IAMLESHER Photography


2015 Twisted Branch Trail Race // The Ascend Collective

Earlier this year I had been approached to shoot the inaugural running of the Twisted Branch 100K, which I immediately jumped at the opportunity to do. What wasn't to love? Trails, check. Opportunity to showcase Upstate New York, check. Support friends who were running the race, check. In Spring, all of these things seemed amazing, but as the race drew closer and my ideas started to come into focus, the sheer logistics of trying to cover runners traveling on 62 miles of point-to-point trails seemed nearly as difficult an effort as running the race itself.

What immediately became clear was that I realistically needed at least one, but perhaps two other photographers to help cover that much ground. This was new territory for me as I typically work solo, and while I hold myself to a high standard that could be considered a burden to someone else. Things could get tricky...

Fortunately, I already knew two other local race photographers who I highly respect and trust since they take photography as seriously as me. Enter, Ron Heerkens Jr. and Alex Tong.

Over beers one night, Ron, Alex and I met to discuss the fact that we have been circling many of the local events and have been trying very hard to bring an authentic artistic perspective to adventure sports. We each agreed that our perspectives complimented one another and that combining them as a group could only be beneficial to our audience...you.

And thus, The Ascend Collective was born.

With finding other photographers to work with sorted out, we began discussing how we would actually organize ourselves in order to shoot Twisted Branch. As part of that strategy we decided Alex would debut The Ascend Collective a week before at the Dam Good Trail Race, which meant that it was up to Ron and me to manage Twisted Branch.

Obviously, the day would start early (2:30 a.m. in my case), but with so much ground to cover we would have to find a way to split up and cover as much ground as we could without missing too many runners. The answer? Leapfrog the whole way in approximately 8 mile increments. Seemed perfect at the outset.

Over the course of the race, Ron and I executed our strategy and were constantly chatting via text about where we were, where the runners were, and when we were moving to the next location. We relied heavily on GPS and maps (no cell service sucks) to help us cross the course as efficiently as possible. By mid-race, however, the field had fractured more than we had anticipated. The leapfrog method was still great, but approximately 30 miles in the leader (and eventual winner Daven Oskvig) had amassed a 45 minute lead and the rest of the field was split further apart than we had anticipated. We had choices to make. Continue to try to keep up with Daven and photograph others who were nearby, or let Daven go and wait for the rest of the field? Tough call. 

Seeing as how our primary goal was to showcase this inaugural event in the best light that we could--so that we can hopefully promote it as much as possible--we decided that keeping up with Daven was going to be critical. We needed to capture him at the finish.

With that in mind, our focus shifted to ensuring that we could get as much of the pack as we could without missing Daven finish. I like to think that we succeeded, but there was a lot that we learned.

For example, by mile 49 I was stationed at one location for over two and a half hours and I captured 12 runners in that time frame. Because of the fragmentation of the field we weren't able to capture as many runners as I would have liked, which was unfortunate. Still, it sparked a lot of great discussion and thought about how we can better serve these types of events.

I think that we have a pretty great plan for next year.

By the time the sun went down, most of the light was gone and photographic opportunities were sparse. Ron and I met up at the finish, discussed how we thought things went (Pro Tip: we always think that we could have done better), and debriefed about how to organize the images, etc. I also got to spend time with good friends and cheer runners on. I was whipped, though.

Driving home I got to think about how fantastic the day was. How amazing the runners were. How much I appreciated the help and perspective that Ron brought to the day. I also thought about how fantastic the idea of The Ascend Collective is, to me, and how I look forward to seeing where it goes. Life is good.