Peaks Challenge 2017

As discussed in my previous blog, I really hadn’t done enough training for the Peak’s Challenge Falls Creek (aka ‘the 3 Peaks’). But was I going to let a woefully inadequate training load stop me from attempting this? Hell no! After all, how bad can 13 hours on a bike be?
Well…I think that when ‘How bad can 13 hours on the bike be?’ is a question you are legitimately asking yourself…then perhaps your state of mind isn’t all that flash to start with, and perhaps it would be a good time to start questioning the decisions you’re making. Of course, I know this in hindsight…because I now know exactly how bad 13 hours on the bike can be. But I also know just how much of a difference the people you meet along the way can make. So without further ado, here is my race report for the Peak’s Challenge 2017

Checking in the day before

A bit of background

Just in case you haven’t read the previous blog, here’s the background:

  • The Peak’s Challenge is a 235km bike ride through the mountains in the Victorian Alps
  • I signed up for this last year as the final part of deal with my coach and friend Craig Percival. He was going to coach me for the ride, but tragically passed away in December of last year
  • I have done a lot of training on an indoor trainer…but not nearly enough out in the real world
  • My ride plan is to avoid getting caught up in groups that are riding too fast for me, working with people when I can so that I don’t exhaust myself riding solo…and then hope like hell that my legs will get me up that final climb.
  • I ultimately just want to finish the ride, but if I can finish inside 13 hours, then I am deemed an ‘official finisher’.

Falls Creek to Harrietville

This was actually pretty cruisey. I ticked off one of my goals by not crashing on either the descent from Falls Creek to Mt. Beauty, or from Tawonga Gap to German Town (nothing says success quite like binning it 20mins into a 13 hour ride!) A small part of this success my have come from me noticing that I had put my front wheel on the wrong way round and having to change it about 2 minutes before the start.

Waiting to start…in about 5 mins I would realise that I had my front wheel on the wrong way around…je suis une genius.

Towards the end of the descent from Towanga I got into a group of 5 who were setting a pretty good pace. As we hit German Town, they wound up the pace a bit and suddenly I was sitting just outside of comfort zone. I sat with them for about 5kms, but knew that this was exactly the mistake I had made so many times before…sticking with a group, but burning more energy that I could afford given there was over 180kms and two mountains to go. I also knew that I had been sitting on the wheels of the other 4 guys for the duration, and that slipping off the back without pulling a turn would be pretty poor form. So I rolled to the front and did about 1.5kms. If sitting in the group was on the limit of what I could sustain, then sitting out the front in whatever wind there was, was definitely beyond what I should have been doing. But up ahead I could see a larger group that were clearly travelling slower. So I decided to hold on with the group I was with, in the hope that we would catch the next group. We did, and thankfully they were sitting at a pace that let me recover all the way into Harrietville.
I pulled into Harrietville, had something to eat and drink, and then headed back out onto the road, all within the time limit I would need to adhere to if I wanted to finish in 13 hours

Harrietville – Dinner Plain

Pretty much straight out of Harrietville we hit Mount Hotham, and the climbing began in earnest. I’ve never climbed Mt Hotham before, and all I’ll say is it’s about 20kms of tolerable climbing…and then about 10kms of ‘when the hell does this finish?!’ Every time I thought the summit would be just around the corner…it wasn’t…and in its place was a snaking line of cyclist disappearing into the distance.

But once I hit the summit I began the rolling descent to Dinner Plain. As I was to find out over the rest of the day, a rolling descent means that there is just enough time spent going downhill to technically be getting closer to sea level, but there still feels like there is a lot of going uphill as well. I pulled into the lunch stop about 7 minutes down on where I needed to be, but I figured if I could just keep my lunch stop to about 10 minutes, then I would still be back on the road in time to achieve the 13 hour mark.

Dinner Plain – Omeo

This was tough. We had a bit of tailwind, which was really nice, but it was hot. I started to get ‘hot spots’ on my left foot, and so loosened my shoe as much as I could. But it was the element of the unknown that was the hardest to deal with. When I was climbing Mt. Hotham, even though I didn’t know the climb, I knew I would be climbing, and so I was resigned to that, with any downhill sections a bonus. But for this part of the I just didn’t know what was coming, and every small hill felt like a slap in the face.
Then as we made the final turn into Omeo there was a literal slap in the face, with the change in direction turning a crosswind/tailwind into a headwind. I pulled into Omeo knowing that I had lost time, but figured if I could just get some food into me and have a quick rest, then I would be able to tackle the 40kms to Angler’s Rest. But no sooner had I filled up my drink bottle, than the guys manning the aid station said ‘You’ve got another 10 mins’ and then we close. On cue the Lanterne-Rouge (the last two riders) arrived, and I suddenly realised how close I was to having to retire from the ride (if you fall behind the Lanterne-Rouge riders then you have to retire).
So I hastily jumped back on the bike, and headed off into the headwind and unknown.

