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The July issue of UltraRunning magazine put a leaper on its cover. We thought it timely to re-share with you this article that Ben Kimball wrote for the May/June issue of our magazine. Ben reports, “They call it a ‘jump shot,’ which… well, let’s just say I prefer ‘Ultra Leap.’” No matter what you call it, read below to learn all about it.

A rare double-leap at the Ghost Run Half Marathon in Hebron, CT. This and all photos by Ben Kimball.

Unbridled exuberance. The sheer joy of putting peak athletic fitness to the test. Many runners feel it when racing, and sometimes they just can’t contain it. Add a camera to the mix and extraordinary things can happen. Soon after I started taking photos at races, I noticed a phenomenon that I’ve come to call the Ultra Leap. It’s a hard shot to get; I’ve probably missed more than I’ve caught.

A levitational Vader-Aid leap just before the turn-around at Seven Sisters.

The scene often plays out like this: somewhere out on the course, maybe well into a race, runners approach and I line up a shot, attempting to catch full strides, powerful push-offs, or feet off the ground (I try my best to not post too many slumpy “downbeat” shots). Suddenly, through the viewfinder I see a swift, unexpected motion as the person bounces up out of the frame (and sometimes focus), maybe with an accompanying whoop of glee. Someone, with no business doing anything but spending energy wisely, just sailed several feet straight up in the air. Why?

At first I was only seeing the Ultra Leap in, well, ultras. However, I’ve since witnessed it at a bunch of trail races as well, and even in the occasional half marathon and 10K.

I don’t know whether the leap is a spontaneous moment of athletic exuberance or something more… I have questions. What inspires these people to jump? Clearly it’s not the most efficient use of energy. Maybe I missed a meme somewhere? Maybe people took a cue from photos at trail races like Seven Sisters where everyone needs to at least partially jump to get down a particular ledge, or races with stream crossings where the coolest shots are of people madly splashing across a brook, arms akimbo amidst a wild spray of water drops?

Most of the leapers I’ve asked have declined to offer any insights as to why they leap. Actually… all of them declined. I didn’t get a single response for this story. So, presumably they prefer to keep the reasons to themselves, which is totally fine; and perhaps it’s even better that way—some questions are best left unanswered. The mystery is part of the appeal.

Whatever the inspiration, I have to say it always makes my day when it happens. Though the things that compel leapers remain secret, the effect is the same: this photographer can’t help but shoot and smile. At any rate, it’s 2016. Happy Leap Year!  Ω

Explosive acrobat-style leap at mile 15 of the Vermont 100 Ultramarathon (at 0615).

Late race leap at Jones Nose on Mt. Greylock during the Mt. Greylock Half Marathon.

Jacqueline Choi at mile 47 of the VT 100.

Halfway through the Sawmill River Run 10K on New Year’s Day in Montague, MA.

Still game for a leap near the end of the Westfield Half Marathon.

To view a complete gallery of Ben Kimball’s Leapers, click right here.

Ben Kimball lives in Greenfield, MA. He is a photographer at Northeast Race Photo, the author of a guidebook called Trail Running Western Massachusetts, and editor of the Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club (SMAC)’s newsletter, The Sugarloaf Sun.

To read more from the May/June issue, click here.

To read from our current issue, click here.

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