Most of the time, you can’t see Glenn Tachiyama’s face. Crouched down, obstructed by trees and rocks, the only visible thing is the long black lens of his camera. Each click of the camera’s button captures the step of hundreds of ultrarunners shooting past him on the trails. These runners may see Glenn, or maybe just a flash, as they quickly bound by, but it is the finished product of these encounters that confirm he was really there. For years, Glenn has been the man behind the camera, and this article brings him to the other side of the lens.
Glenn was born and has lived in Seattle, Washington for the last 58 years. He attended college at the University of Washington where he studied psychology and sociology. After realizing that these two majors did not present too many opportunities that suited him, he received a Master of Business and accepted a job working at Bank of America. While working there, he developed one goal: to save up enough money to retire early and devote his life to something he was sincerely passionate about.
Glenn came into running as a form of rehabilitation after breaking his foot while playing tennis. He ran through the local park, enjoying the strengthening muscles he was rebuilding and the solitude the new sport offered. That was in 1979. Then, he said it took him one year to muster up the courage for his first 10k, and another one after that to run his first marathon. For the next 30 years, Glenn has panned the country running marathons on the west coast, Hawaii, and even a few in Canada. Overall, he zoomed in on a Boston Marathon qualifying time, and a marathon PR of 2:38.
But, the long exposure to road running began to take is toll, and in 1994, the trails were luring him in.
“I just wanted to have fun,” he said. “I felt like a kid again on the trails.”
Glenn’s first ultra was the Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run, a 30-mile trail run in Vancouver, British Columbia. He then spent the next few years shuttering through different ultra distances under the 100-mile distance. In 2010, Glenn underwent surgery for his back, and the recovery took longer than he was expecting. He set his sights on the McDonald Forest 50k in 2011.
“One year of recovery was not long enough,” he said laughing at his past mindset. “I finished it, and wanted to finish it, but it was a struggle.”
After the 2011 race, Glenn decided to become a non-competitive runner, sticking just to his own pace and own trails. Yet, his role in the ultra community was still a large part of the picture.
Today, Glenn can be found on the trails of ultra races all over the west coast, including the Deception Pass 50k, Oregon Coast 50k and 30k, Cougar Mountain Trail Run Series, and several marathons. He and his camera have also been stationed at numerous Western States races over the years. His photos pop up all over the internet and in other publications, such as in iRunFar.com articles and UltraRunning magazine.
His photography hobby was born from trail running, rather than being a lifelong muse.
“I started pacing and running around, documenting beautiful places,” he said. “I would bring my camera on everyday runs, but then I gradually progressed to [shooting] races.”
A self-taught photographer, Glenn’s hobby has developed into the Glenn Tachiyama Photography company, where he sells his photos on his personal website, Tachifoto.net. Now, he is asked by local race directors to attend races all year long, donned in a camera rather than a race bib.
“I do not miss out,” he said, reassuring the inquiry on whether or not he missed being a part of the race. “This way I get to capture the racers and the community.”
Though not physically trekking through the 100 miles, Glenn still spends the entire race day on his feet. He is on the course from start to end, sometimes running around to different locations or staying in one opportune spot before heading to the finish line to document the lead runners. The amount of equipment he hauls around depends on the race, but the majority of time requires the same things: two cameras, two to three lenses, batteries, and whatever personal items he needs for himself.
“I am self-sustained,” he said. “I have to bring extra food, water, and clothes. I don’t want to rely on aid stations, those are for the runners.”
Meghan Hicks can back this up, adding in her own experience of working instead of running during an ultra. It was the infamous early rain and later sunshine of the 2012 Western States where Glenn was taking photos and Hicks was doing live coverage for iRunFar. They saw each other early in the day, each one donned head to toe in rain gear, including each ones’ electronic gear. They laughed at the down-pouring weather, commenting, “Better to be us than the runners.” However, 60 miles later they were again on the course, but this time with the sunshine beating down on their t-shirts- and shorts-wearing bodies.
“At the finish, when Timothy Olson rounded the track, the sun was an orange orb sinking from a clear sky,” Hicks said. “Glenn and I stood behind the finish, awaiting him. ‘What a day,’ we commented.”
Glenn officially launched his photography business in 2011 and has since documented thousands of photos from races and training runs. He has worked with other organizations and websites producing projects like videos and slideshows.
This year marks the 10th annual Tribute to the Trails Calendar, a compilation of photos taken from an ultra he shot each month of the year. When first starting to take photos, Glenn said he would wind up with hundreds of pictures and not do anything with them. He began pulling photos to design the calendar as a fundraiser for the local running organization, the Washington Trails Association (WTA). Today, he and the president of WTA, Wendy Wheeler-Jacobs, work together putting out the calendar each year and managing sponsorships like Udo’s Oil and Flora Inc., among many others. Over the last nine years, proceeds donated to the organization through calendar sales have totaled more than $133,000.
