked again.
The constant rain and cold really took its toll, and I couldn’t get warm. Hypothermia sucks, and there is only so much that bouncing your knees and gritting your teeth can do for you. By 1pm I was done, and I wasn’t the only one. Shaking so bad I could barely keep a frame on the runners. I called the team leader and said I needed to go.
Not at all proud of being caught unprepared, but it is what it is. Everyone I shot with said that this event had some of the worst conditions they had ever shot in. Even after packing it in, there was an hour wait standing in the rain for the shuttle back to the parking area. I was sick the whole next week.
The first thing I did when I got home (after a beer and a change of clothes) was shop for better rain gear.