Omeo – Angler’s Rest

Shit got real. The wind was hot and in your face. The road was unrelenting, and my confidence was shot knowing how close I was to the cut-off. I found two other guys who were riding a bit faster than I was and asked if they wanted to roll some turns. They were up for it and so we just rotated turns, with one guy sitting in the wind, while the other two tucked in behind him. I know that I wasn’t really pulling my weight, and so when they started to drop me I just fell back. They looked back at one stage and started to slow down, but I waved them on. I was done. I knew that there was no way I was going to do 13 hours…and in reality, there was no way I was going make it to the climb up Falls Creek. Which actually really pissed me off, because I knew that I could make up some time on that final climb. I’m not a strong rider, but I’m a pretty good climber. Now I wasn’t even going to pit myself against the climb because I wasn’t going to make the cutoff at Angler’s Rest.

It’s a funny thing with these sorts of events. Ultimately I do them because I want to see how I respond to that moment of absolute despondence. When I think I can’t go on because it’s all too hard. In that moment of darkness, how will I respond? But the simple truth is, it’s not a single moment. It’s a series of moments. In this case it was about and hour and a half of moments where I just had to keep pedalling. I knew that I was cooked. But there had been 3 ambulances go past on this section of road alone, so I was still having a better day than some others. I decided that I wasn’t going to retire from the race until I was asked to. So I would ride on for as long as I could. Not exactly a gallant defeat…but perhaps a less ignominious one.
I will admit that I spent a lot time pondering what Craig would have said if I had failed to finish the ride. I concluded that he would have tolerated it, provided I had left nothing in the tank. Even though I was spent, I knew I was still holding a tiny bit in reserve to get me up that final climb. So when the Lanterne-Rouge riders swept past with about 8 riders sitting with them and they said ‘Jump on’, I knew that I had to go. I had been trundling along at about 16km/h and they were sitting on closer to 25km/h, but I knew that if there was a time to burn my matches…this was it. I sat with them for the last 5kms into Angler’s Rest, and arrived with enough time to eat my last sandwich (home made peanut-butter with a lolly-snake inside…adversity is indeed the mother of invention).
One thing that had kept me going for the last couple of hours was the promise of a can of Coke at Angler’s Rest. No less than 4 people had told me how amazing this hit of sugar and caffeine was. Sadly the mythical ‘best can of Coke of my life’ didn’t happen because they had sold out…so I had to settle for the ‘best can of Lift of my life’.
I heard the announcement that we had 5 minutes to leave Angler’s Rest and then 30 mins to ride 10kms to WTF Corner (the start of the climb to Falls Creek). That sounded eminently doable, and so I set off again.

WTF Corner to Trapyard Gap

I made the time cutoff for WTF and started the climb. If you haven’t seen the first part of the climb of the back of Falls Creek, it is insane. It kicks off insanely steep…and then pretty much holds that for about 12kms. I was only about 400m into the climb when I started seeing people walking. After about 2kms the number of people walking far outnumbered the people riding and there were an increasing number of people sitting by the side of the road either swearing at their cramping legs or with their head in their hands. By the time I got 10kms into the climb it was like a scene from a war movie. There were about 6 ambulances that went past, sag wagons full of dejected looking people rolled through, bikes were left by the side of the road, those who were still walking had 100 Mile stares, and the people sitting by the side of road looked shattered.

I knew I was making good time and that I was now a really good chance to make it in before the Lanterne-Rouge…and maybe even within the 13 hour time limit. I had promised myself that I wouldn’t stop until I got to Trapyard Gap. I wasn’t riding much quicker than walking pace…but there was principle at stake! Then a marshall stopped by the side of the road and offered me a can of Coke. There was a moment of hesitation…but I quickly dismounted and drank what was indeed ‘the best can of Coke of my life’. Then rode on to Trapyard Gap.

Trapyard Gap – Falls Creek

In a day of swinging momentum, I felt the momentum swing back my way. We had 23kms to go, 10kms of which were climbing, then the remainder was ‘rolling’ to the finish…and we had an hour and half to get it done to make the 13 hour official finish time. This was actually doable.
The Lanterne-Rouge riders rolled in and I had a quick chat. My mate Bill who was one of the Lanterne-Rouge riders told me to put my vest on as it would get pretty cold from here on in. As someone who had spent the last 6 hours suffering in the heat, I found that hard to believe…but I put it on anyway and then rolled out for the last part of the day.

