Surviving the 2015 Copenhagen Marathon

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Runners in this year’s Copenhagen Marathon go past The Lakes near Østerbro.

The man’s face shimmered with sweat in the afternoon sun as his legs soldiered on. Mile after mile he continued through the streets of Copenhagen, whilst around him, thousands of runners struggled to keep going and crowds roared in his ears. His goal: to reach the finish line so he could start editing his pictures and hand them over to the race organisers.

That’s right everybody, it’s me I’m talking about and not the 11,728 unbelievably strong men and women who took part in this year’s Nykredit Copenhagen Marathon. But there weren’t many other people who got to cycle around the city and see just how challenging and exciting it was from one area to the next.

I’ve only ever run one marathon so far in my life, but I can’t really remember much of it. I remember the adrenalin and nerves at the start, I remember hitting the half way point and thinking ‘that was easy’, and I remember wanting to violently attack all the volunteers at the side of the road who kept saying ‘not long’ when I asked them ‘how much further is it exactly?’

On Sunday I arrived at Islands Brygge with a shit-load of equipment and my own sense of nerves buzzing inside my stomach. Last year I raced through the streets to make sure I was one step ahead of the majority of runners, and hour-by-hour I managed to tick off several great landmarks and parts of the city full of supporters. The problem was, I was alone and had never done anything quite like it before, so I had no idea what to expect. The end result was an incredible amount of pictures and video and a long couple of weeks ahead trying to sift through it all. But I eventually created something I was proud of and was pleased to see that everybody was happy with both the film and the pictures.

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Just after the start heading towards Langebro

So let us now return to 2015 and the realisation that I mustn’t really reproduce the same content as last year, so what do I do? Well, I invite two friends along to help me and I try to change my route a little bit. Obviously I can’t go crazy with the amendments, but I was determined to get something different.

The first bit of bad news came around 7am when one of my assistants texts me to say he’s sick. To be more precise, he’s hungover from a Eurovision party and doesn’t feel like coming in. Cheers mate! There goes my guy responsible for getting all the high shots; all the aerial photography from the towers and rooftops. So we scrub that one off the list.

Thankfully my second assistant, Nick, still turns up nice and early, despite sporting a hangover himself. A pro all round…

At 9:25 I leave Nick behind to go and get a good spot on Langebro (the main bridge overlooking the start line) and here I experience my second problem. As I carefully attempt to swing my legs over the metal barrier without smashing my lenses to pieces, I somehow manage to trap one of my Family Jewels. I’m able to conceal the pain and the aggressive shaking my body is going through and limp off towards my bike, which is standing 20 metres away. It was a long walk.

Of course, the bridge is already full of spectators, and finding a gap to slide in to proves challenging. The best way around this is to lift my camera over their heads and start shooting away. This is the point I accidentally nudge the lens-disconnector button with my knuckle and the lens comes free. I catch in just in time before it goes over the edge. Meanwhile, Nick joins me and looks slightly red in the face. “I caught one of my plums trying to climb the barrier,” he tells me. I know the feeling.

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Trying something a little different with some off-camera flash. Only the pros know how to achieve such beauty.

Over the next few hours we zoom from location to location carrying what feels like a bag of bricks and cement. From Rådhusplads to Statens Museum for Kunst; from the Lakes at Østerbro to the mad party taking place along Dronning Louises Bro. And all the time my mind was trying to think of ways to photograph the race in a way that nobody else would. For example, we used remotely fired off-camera flashes down by the water to make the runners pop, and then we raced over to the other side to get a great reflection shot of them all at the same time. Over at the bridge we made enquiries and found a ladder to prop up against the wall. Nick held on to it as I made my way up and my instructions to him were simple: if I fall, grab the equipment first.

The support was fantastic throughout (helped on, no doubt, by the beautiful weather) and it was obvious the runners really appreciated it. We saw so many of the same faces over and over again, and they each told a different story. Some looked weary but still pleased, others looked determined but in pain. And then there were others who made it look so so simple. Good on ’em.

It was a relief knowing that there were two other photographers out there somewhere, going through the same battle and getting even more pictures. When you’re face with so much going on around you it’s hard to just stay focused. Believe it or not, it’s much easier to photograph a situation where hardly anything is happening. At least you can try and make something out of nothing. During the marathon there were times where I just didn’t know where to look. One minute you’d hear a scream of joy from behind, turn around, and just miss whatever it was. Then you hear a group cheering in the opposite direction, only to spin around and miss that too. Then you go over to the girl holding the huge confetti-canon and say “Make sure it goes off when this huge group comes past.” Then she screws it up and can’t manage to get the damn thing open.

Nick and I got back to Islands Brygge at exactly 13:30, just as the masses were coming in. We were both tired, dehydrated, and ready for a leg massage – as were the thousands of runners plodding past with distorted faces. We left the massage tables free for them…

Meanwhile, the editing room was alive with all sorts of folk trying to put all the info together for the world to see. And so began my own personal marathon of going through 32GB of data looking for the jewel in the crown. Something great that summed up the day.

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Still a long way to go, but at least the buildings added a bit of shade and something interesting to look at.

Four days later and I’m still editing and working on the project. The pictures are more-or-less done (you can see them all here), but the video has only just been started. Be sure to keep checking in to the website for more details on that.

But lastly, a huge huge congratulations to all that took part that day, including my friends and colleagues who were working by my side. There’s nothing more emotional than watching a proud competitor cross the line after three, four or five hours. The tears in their eyes or the Cheshire Cat smile on their face. It gets me all weepy just thinking about it.

I hope to see some of you again next year…