Glenn said that he represented these sponsorships as an ambassador, but two years ago he asked the companies if they would instead support the production costs of the calendar instead.
For the calendar, Glenn tries to flip through the hundreds of photos he takes soon after each race, but the stack of potential candidates escalates quickly.
“I will note while I am shooting, ‘Okay, that one will go into the calendar,’” he said. “But I usually will have to go back later and select one.”
A lot of the photos come from the races directed by James Varner and Matt and Kerri Stebbins and the Rainshadow Running Races, a series of Pacific Northwest ultras and distances.
Glenn and the Rainshadow Running series have a long history, and according to the Stebbins, Glenn is “omnipresent” when it comes to working at their races, and they absolutely love it.
This year a Vimeo film showcased the Sun Mountain 50-Mile and 50k in Winthrop, Washington. Project Talaria, a two-man company that documents their personal and others’ running adventures was chosen to shoot the race. They teamed up to interview Glenn while he was there to photograph the race.
“I shot many of the Rainshadow Running races,” he said. “They are challenging races and it lets me do something different for each one. The video project was something new, too. It was a promotional video to highlight some of the races of the series.”
Matt and Kerri feel like Glenn is part of their extended Rainshadow family, admitting that they couldn’t imagine a Rainshadow race without him.
“We know runners love getting to relive race weekends via the fun, sometimes gritty, and always authentic photographs of themselves rocking epic trails that Glenn takes at the races,” Kerri said. “That’s part of what makes Glenn so great, too, is his humility. He’s so reluctant to take credit for a great shot. He does such a great job of always making his work about the runners and the trails, and his work is just always so solid.”
The Project Talaria video differs than others made by the team. In addition to featuring the racers, Glenn’s own story is interspersed throughout the film, showcasing his history of running and photography. The camera is turned on him as he arrives and sets up for a day of shooting the race.
“I was uncomfortable,” he admitted. “I am not a big speaker. Every time someone asks me to do something like that I ask, ‘Why are you interested in me?’”
The shy, introverted quality of Glenn’s personality may be present in front of a camera or on the phone, but while running with close friends out on the trails, that side is soon forgotten.
“Around his close, friends he’s talkative, playful, and silly, but he’s also a good listener and he’s attentive,” Kathleen Egan said. He remembers everything. He’s very much a youthful soul, I really like that about him.”
Coming across his photos on websites or used by other people, Glenn typically does not recognize it as a large success on his part. However, he wrote in an email a couple weeks ago about how that sometimes changes.
“Yesterday was a good example when Rob Krar used one of my photos with his 2014 Ultrarunner of the Year post,” he said, referring to Krar’s January 1 Facebook post. “I mean out of the hundreds of photos that were taken of him last year, he ends up using one of mine. It’s satisfying and validating knowing that an image I captured resonates enough with him to represent his year!”
Egan also mentioned Glenn’s humble attitude toward his role in the ultra community.
“Let’s just say that within 15 minutes of getting out of the car in Chamonix, France (the week of Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc), he was recognized by a local runner,” she said. Glenn accompanied Egan and her husband as they ran and fastpacked the Tour du Mont Blanc trail. “I think that speaks volumes about his work both on an international as well as national level.”
Glenn’s photography is dedicated primarily to ultrarunning. As an ultrarunner himself, he believes his success on being able to appreciate and understand both sides: of being in front and behind the lens.
Similar to spending hours on a trail running, with nothing but the wind whistling and squirrels skittering about, Glenn spends many hours alone, trudging through his ‘miles’ of work.
“I don’t mind being out there alone for hours,” he said. “Then I get home and edit photos for days. It has helped being on both sides.”
Still, Glenn prefers to remain behind the camera. From this seat, he can study the ultra community and contribute to it in his own way.
Krissy Moehl says it is his ability to appreciate both positions of the community that enables him to capture the spirit and beauty of the trails.
“I have such admiration for what he has created for himself as a photographer,” she said. The two met through fellow runners and the Seattle running community. “Doing something he loves and finding that people love what he does. It is a great story.”
As a part-time gig, Glenn works at the Seven Hills Running Shop in Seattle, where he manages the store’s website photos and Instagram page.
Training and participating in another race is not on Glenn’s agenda. Instead you will find him out on the Washington trails, running shoes on and camera in hand, ready to capture the next breathtaking photo.
“I’m not interested in competing,” he said. “If there is good scenery then I will stop and take a photo, but I just want to go out on the trails and run.”
Whatever the temperature, weather, or terrain, ultrarunners are out there on the course. And whatever the temperature, weather, or terrain, there Glenn will be, ready to document the adventure of trail running.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
If you are an ultrarunner, you’ve probably heard of, met, and/or seen a photograph taken by Glenn. Let’s hear your stories about seeing him on the trails, taking photographs, and capturing your race experience!