If I reflect on the day I can see that the best parts of the day were defined by the groups I was with; the group from German Town to Harrietville, the two other guys I rode with for about 15kms out of Omeo, the Lantern-Rouge riders that I held onto for dear life into Angler’s Rest. The ability to have a conversation offers a respite from the relentless drudgery of following a wheel or turning over the pedals. It also serves to remind you that other people are suffering just as badly as you are.
Beginning the climb out of Trapyard Gap was pretty funny. On any other day, we would have been flying up this climb, but everyone had locked into their own rhythm and was pacing themselves up the hill. I could see how slowly I was going (about 10km/h) and each time I looked up I expected to see the other riders disappearing into the distance…but instead we all just travelled at the same pace. Sometimes you would have a burst of energy for 15mins and ride past some people, but then you’d fall back, and some of them would ride past you. But whereas for the first 12 hours the other riders had been either a wheel to jump on, or someone who was passing you, or someone for you to pass…once we got to the rolling section at the top of the climb, everyone banded together. We had taken the worst of it, and now we were desperate to finish as a diaspora of stragglers.
As the sun set it really was an amazing sight. The skies were grey in front of us, save for the burning orange on the horizon, the skies behind us were clear and dissolved from pinks to mauves and purples, and on the ridges you could see the silhouettes of riders. It’s a sign of just how tired I was that the thought of stopping to take a photo was not even entertained. Then the sun set, the sleet started and the landscape started to look like ‘The Upside Down’ from ‘Stranger Things’. Everything was muted greys and shadows, with the bike lights picking up the highlights of the raindrops. As I descended briefly and turned back into the wind, I checked my watch, it was nearly too dark to see, but I made out that I had about 5kms to go, and about 12mins to do it in if I wanted to make the 13 hour cutoff. I did some quick mental arithmetic and realised…that I was in no state for mental arithmetic. In short, I needed to average over 20km/h over the last 5 kms, and I had no idea how many hills were left, and I was riding into a headwind, and within a few minutes it would be too dark for me to see either my watch or bike computer. Deep down I knew this wasn’t possible, so I decided to just go flat out for the last 5kms and at least beat the Lanterne-Rouge riders home.
Having spent the first part of the day conserving energy for the inevitable final climb, and then spent 2 hours between Omeo and WTF Corner riding well out of my comfort zone just to avoid missing the cutoff times, it was strangely liberating to just go flat out and push myself, knowing that no matter what happened, I was going to finish the 3-Peaks.
I don’t want to get too prosaic, but for that last 5kms, even though I was riding into the wind, I felt like I was riding down hill. Everything felt fluid and strong, and I can only assume that a strong Tasmanian was pushing me along, and in the dark I gave a quick word of thanks to Craig Percival.
One more quick climb, and a sketchy descent in the dark and wet, then suddenly I was in the carpark of Falls Creek. Then there were people, and lights and noise, and the finishing chute. Then it was done. It was over. I pressed ‘stop’ on my watch and looked down to see how close I had come to 13 hours, my watch read ’12:58:49′! I’d snuck under the 13-hour time limit by just over a minute! Did this make up for the previous 13 hours of mental suffering and physical exhaustion? Noooooo, No, no, no, no, no!

But I will say that the 10 minutes I spent stumbling around the finish area talking to fellow finishers (including Jean-Pierre who had been my companion from Trapyard Gap, and one of the guys who I had ridden from Omeo with) was among the best feelings I’ve had in my life.
So unlike the Ironman where I walked away swearing ‘I would never do that again’, I reckon I would like to do this again so that I could at least know what to expect with each section of the ride…but next time I’ll train better…next time I’ll train better.
Last but not least, a big thanks to Katie and the kids for giving me a weekend off to see what was apparently some beautiful countryside, thanks to Ailie, Peter, Troy and Aaron for the support along the way, thanks to the Sufferfest for the training videos, thanks to the volunteers who were so awesome over the whole 13 hours, thanks to Bicycle Network for running such a great event, thanks to Bill and Chris the Lanterne-Rouge riders for keeping me in the hunt, and of course thanks to Craig Percival for the inspiration to do the ride…and for the push for the last 5kms, I couldn’t have done it without you.

To the winners go the spoils…and by ‘winners’ I mean people who have been riding for 13 hours…and by ‘spoils’ I mean not having to do that anymore.

8 portrait tips…and a request.

On the 14th of December last year I purchased a brand new camera, on the 30th of December I took a photo of friend who was about to announce to the world his plan to do 8 Ironmans in 8 days in the eight States and Territories of Australia. His name was Craig Percival, and he was kind enough to have me film a documentary about his attempt to become the first person to ever complete what became known as the 8in8in8.

The photo of Craig Percival

On the 14th of December this year I was staring at the at that same photo I had taken of Craig, but this time it was in a booklet that had been handed out at his funeral. At age 45 he died from a blood clot while recovering from an operation on his knee.
Amidst the tragedy and senselessness of his death, the photographer in me was actually really proud that his family had chosen a photo that I had taken to represent the person he was. I felt that in a very small way I had done something to help…and now I’m asking for you to do something to help.
A page has been set up to help the family that Craig left behind, and I would love for you to put some money towards it. But I feel it’s only fair that I give you a little something in return…so in keeping with the theme of 8in8in8…here are 8 tips that I’ve learnt about taking portraits, and how they relate to the photo I took of Craig.

