SAM WEIR IS MANY THINGS – AN ATHLETE, A MILLENNIAL AND THE FIRST MAN TO CROSS PNG ON FOOT – BUT A PHOTOGRAPHER HE IS NOT. SO WHEN WE HEARD HE WAS ABOUT TO ATTEMPT THE WORLD’S TOUGHEST FOOTRACE, NATURALLY WE SENT HIM OFF WITH A NIKON COOLPIX AW130. THIS WAS THE RESULT.
Of all the snaps Sam Weir has taken on his epic adventures around the earth his favourite is one that could have been taken on home soil. It is at once powerful yet poetic, tough but tender – two men toiling in the desert, enduring punishing physical and emotional extremes, yet their concern is only for the other. A snapshot in time that will hold memories for them both, forever.
Avid ocean dweller Sam was 21 and a sponsored pro surfer when he decided to take a chance on running to help speed up his return to the sport following a period of injury. On the very day he purchased his first pair of runners, he clocked off from work and decided to go for a run. Six hours and 50km later he stopped.
This led to what can only be described as an obsession that has since resulted in Sam securing numerous national titles, as well as a handful of international ones, at distances of between 50 and 450km. In 2014 Sam, then 23, became the first endurance athlete ever to cross Papua New Guinea on foot, a feat that took him 10 days, and later the same year headed to Tanzania in Africa to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, raising more than $92,000 for Defence Force charity Legacy in the process.
But it is his recent achievements in the Badwater 135 endurance event that have really propelled him onto the world stage. The race involves running 135 miles across America’s Death Valley National Park starting at negative 28 feet and finishing atop a mountain at 14,600 feet in temperatures exceeding 50 degrees Celsius.
With just 100 runners accepted to do the race each year, attendees must first convince a forbidding panel that they have the credentials – both physically and mentally – to complete the event.
“Who doesn’t want this race on their bucket list? This race to me came about the same time I achieved my first ultra marathon four years ago. I remember ‘You Tubing’ races and running techniques and this documentary called ‘Running on the sun’ appeared. That was all I needed to see before Badwater 135 became my focus and the race I wanted to toe the start line at.”
Knowing there was much work to be done to be deemed suitable by the five-man panel, Sam set about trying to build a running resume that would prove he had the knowledge and experience to run through the desert against experienced runners who had been in the game three or four times as long as himself.
Sam learnt he was accepted just as Australia was about to face the cooler winter months where in Brisbane daily temperatures do not get over 23 degrees. Temperatures during the race would reach at least 50 degrees, meaning he had little choice but to get creative with his training schedule to ensure he didn’t expire under the expected heat.
Undertaking mountain runs and speed hiking the arduous terrain at day and running on a treadmill in a three by three metre room directly into a fan heater to try increase the room temperature at night helped him acclimatise.
“Describing how the heat felt is something you can only experience by feeling it first hand. An exhaust or hairdryer constantly blowing on your body and not being able to turn it off is when the reality kicks in that you are in the world’s toughest footrace.”
He finished 33rd overall in a time of just over 33 hours. A self-described amateur photographer, Sam has made it his mission to take a basic “point and shoot” on each run he undertakes to capture the sights few others get to enjoy.
Equipped with an easy use Nikon Coolpix AW130 for the Badwater 135, the first time he used the compact digital camera was at 3am climbing a mountain in the dark. Fortunately he required neither the camera’s built-in GPS or electronic compass feature, but instead made full use of its auto focus and playback capabilities. It was as easy as setting the scene option onto sunrise and pointing it in the appropriate direction, he says.
His favourite image captured with the camera is the one [above/below] taken of his father. “My dad at this stage was carrying water for me as a pacer and would instruct the crew when I needed to be cooled down or needed re-fuelling. The temperature at this stage was 50 degrees and hot enough that it felt claustrophobic feeling like you are trapped in a sauna. [It was] just an amazing father/son moment I won’t ever forget.”
Sam says he was impressed that despite using the camera in 55-degree heat and exposing it to 180-degree road temperatures to get close to the ground that the camera’s battery life or response times remained unaffected.
However he says the best feature of this camera is its durable outer casing.
“It constantly went from in my running waist belt to out shooting not having to worry about sweat or smashing it into things due to the shock properties of the camera making it pretty hardy. Also [I liked] how quickly it went from turning it on to then pressing the button to initiate a photo. There was no lag in loading or delayed response.”
While he has no plans to turn his budding hobby into a professional career, Sam has used the images taken from the Badwater 135 race extensively on social media and had one image printed, enlarged and framed to send out to each race sponsor.