Events Journal Running

Tough Mudder London North – Northamptonshire UK May 2013

Here’s a tiny selection from the 1200 plus photos that I took at the London North Tough Mudder event at Boughton House near Kettering in the UK on 4th May 2013.

Tough Mudder UK
A mouthful of dirty pond water is not good at all… Tough Mudder UK London North 2013

Unlike last year, this time my good friend Janet and I were attempting to follow two particular groups of runners, one from the 8:40am start group, and one from the 9:00am start.  I must confess, I totally missed Joe and his team at our first obstacle, the aptly titled “Kiss of Mud” despite being in position on time.  We both managed to catch Matt and most of his team twenty minutes later though.

Then, a mad dash to the “Island Hopping” before a short trip to the “Underwater Tunnels” at which point we lost contact with our teams as they ventured away from the spectator areas.

We then waited to “ambush” them at “Mud Mile” #2, where I finally caught site of Joe and the team, and then rushed back to catch them as they approached the final few obstacles, including the “Hero Walls”, “Everest” and finally “Electroshock Therapy”.

It was an excellent event to photograph, as it was last year.  I could easily have stayed at Mud Mile all day it was so entertaining.  The occasional heavy shower with hail stones thrown in just added to the fun.

***Update – December 2019***  for any runners still looking for photos from the London North 2013 event at Boughton House, I have now tagged all my photos from the day with your running numbers (wherever they were visible).  Use the search box at the top of the Gallery Page below to check if I managed to tag your number (Saturday 4th May 2013 only):

Here’s the link to the photos I took on the day: 

Tough Mudder UK London North 2013


Events Journal Places Running

Tough Mudder UK South-East/Midlands, Boughton House, Northamptonshire 12th May 2012

Finally, a new blog post – my first since January.  I’m going to start with a confession:  Up until the week before this event, I had never heard of Tough Mudder and didn’t know anything about this type of event.

Tough Mudder – Leaving the Fire Walker – Boughton House, Northamptonshire, UK

It was my friend Janet who introduced me to the world that is Tough Mudder.  A friend and colleague of hers, Marianne, was taking part in the event and Janet wanted to go along to offer support and hopefully take some photos at the same time.  After doing some research on the event website, Janet thought that it would appeal to me as a photographic opportunity, and duly sent me the link.

Delight at seeing a familiar face – Tough Mudder “Fire Walker”, Boughton House, Northamptonshire, UK

As it happened, I also knew someone taking part in event, though I didn’t know it beforehand.  A colleague from work, Joe, spotted me on the approach to the Hay Bale Pyramid, one of the early obstacles.  I also managed to photograph him jumping a ditch a little later, but then all but missed him running through the Firewalker.  With hindsight, I would love to have caught him at the mud mile as I would have got a lot more photos at that location.  Maybe next time…

My work colleague Joe at the base of the Hay Bale Pyramid – Tough Mudder, Boughton House, Northamptonshire, UK

It turned out that this particular event, held at Boughton House, near Kettering in Northamptonshire was the very first Tough Mudder event to take place in the UK, following enormous success in the USA and other countries worldwide.  So what is Tough Mudder all about?  In essence, the event consists of a twelve-mile run across country with an obstacle to overcome roughly every half mile or so.

The Funkey Monkey – Tough Mudder, Boughton House

The obstacles varied in their difficulty and their level of sadism.  Some, like the Berlin Walls and Hay Bale Pyramid, provided a physical barrier to scale and overcome.  Others, like the Mud Mile and Log Bog Jog were designed to sap the energy out of the competitors and test their stamina…

The “Mud Mile” – Tough Mudder, Boughton House, Northamptonshire, UK

Other obstacles such the Funkey Monkey and Walk the Plank tested the physical capabilities of the runners in respect of their strength, balance and agility.  As for the Electro-Shock Therapy, well you can make your own mind up about that one…

Electro-Shock Therapy – 10,000 volts of Shock Treatment – Tough Mudder

Many of the obstacles are designed with teamwork in mind, none more so than the Everest Wall, the last but one obstacle consisting of a quarter-pipe roughly 12 feet high which proved to be almost impossible to scale single-handed but turned into an object lesson in using team-work and camaraderie to overcome the seemingly insurmountable.

It’s all about working together to reach the top of Everest – Tough Mudder, Boughton House

It is this sense of teamwork that sets Tough Mudder apart from many similar types of event such as Tough Guy.  Tough Mudder is not a race as such, it is a challenge above all else, both a personal challenge and a team challenge.  Add to this mix lots of mud and the fact that most of the entrants were also raising large amounts of money for good causes at the same time and you have the reasons why this has become such a successful format.

Happy as Mudders in Mud! – Tough Mudder , Boughton House, Northamptonshire UK

As a photographic opportunity, this was a great event for me and just what I needed after a long lay-off suffering from back muscle spasms.  With hindsight, I probably missed some of the very best obstacles in terms of facial expressions, the Arctic Enema and the Spiders Web for instance.  However, this was the first time I had tried to photograph an event like this and I think I did ok for a first attempt.