1. Us and them

I’m sure there are people out there whose public persona is actually a 100% reflection of the person they are. For the rest of us we are walking a constant dichotomous tightrope between the person we are, and the person we want people to think we are. We normally keep this bubbling away under the surface, but a portrait photo is a weird time when a single image is going to conspicuously identify who we are, and so as the photographer you have to decide which incarnation of the person you want to capture. If you capture the person they want to project, then you’ll probably miss the chance to capture something honest or slightly flawed…but then again, they’ll probably still want to talk to you after you publish the photos on social media. Alternatively, if you capture something a little more raw or candid, you will probably capture something that will get you a dozen likes on Instagram/Flickr/500px…but you’re probably not going to get that ‘Thanks so much for taking my photo’ email that were hoping for…or perhaps more importantly that ‘I’m going to recommend you to my friends’ email that you were hoping for.

Man in a hat.
Man in a hat.

So my simple answer, is shoot both. Start by getting a few traditional shots of them smiling in a traditional pose…then move on to a couple of shots where you can try to capture a break in the facade. Maybe give them prop, maybe move them into a space where they are really comfortable, but do what you can to try and capture an unguarded moment.

Man with bananas

Craig actually has an easy smile…but he’s not someone who will flash a Hollywood smile on cue. So I made a few jokes and then as I delivered the punch-line on the last one, I snapped as soon as I saw him start to smile.

2. Everything is awesome

If you are taking photos of famous people or unashamed extroverts, then you’re probably not reading this blog. The rest of us are taking photos of people who really don’t want to be having their photo taken…they may want the end product…but they’d rather not go through the process of getting there. So if they’re feeling vulnerable and exposed, the last thing they need is you appearing out of your depth or annoyed.
They will blink just as you take the shot, you will stuff up your exposure or your composition…but they don’t need to know any of that. You just need to keep saying ‘That was great! I’m going to grab another one of those’ or ‘That was perfect. Let’s try something a little different’. If you fill the room with positivity and encouragement, you’re going to get a much better photo.

Photographer, Georgia Haynes
Of all the photos, I think this one carries the most weight.
The first person I ever asked to pose for a portrait, Luke at the Cobbler’s Last.

Shooting with a new camera I couldn’t for the life of me work out how to override the ‘preview’ mode on the EVF. In short, because I was shooting with a flash I had the shutter speed at about 1/160 which was really dark (but when I took the photo the flash would fire and the light the scene). The display on camera was showing me a preview of what the shot was going to look like but it couldn’t account for the flash, so I was basically looking at a black screen. Normally you just look through the optical viewfinder and see exactly what you can see with your naked-eye. But the Fuji X-T1 doesn’t have an optical viewfinder and so I was desperately hunting through menus trying fix the problem…all the while pretending that everything was going swimmingly. I eventually worked it out…and hopefully Craig was none the wiser.

3. Flash

My favourite thing when taking a portrait, is when you just capture a fleeting look or moment. You can’t ask someone to pose and give you that look…it’s just something that happened organically. That’s why I love using a flash for my portraits, it gives you the chance to freeze a moment. Now clearly, I’m not talking about the pop-up flash on your camera, I’m talking about some sort of off-camera flash…and ideally some sort of diffusion like an umbrella or soft-box. And yes I’m sure you can do the same thing with a quick enough shutter speed. But as someone who swore black and blue that I would never use a flash…I love using a flash in portraits, and I know that my best photos have been taken using one.
If you don’t have a flash (and realistically you’re looking at hundreds of dollars to get a flash, and triggers, and diffusers) then just hire one with some equipment for a weekend and have a go. It will only cost about $70 to hire a flash, stand, umbrella and triggers, and you’ll learn a hell of a lot. For bonus points, download the OneLight video from Zack Arias.


Sir James,
Sir James,

I picked up some second-hand strobes and gear for about $200, and the photo I took of Craig was the first time I’d used it.

4. Something to do

One of my favourite things to do while watching the news or current affairs is try to guess what direction was given to the person on camera for cutaway footage. For example ‘OK, just walk over to that book case and take out a book’ or ‘just walk past the camera and sit down at the chair’ or even ‘just walk towards the camera’. If you ask an actor to do this, they will nail it. If you ask a normal person to do it, they will look like a very unconvincing version of themselves doing something unconvincing. Why? Because they’re over-thinking it. If you could look inside their minds there would an inner-monologue yelling ‘OK left foot then right foot…No wait…right foot then…no, I was right the first time…left foot then left foot – OH GOD WE’VE FALLEN OVER!!!’
It’s the same with a portrait shot. Tell a person to ‘just look natural’ and they will spend the next five minutes trying to work out where their hands would be if they were being natural. So wherever possible, give them something to do, whether it’s looking down and then looking up to the camera, or rubbing their hands, or playing with a prop…just give them something that can briefly distract them from the fact that you’re taking a photo of them.

nick-portrait-55 softbox-13

Dad Portrait-33

While shooting these photos of Craig I actually gave him a pull-bouy to throw up in the air and I took a couple of photos of that, which looked pretty cool and really got him thinking about something other than being photographed.


