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Creators in Running: Erin Groll
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Creators in Running: Erin Groll

Erin Groll is a Cape Town-based creative and co-founder of the Community Track Club. She champions female representation in the industry while balancing her roles as a runner, photographer, and mother.

Words: Sven Rudolph
Photos: Erin Groll

Editor's note: In our “Creators in Running” series, we spotlight the stories and creativity of talented people who are capturing the essence of running and helping to transform the sport. The series aims to showcase the intersection of art and the running community, as well as inspire and help new content creators get out there.

más: How did your journey in photography intersect with your passion for running?

Erin: I've been working in the creative space for about 12 years. After school, I studied photography without a clear direction. I started photographing bands and music, feeling like a rockstar myself. However, the lifestyle led me into a toxic space of drinking and partying too much, and I realised I needed a major life change.

When I quit drinking, I started running to connect with people as a healthier version of myself after leaving an unhealthy lifestyle and group of friends. Having done sports in school, I knew it could help me make new friends and improve my health. Over time, running helped me become fitter, healthier, and emotionally stronger. I became keen on photographing people doing what they do best, known as environmental portraits. I transitioned from photographing people on stage to capturing runners, who were the people I was now spending time with.

Two years ago, I went completely freelance and focused on a niche in sports photography. I guess everywhere, but in South Africa in particular, there aren't many women in this field. I think the more women are visible in sports photography, the more it encourages others to see it as a viable career option. Representation is very important.

What advice would you give to women that would like to jump into this world and not be overwhelmed by the amount of men that are out there doing the same job?

Stand your ground and work with other women. Find a supportive community and know you deserve to be there as much as anyone else. Your work is just as good, if not better, and by standing your ground, you pave the way for more women in the future. This shows that it's a viable career and encourages others.

When I started in sports, seeing women in the field was rare. Now, there are incredible women like Aisha, Courtney White, and Lea creating beautiful content. Their presence and talent are inspiring. The more women who do this, the better represented we are. It's essential to keep pushing forward so more women see this as a possible career path.

Balance Act: Olympic Athlete Juggling Training and Motherhood

This may not be the most technically brilliant photo, but it shows Bianca Williams, the Olympic athlete training in South Africa, who is also a mom to her son, Zuri. This photo is about the balance she manages between being an elite athlete and entertaining her four-year-old while training. There's a lot going on here, and I think moms would resonate deeply with this. Zuri hangs out with her teammates, and it's amazing how involved her whole team is with him. It shows that running, often seen as a solo sport, is actually a team sport in disguise.

When did you have that moment where you realized, "Yes, I'm a photographer - this is my career"?

Interesting. I’ve had quite some surreal moments finding myself with the camera in some experiences. One of the biggest was last year in South Africa, covering the famous Comrades Marathon. Growing up in Durban, where the race starts, I knew how deeply ingrained it is in South African culture. You grow up supporting this race, you sit there as a kid and you clap your hands for the runners as they go by, but you don't know why you're doing it, but you're doing it.

I made friends with a UK athlete, Carla Molinaro, and pitched the idea of covering her race from start to finish, posting real-time updates on her Instagram. She ended up coming third, completing the race in just over six hours. Being able to tell her story was just amazing. Being there, sharing her journey, and standing at the finish line was a career highlight. The positive reception on social media confirmed that my niche in sports coverage was viable. People loved seeing a different side of this iconic race, appreciating both her achievement and the unique perspective we provided.

These athletes go from the highest to the lowest of the lowest in this type of race. How do you handle this situation when you need to shoot and follow them all day?

For me, capturing athletes during tough times is crucial as it tells the full story, whether it was an amazing race or not. While it's tempting to show them only at their best, it's important to reveal their humanity. These incredible athletes experience the same emotions as everyday runners like us. Sharing their complete journey makes them relatable.

The Emotional Aftermath

This is Guillaume Ruel, who set the European 50k record in South Africa last month. This photo captures him minutes after finishing, showcasing the emotional side of running. It's not about joy at the finish line but the realization of what he just endured. He ran at an average pace of 3:20 per kilometer for 50k, battling crazy winds. It's an unbelievable feat, and this moment captures it sinking in, like “Oh, my God, what did I just go through?”

As the co-founder of Community Track Club, how has building this community opened up new opportunities for your career?

Definitely! We host a monthly event where an elite athlete leads a free track session for the running community. It’s a really fun and inclusive event. Runners learn drills, strides, and get coached through a proper training session led by an elite athlete. The group is split into pace groups and lanes, making the session work for every single runner, no matter what their pace is.

The event has been really significant for my career. I’ve met many people and built valuable relationships through it. It has also been really great to pour all my working experience over the years into the event itself. From it’s online presence to the content direction. I absolutely love this aspect of my career and I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to do this.

An amazing development with Community Track Club, is that we have recently partnered with On for the summer, and will be popping up in Europe as part of the ON:TRACK:NIGHTS series for the next 3 months in London, Paris and Vienna.

You're a runner, photographer, videographer, community leader, and a family person. How do you manage to balance it all?

Yeah, it's very challenging. I have a three-year-old who is the light of my life and has taught me so much, but balancing everything is tough. Thankfully, my husband's parents live in Cape Town, so we have extra support. Being a working parent is hard and requires sacrifices. I have to be selective about work, even though I want to take it all on.

You need to ask for help and have layers of support. My husband is very supportive of my career, which has been great since going freelance is scary. His belief in me has helped me believe in myself. Evie, our daughter, understands what running is and often comes to races, waving a cowbell and clapping for runners. Running is a big part of our lives, and she knows it.

Running makes me a better parent, more patient and tolerant. I have immense respect for parents who do this without support while juggling work and family. It's a constant juggle, but I'm grateful I can run.

A National Icon Up Close

This is Wayde van Niekerk, our national icon and 400m world record holder. Earlier this year, I had the chance to photograph one of his training sessions in South Africa. This captures the satisfaction of finishing a very tough session. On that day, many school kids were training on the same track. Wayde took the time to greet each of them, making their day. They couldn't believe they were training on the same track as him.

What do you shoot with?

I shoot with a Sony A74 and a 24-70mm lens. I can't live without ND and Black Mist filters, especially when shooting in the middle of the day with harsh sunlight. These filters make a huge difference, allowing me to capture beautiful content even in tough conditions.

What would be your dream project to shoot if you could choose anything?

I'd love to focus on elite track athletes, capturing their journey and emotions as they prepare for big events. I'd especially like to support our South African team as they get ready for the Olympics, highlighting our incredible runners.

Erin, thanks for the conversation!

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