The Boa Constrictor – Tough Mudder, Boughton House

In truth, I did not know what to expect in terms of spectator access to the obstacles, which was actually much better than I imagined.  Because of this uncertainty, I decided to take my old but trusty Canon EF55-200mm F4-5.6 zoom.  This is a great lens for the money but doesn’t quite give that 3D effect that my regular EF80-200mm F2.8 would have given.  All shots were taken with my EOS 5D (or 5D Classic as it is referred to now).  One equipment decision I was pleased with was footwear.  Janet and I both chose to wear our wellies and we were both very glad that we did!

Walk The Plank – Tough Mudder, Boughton House, Kettering

One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer number of competitors taking part.  8,000 runners took part on the Saturday when we attended, and another 5,000 on the Sunday.  Any attempt to photograph all those taking part was clearly futile.  Even the official event photographers who had cameras located at various locations around the course struggled to get shots of everyone taking part.

Waiting to tackle the big one – Everest! Tough Mudder, Boughton House, Kettering

Janet and I had a great day out photographing this event.  Not just because it was a beautiful day weather wise but because it was such a great event both to witness and to photograph.  There were times, especially at the “Everest” wall when I had to stop taking photos just to enjoy and appreciate the unbelievable effort that the competitors were making in order to complete the challenge.

A desperate lunge for a pair of grasping hands, Everest, Tough Mudder, Boughton House, Kettering, Northamptonshire, UK

We both left Boughton House full of respect and admiration for everyone who takes part in these events.  The levels of commitment, dedication and teamwork were clear for all to see.  Now that my eyes have been opened to this type of event, I very much hope to be able to cover more of them later in the year, hopefully in Scotland on the 14th and 15th July, and at Cholmondeley Castle in the North West on the 17th and 18th November.

Tough Mudder 73848 in the “Mud Mile”, Boughton House, Northamptonshire, UK – May 2012
Tough Mudder 71478 demonstrating one way to get noticed, Boughton House, Northamptonshire, UK, May 2012

***Update – December 2019***  for any runners still looking for photos from the South-East/Midlands event at Boughton House, I have now tagged all my photos from the day with your running numbers (wherever they were visible).  Use the search box at the top of the Gallery Page below to check if I managed to tag your number (Saturday 12th May 2012 only):

Here’s the link to the photos I took on the day: 

Tough Mudder UK South-East/Midlands 2012


Events Journal Places Re-enactments

The Festival of History, Kelmarsh Hall 17th July 2011

It’s fair to say that the Festival of History held anually at Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire is the jewel in the crown of the English Heritage events calendar.  I had been looking forward to this event for a long time so it was with some trepidation that I watched the weather forecast for the weekend on the Friday night which warned of heavy rain showers on Saturday followed by more heavy rain showers on Sunday.

The Story of the British Army, Festival of History, 2011

As it turned out, Saturday morning was a wash-out as it rained almost constantly right up until around 1pm but from there onwards it stayed more or less fine for the rest of the day.  I had already decided to take my chance on the Sunday and that turned out to be a day of sunshine and mostly light showers so not as bad as forecast.

Roman Soldiers, Festival of History, 2011

The Festival of History presents many opportunities to the enthusiast photographer, but also some challenges.  On the positive side, there is so very much to see, so many people and events to photograph and so much going on all the time.  The enormous number of re-enactors taking part, the different periods of history portrayed and the variety of set-pieces and encampments to explore is mind-blowing.

The Boar War Battle Re-enactment, Festival of History 2011

It’s the sheer size of the event that presents one of the major challenges.  At any given time there are at least three different places you need to be.  Another problem is trying to isolate your subject from the background which at times can get a bit messy with white tents, members of the public (refered to as MOPs by the re-enactors), other photographers (grrr!), videographers (is that a word?), trade stands, caravans etc.

The challenges of taking photographs at the Festival of History

The problems continue when trying to shoot the big battle re-enactments in the main arenas.  Every photographers worst nightmare, the safety ropes – white this time, a welcome change from blue you may think – are there to ensure that almost every photo you take will contain at least some portion of the dreaded rope.

“The sheer variety of re-enactors facial hair is mind-blowing”

Despite all the above, I love this event.  There are so many photo opportunities all around you but you do have to keep a close eye on procedings and you do need to be lucky sometimes in order to be in just the right place at the right time.

German Half-Track Commander, Festival of History 2011

In the event I was very lucky with the weather, one sharp shower in the afternoon but only a few spots of rain for the rest of the day.  A very enjoyable day and it was good to catch up with some of the people I had met at previous events. 

Update January 2020:  You can find many more images from the event over on my website here.


Events Journal

“Marching On Together” for Aidan Howell 3rd July 2011

Photographers from Desborough and Rothwell Photographic Society, of which I am a member, were recently invited to photograph a 10 mile sponsored walk held in memory of the Desborough Rifleman Aidan Howell who was killed while serving his country in Afghanistan in 2009.  He was just 19.

Marching On Together for Aidan Howell

Aidan was a big Leeds United fan and the walk was appropriately called “Marching On Together” the title of the famous Leeds United Football Club song.  This was the second running of this event after the huge success of the first one in June 2010.  All proceeds from the event go to the Aidan Howell Memorial Fund.