5. Ask

For me the pressure of taking a portrait shot, is nothing compared with the pressure of asking someone if you can take their portrait. To a large extent you are saying ‘If  you give me your time/money, I’ll make you look good’. Which is a pretty big promise. But even in these days of selfies and endless photos on social media…people still rarely have a nice digital distillation of themselves. After all, selfies invariably end up looking everyone else’s (person at an arm’s length away from the camera looking at the screen instead of the camera)…and friends will quite happily post of photo where they look great, and you look like balls. So don’t be afraid to take the plunge and go and ask someone if you can take their photo. You’ve got a 100% better chance of taking a great photo if you do than if you don’t. Oh, and the people who say ‘no’ are probably hiding something 😉

Photographer, Eddie Jim

With Craig, I didn’t ask him in advance as I figured if I’d said ‘Can you come around for a video shoot and then some photos?’ it would seem like too much of an undertaking. Instead I set up the soft-box in advance (if you look in the background of the shot where Craig walks towards the camera you can actually see the soft-box set up in the background), and then when we had finished the video  I said ‘Would you mind if I just grab a couple of shots, so that you’ve got some photos for the website.’ Talking on a video is more stressful than standing and having your photo taken…so he probably figured he had already done the hard yards…and besides, what did he have to lose? If he didn’t like the photos, he just wouldn’t use them.
In the end he used that shot on pretty much all of his web and social media content.

6. Take inspiration

You have so many options at your disposal when it comes to taking a photo. There are endless combinations of shutter speed, aperture and ISO…and that’s before you’ve even started composing the shot, or getting someone to pose or choosing a lens. So don’t be afraid to find something that you like, and then try to emulate it. I’m not saying you should make a career out of ripping off other photographers, but when  you’re starting out…or if you’re in a creative rut, don’t be afraid to experiment and try to work out how they get the shots that you like. A friend of mine (Eli Mrkusich) introduced me to the work of Alain Laboile and I had a great time trying to recreate it with my kids…albeit without the French countryside…or the incredible light he captures…or his endless creativity…or his…look, let’s just say we were not only not in the same ball-park, but not even really playing the same sport. But it was fun, and photography should be fun!


With the photo of Craig I think I was trying to be somewhere between David Hobby and Zack Arias.

7. B&W

Friend, and fellow X-T1 enthusiast, Luke Vesty and I often have the same discussion where we have done a black and white execution of a shot and a colour execution…we feel that the black and white one is better, while our wives think the colour is better. We reassure each other that of course we’re right (and on top of that we’re brilliant photographers…and remarkably good husbands), but I do think that a lot of photographers have a weak-spot for black and white. It’s probably because growing up, the photos that had the biggest impact were black and white and so we are subconsciously trying to replicate them (it will be interesting to see if in 20 years time there are vast swathes of photographers with a weak-spot for the Instagram filter ‘Juno’). Whatever the reason, I love using black and white in portraits…and with a digital camera I don’t even have to be brave and commit to shooting on black and white film…I can just press ‘black and white’ in Lightroom! But going with black and white does also give you a lot of options in terms of pushing the contrast or colour balance without having to worry about someone’s skin tones suddenly looking like an Oompa-loompa.
I also think it adds a lot of gravity and sincerity to a shot. Seeing as I lack that in myself…I like to try to pretend I have it by putting it in my photos.

Boy on train
Boy on train

The photo of Craig actually worked really well in colour (as it was primarily a black t-shirt on a white background anyway)…but as this was the first time I’d used my new flash equipment I hadn’t learned how to angle the infra-red trigger away from the person in the shot…and so there was a horrible red cast over Craig and the wall behind him was a little bit pink. But you know what lets you hide amateur-hour mistakes you’ve made with colours? Black and white! So, black and white it was.

8. Change it up

There have been plenty of times when I’ve found a shot that I like, and then I’ve just fired off multiple versions of that shot. If I have half an hour with a person, I might take pretty much the same photo for 25 minutes, and then try something different for the last five minutes. Yet when I start working on the photos in post, it is invariably one of the photos where I’ve done something different that ends up being my favourite.
So by all means, take the shot that you’re comfortable with, but then change the lens, or shoot from up high, or from below the eyeline of the person, or change your orientation from portrait to landscape. Whatever it is, just think differently and make a change. You may not get a better photo, but you will learn, and you will keep your subject engaged and active.

Uncle Jack Charles
A Daylesford woodland nymph
Motorsport photographer Joel Strickland
Some random beautiful woman in Queensland

With Craig I did dance a little between a 35mm and a 56mm lens…and I reckon while the landscape version of his head and shoulders shot was the winner for the day…this portrait 3/4 shot could have been…if I’d only paid a bit more attention to not cropping out half of his hand!


