I woke up at 4:45am Sunday morning to get ready to make the drive out to Haines City, a small, inland town I had never heard of before to photograph the Ironman 70.3 Florida. I drove east on I-4 into a totally dark sky that as the miles past began to reveal dawn light. It made me realize what a great time of day this is to be out on the open road. As I got off the highway it was still before sunrise and I was treated to views of horses grazing in misty fields.
Then finally as I turned onto the road that would be my shooting location for the next three and a half hours I saw the sun peak over the horizon for the first time. It was a beautiful and peaceful scene that I really appreciated. Soon though I would get very busy photographing the nearly 2,000 participants of the triathlon on the bike portion of the event. There was a bit of glamour to this triathlon as Lance Armstrong was competing in it and the favorite to win. Neither I nor my shooting partner could recognize Lance in the initial group of riders coming down the road. Then once the main wave of competitors starting rolling by there was not much time to even think, just photograph as many of the passing riders as possible. Not so glamorous.
My assignment was to wait at that location until the very last rider came by. That poor final rider was probably at least 10 minutes behind the second to last rider and did not look like he would close that ground over the remaining 45 miles! So off I was to my next assignment near the finish line. Totally unexpectedly to me I arrived before the winner did and since I was between assignments, I was able to take a few of my own photographs of Lance. I had an all-access media pass on that allowed me to waltz right up to the first row of other media (TV & newspaper) waiting for Lance to cross the finish line. The glamour of it all was back!
The crowd was very amped up as Lance rounded the corner and he high-fived many outstretched hands. I filled my D300's buffer just holding down the shutter trying to get the best possible shot of Lance in a very crowded area of cameras.
Lance walked right past me! But then he was swarmed by a crowd of people hoping for an interview. All I could do was hold my camera up over my head and hope to get lucky. Well, I got an infocus shot, but only of the back and side of his head. Then Lance was gone and so was the finish line crowd as well as any and all glamour.
My next assignment was to shoot the "front of finish" shot which was in direct late morning and afternoon sunlight. In those 3.5 hours the top of my kneecaps got sunburned as I sat in my small folding chair. Not glamorous at all! As my own finish time of 2pm approached, I was definitely fading. Taking the same shot, over and over times about 1500x in direct Florida sunlight is a real challenge. That is what photographing a triathlon in Florida is mostly about, surviving and trying to be consistent with your shots. I believe this will be the last triathlon I ever photograph as the cost-benefit ratio is just not in the photographer's favor. The money is actually not good at all considering the large wear and tear one puts on their shutter (anywhere from 3,000 to 4,500 actuations depending on the event) and the physical toll it takes on everything in general. Photographing Lance is a good way to end my triathlon photography career.