Runners from 3rd Battalion, The Rifles about to start their second run

Among the people taking part were servicemen from 3rd Battalion, The Rifles, some of whom were not content to do just the 10 mile course, but instead completed 2 runs in the same day, and others who ran the undulating 10 mile course with fully loaded backpacks strapped to their backs.

Marching On Together with Fully Loaded Backpacks

The course took the runners and walkers from the start at Desborough Town Football Club through the villages of Arthingworth and Harrington, and back to the finish at Desborough via Rothwell.  Three photographers attended the event;  myself, Trevor Rudkin who is the Chairman of the Society, and Philip Gott.  The society’s auditor, Richard Coe, took part in the walk itself.

Marching On Together for Aidan Howell

Our photos of the walk can be seen here:

Photos by Geoff Oliver

Photos by Trevor Rudkin

Photos by Philip Gott

I’m really glad that we supported this worthy event.  I must confess to feeling a little apprehensive at the starting line as I don’t live in Desborough and I never knew Aidan myself.   Once we got out on the course though, it definitely felt as though we were supporting the walkers and, for the most part, they appreciated us being there to cheer them on.


Journal Time-Lapse

Lyveden Time-Lapse Take Two

After the disappointing outcome of my first attempt at Time-Lapse photography, I decided to have another go but this time using the lessons learned first time around.  Back to Lyveden New Bield then but on a very different day to my previous visit.  Where it had been blue sky and whispy white clouds previously, this time the sky was filled with grey clouds but at least there was sufficient wind to keep them moving long nicely.

I wanted to shoot straight into the wind as I had last time but getting the direction proved to be really tricky as the wind on the ground was coming from one direction and the clouds appeared to be moving in a different direction.  Once I settled on a location, more or less facing the wind, I set up my tripod as before but this time I set my camera to manual exposure to ensure that every frame would be exposed exactly the same, no matter whether the sun came out or not.

Lyveden Time Lapse - original image showing underexposed building and wonky horizon

Setting the correct exposure wasn’t easy as I was shooting into the light and the building itself was in shadow.  I knew that if I had exposed for the building, the sky would have been burned out.  Knowing that I could recover the buiding using the “Fill Light” slider in Lightroom, I exposed for the much brighter sky while using the clipping indicator on my camera’s histogram display to ensure no areas would be burned out.  Then I set my timer remote to take an exposure every 10 seconds and let it run for around 30 minutes giving me 188 frames in total.

Lyveden Time Lapse 2
Lyveden Time Lapse - the same image after Lightroom adjustments

One of the great advantages of working in Lightroom is the ability to change the settings on one image, and then transfer those settings to every other image in the sequence.  For these images, “Fill Light” was needed to lighten the shadow areas, a tweak on the “Blacks” slider to bring back the contrast, and a little tone curve adjustment was all that was needed.  Oh, and a tweak in the “Lens Correction” area to restore the verticals on the building.  I deliberately left in the wandering people to give a little scale to this massive building but I carefully removed any stray flying birds using the “Spot Removal” tool to ensure no black specs appeared in the sky.

Click here to see the finished sequence (YouTube)


Journal Places

Lyveden New Bield, Northamptonshire

One of my very favourite places to visit in Northamptonshire, Lyveden is a National Trust property situated between the historic town of Oundle and the village of Brigstock.   The dream of Sir Thomas Tresham, and built between 1595 and his death in 1605, the lodge and adjoining gardens were designed to entertain and delight the guests of his nearby manor house, the site of which is part of the estate.  The garden, which incorporated orchards, terraces, moats, and viewing mounts formed a journey from the manor house to the garden lodge (New Bield).  Unfortunately, the lodge was never completed but the fact that so much of it remains in such good condition after 400 years is testament to the quality of the construction.

Lyveden New Bield - Looking South

I visited Lyveden over the May bank holiday weekend in 2011.  It was a sunny day but with a cold and blustery wind, so much so that my camera was being blown about even on my fairly heavy manfrotto tripod.  I wanted to try some time-lapse photography to capture the fast-moving clouds for an audio-visual project I am working on.  I tried the location above looking South to begin with but the clouds were moving sideways which was not quite  what I was aiming for so later I moved round to the West side of the lodge looking straight into the wind coming from the East.  This was much better with the clouds now coming up and over the lodge and disappearing off the side and top of the frame.

Lyveden New Bield - Looking East

Finally, when I was happy that I had enough shots to complete my A/V sequence, I moved over to the garden to take a few shots looking across the moat.  I am reasonably pleased with the pictures I took.  It is a much photographed building and it is not easy to find a new way of shooting it.  It was late afternoon when I arrived and the evening light really helped to light up the stonework of the lodge.  Another time, I would like to stay a little later in the day, and also try some longer lens shots from across the water.

Lyveden New Bield - View across the moat

As you can see in this last shot, the wind was breaking up the surface of the water and spoiling the reflection of the lodge, as well as moving the branches and leaves on the trees.  However, I do like the position of the shadow areas either side of the foreground grass with the brighter area in the middle.  I’m hoping it gives your eye a natural starting point before following the sweep of the moat to the lodge beyond.