So there you have it, 8 tips on taking better portraits. If you’ve learnt anything from this post…or if you’re just a decent human being…then please donate to the GoFundMe page.

percivals-5 percivals-4 percivals-2

Over the course of the 8in8in8 I got to spend some time with Lindell, Sam & Sienna and I know the hole that will be left in their lives by Craig’s death. While we can never replace their loss, we can always do our bit to help out.



A final thank you to Craig Percival

Last week I received the shock news that a man that I admired and considered a friend had suffered a heart-attack. At the back on my mind was always a fear that he may die, but this was Craig Percival, he’d done 8 Ironmans in 8 days in the 8 States and Territories of Australia…he was invincible. So numerous times over the last week I’ve refreshed my email in the hope of seeing a message that started ‘Great news everyone…’, knowing that from there another story of Craig’s endurance would begin.
Instead I opened my email this afternoon to find a message that began ‘It is with the heaviest of hearts…’ and I momentarily resisted opening it, in the hope that I could delay inevitable, but I couldn’t. One of the most amazing people I had ever met had passed away, and it broke my heart.
Craig coached me for nearly 15 months to the completion of my first Ironman. He also got me on board to film a documentary about the 8in8in8. During that time we would communicate every week, whether through email, text or phone…and not once did he say ‘Chris, you know what the best thing for you to do is? Wallow in self-pity.’ So I can’t imagine he wants me to start now. Instead I want to focus on the amazing things that he did. Because we need a lot more people like Craig in the world, and at the moment, we’re one down.

‘Not only can do, but did do’

In a world where people are too scared to tackle the seemingly impossible, Craig was willing to commit 100%. Not only that, but if you were looking to do something seemingly impossible, then he would commit himself 100% to that as well.
We need to keep this alive, because that sort of dedication and enthusiasm is contagious…and we seem to be surrounded by an ever increasing number of ‘seemingly impossible’ things.

This group of kids cheered Craig's every lap.
This group of kids cheered Craig’s every lap.

A family man

Craig was fiercely devoted to his kids. He often told me that the thing that he used as a motivator for when he was doing a really hard run set in his preparation for the 8in8in8 was the thought of him running over the last hundred meters of the last marathon with Lindell and the kids.
One of the most beautiful moments of the 8in8in8 was when he was reunited with his kids before the final swim in Melbourne. Like a prizefighter he taken so many punches and hits over the preceding 7 days and still stayed on his feet, but a hug from his daughter nearly nearly overpowered him.
He was also part of an incredible team with Lindell. There were so many times during the 8in8in8 when it looked like it was just them against the world, and instead of relenting, they took strength from each other and overcame. It was amazing to watch.

60kms into the 180 ride,and still a marathon after that. Sometimes the only person who can support you is the person who knows you best
60kms into the 180 ride,and still a marathon after that. Sometimes the only person who can support you is the person who knows you best



You can’t fake inspiration, and Craig was just inspirational. I don’t know how many marathons, 70.3 and Ironmans he had coached people to…but it would be thousands. And every one of those people had been inspired by Craig and in turn has no doubt inspired other people.
I met Greg McDermott and April Gillies on the Sydney leg of the 8in8in8 and Greg recently rode around Australia with April providing support. They walked along the Cronulla foreshore into the wee hours of the night to support Craig…but I also feel that they got a boost of inspiration for what they were looking to embark on. Peter Wheatley did 30 marathons in 30 days. Ailie Coulter did the Ultraman world champs. These are people who have been inspired by Craig, and who in turn have inspired me.
So please, if you can do one thing in memory of Craig, inspire people. Make people feel good about themselves and see what they can achieve.



When I did the Melbourne marathon, Craig was there yelling on support, when I did Shepparton 70.3, he was there, giving me a wetsuit fitting that was worth at least five minutes in the swim, at Ironman Melbourne he jogged along with me and when I said ‘I just vomited blood’…he said ‘Bonus!’ He raised over $100K for the John Maclean Foundation, and even in death he gave his organs so that other people might have a second chance at life.
In a world where more and more people want to take more than they give…it’s those who give that we remember.

I was so proud of being part of the 8in8in8. I felt so privileged to have been let into the inner-sanctum with Lindell, Kate, Grant, Ginny and everyone else, and to spend time with Sam and Sienna. I don’t want to dwell on the hurt, because I know that there are people hurting a lot more than me, but Craig, your loss is a brutal reality that hasn’t even sunk in yet.
Just know that you have built an incredible family of athletes, and we will rally around Lindell and the kids. Not just now, but for as long as they need us, and know that you have changed my life with both my Ironman and the 8in8in8, and I will be eternally grateful.

Your friend,


P.S If anyone reading this would like to support Craig’s wife and kids, please head here and give generously

Top 8 photos from #8in8in8

The opportunity to document someone attempting 8 Ironmans in 8 days in the 8 States/Terrritories of Australia doesn’t present itself all that often…in fact when Craig Percival mentioned it to me, he also mentioned that he would be the first person to ever attempt this feat. I readily said yes, as it was a very good way of ensuring I wouldn’t be asked to join him for any of the swimming/riding/running.
By the time all of the logistics and financial implications were sorted, we agreed that I would travel to Canberra to see Craig finish there, then travel with the team to Sydney, sleep the night in Sydney, then document all day in Sydney, fly home to Melbourne the next day and then film and photograph Craig’s final Ironman in Melbourne.

Fuji, Canon & GoPro...and it all fits in a backpack!
Fuji, Canon & GoPro…and it all fits in a backpack!

Things got off to a poor start due to the predilection of Melbourne drivers to crash into each other as soon as the roads get wet…despite leaving the city at 4.30pm, my 6.45pm flight had left by the time I got to the airport. So I had to book another flight…and given that there weren’t any more flights into Canberra, I had to fly to Sydney instead. I called Kate Patterson to let her know that I would meet her at the accommodation in Sydney, and I got the distinct impression that things were not going well in Canberra…and that perhaps my throwing another spanner into the works was about as welcome as a cold-sore. In fact, Craig was unlikely to finish the Canberra Ironman until about 2-3am, and so the team was going to drive directly from Canberra to the pool in Sydney to start the next one. Craig would sleep in the car as would the rest of the team…although ideally not all at the same time as that would make driving treacherous.
Clearly this was not the ideal start to my filming and photography…but a little drama never hurt anybody.

But when Craig arrived at the pool the next morning I realised that it hadn’t been ‘a little drama’, and it had indeed hurt him. In fact Kate and Lindell pulled me aside to tell me that during the drive from Canberra they had agreed to pull the pin on 8in8in8. Craig would do as much of the swim as he could…but that was it. It was over. As the guy who was meant to be documenting a triumph…I quickly realised that my day was over before it began.
But then 3 x Ironman World Champion Craig ‘Crowie’ Alexander jumped in the pool with Craig and I thought I may as well take some shots…so here, in no particular order, are my top 8 shots from the 8in8in8. These are not necessarily the best photos, or the photos that best encapsulate the whole thing, but they are the images that captured the key moments for me as a somewhat embedded observer.

#1 The before shot

A few days before 8in8in8
A few days before 8in8in8

Traditionally the ‘before’ photo is used to show how much someone has improved in the ‘after’ photo. How much weight they’ve lost, or how ripped their abs are now. But I think that in the ‘after’ photo for this one, there probably wouldn’t have been the relaxed smile, the quiet confidence and the ‘let’s do this’ attitude…I also think the t-shirt would have said ‘Ragged’ instead of ‘Jaggad’.

#2 The swim in Sydney

Gotta love the GoPro
Gotta love the GoPro

If you ever want a brutal reminder of just how out of shape you are, let me assure you that donning the budgie-smugglers and hopping into a pool with a 3 x Ironman World Champion and a man who has done 5 Ironmans over the last 5 days is a remarkably good place to start. But I was determined to get some under water footage of Craig swimming, so myself and the trusty GoPro jumped into the pool. After I got the footage I was after I decided to get some photos too. One of the challenges with shooting with this GoPro is that it doesn’t have a viewfinder, so you can’t actually see what you are shooting. You just have to line up a shot that you think will work and shoot. I was shooting on burst mode so that I got 10 shots in 3 seconds. The other nine shots in this burst were rubbish (catching a swimmer mid stroke can either look powerful and fluid…or like they are coming a distant second in an underwater dancing competition), but this one I love. The reflection creates really nice symmetry with both the stairs and Craig’s arm, and more importantly I know I never would have got it if I hadn’t swallowed my pride and jumped in the pool.

#3 The power of words

When John Maclean talks, you listen.
When John Maclean talks, you listen.

As I said earlier, Craig had decided to pull the pin on the 8in8in8 on the way from Canberra to Sydney. He had pretty much done the swim because Crowie and John Maclean were there. But the local Cronulla Tri squad had sorted a masseuse to come and give Craig a rub down, and while Craig was lying there John Maclean came over to talk to him. Sometimes you can see two people talking and just sense the gravity of what they are talking about, and this was one of those times. I knew I had to capture it, but when I took the photo from the side so that I could see both of them, it just didn’t work. So I scampered the other way so that I could see Craig, but that still didn’t work. Then I went behind Craig’s shoulder and realised that I could see John’s wheelchair in the background and knew that this shot would really tell a story. So I framed up the shot, pulled focus on John and waited for him to look up towards Craig…when he did ‘snap’, I knew I had the shot I wanted.
Over the last couple of months I’ve been working really hard on not just taking a shot from one angle, but trying to take it from a variety of angles. In this case it really paid off.

#4 The painful reality

60kms into the 180 ride,and still a marathon after that. Sometimes the only person who can support you is the person who knows you best
60kms into the 180km ride,and still a marathon after that. Sometimes the only person who can support you is the person who knows you best

When I think of some of the most powerful photos I’ve seen, I realise that the photographer hasn’t been trying to help the starving child, or save the people running from the explosion, or stop the horror unfolding before them. They have made a decision that their photo will do more to change a situation than anything else they can do.  For better or worse they have had to choose between taking a photo, and actively helping someone, and they have chosen to take the photo.
While of course not on the same scale, I had quite a few moments on my day in Sydney with Craig when I was tempted to take a photo that showed the physical and mental toll the day, and the indeed the previous five days…and no doubt the thought of the next two days, were having on Craig. To show how broken he was. But it just didn’t seem right. I felt as though I would be betraying Craig, Lindell, Kate, Ginny and everyone else who was supporting him.
So when I saw this moment, I knew I had to get it. It showed just how shattered and exhausted Craig was, but it also showed the wealth of support that surrounded him.

#5 Getting ready for the run at Cronulla

'You're still here mate?'
‘You’re still here mate?’

Perhaps this is the reward for not getting in Craig’s face for the preceding 11 hours. It was about 5.30pm, Craig had just hopped off his bike and was preparing to do the marathon along the Cronulla foreshore. I was just waiting to get the right shot of him when he looked at me, laughed and said ‘You’re still here mate?’ As with a lot of the other photos in this blog, this shot serves as a signpost to a turning point. I wasn’t there for the first five days, so I don’t know this for sure, but I felt as though Craig had spent the first five days enjoying people’s support, but not relying on it. But over the course of the day, Craig had let his defences down and realised that if he was going to do this, he was going to have to rely on the support of a whole lot of people he had never met.
So for the next 7 hours he walked the marathon, and people came from all around to walk with him. Earlier in the day he had been worried about what people would think of him if he walked the marathon…but by the end of the day I think he knew exactly what people thought of him BECAUSE he walked the marathon.

#6 The cheer squad at Prahran pool

This group of kids cheered Craig's every lap.
This group of kids cheered Craig’s every lap.

Craig’s motivation for doing the 8in8in8 was to raise money for the John Maclean Foundation.  Last year when he told me he wanted to raise $80K from this, I did my best to pretend that this was achievable. But deep down I wanted to say ‘Are you out of your mind?! I think you’re gravely overestimating the generosity of people’
Fast forward three months and Craig is swimming his final swim leg of the 8in8in8, and after the swim he is going to present a cheque to Tommy Le’Au and his family so that he can get a wheelchair. Tommy’s siblings and cousins had perched themselves by the side of the pool and were cheering him every time he went past. I’ve got three young kids and I know how hard it is to keep their attention for the time it takes to swim one lap of a pool, let alone 76. But these kids clearly knew what Craig was doing and why he was doing it…and they wanted him to know how much they appreciated it.

For the record, Craig has already raised over $84K and has now set his goal as $100K…so if you haven’t donated already, every little bit helps…and this is who you’ll be helping

Tommy and his Mum.
Tommy and his Mum.

#7 Midnight in Melbourne

Running on the Albert Park Grand Prix track.
Running on the Albert Park Grand Prix track.

It’s nearly midnight on Sunday, we are on the closed roads of the Albert Park Grand Prix track, there are over 50 people still running with Craig, and he’s just let us know that he’s confident of finishing this epic event. If that’s not worth a photo, then what is? Of course the challenge is that it’s really dark, they’re too far away to use a flash…but that f1.2 56mm lens that you beat yourself up for buying, has just come into it’s own!

#8 ‘You know I’m going to do this!’

'You know I'm going to do this!'
‘You know I’m going to do this!’

Kate Patterson had worked tirelessly in the lead-up to the 8in8in8…and while ‘tirefully’ isn’t an actual word, if it were, then she would have worked tirefully for duration of the 8in8in8. Surviving on smatterings of sleep, taking days off work to be there when Craig needed her and doing all of the media and social media stuff along the way. She was indefatigable.
About an hour into the final run (on the Albert Park Grand Prix course no less…another thing that Kate had managed to organise), I had perched myself at the 2km turnaround point of the run and was giving Kate some photos for her to feed the ravenous beast that is Facebook. When Craig ran past, then doubled back and said ‘You know I’m going to do this!’ and gave Kate a hug. He still had another 4.5 hours to run, but this was the first time I had heard him say this, and the first time he had let his game face slip, and reveal a little bit of the optimist inside.
Technically this is not a great photo. It was really dark where we were so the ISO is ramped up to 1600, I was clearly hunting for focus so the image isn’t sharp, but it captures a moment…and that’s all I ever really want to do.

Now for the movie

For those who don’t already know I’m putting together a short video about 8in8in8. I’m hopefully shooting the interviews next week, and then will be furiously editing it for a couple of weeks. I’ll do my best to write a few posts about this process.
But in the meantime I just want to thank Craig, Lindell and Kate for taking me on for this project. To Amanda, Grant, Ginny, Shrek, Ailie and everyone else who helped me out along the way, thank you so much, it was greatly appreciated. Last but not least to everyone who supported Craig whether it was in person, or on social media, or by donating to support JMF, you were part of something pretty special and I hope it inspires you to do something great.