Behind the Scenes: Ultrafly 4 Photoshoot with Topo Elite, Sho Gray

We love when our elite athletes can model for our photoshoots, especially when it’s for their all-time favorite shoe. We were thrilled when pro ultrarunner Sho Gray was able to squeeze us into his very busy training and volunteering schedule to do a photoshoot for the new Ultrafly 4. He brought the “classic Sho” energy that we all love to location despite his late flight in from Knoxville, Tennessee, the evening before. We asked Sho to share his thoughts about the modeling experience and the upgrades we’ve made to his favorite shoe.

Having wear-tested the Ultrafly 4 before it was released, it was such a privilege to be asked to model for my favorite shoes. Not only did they improve the quality (I put my shoes through A LOT), but I was also stoked to see another bright colorway – the brighter the shoe, the happier I feel while wearing them I say! What I’ve always loved about the Ultrafly series is the fit, which has stayed pleasantly consistent throughout the years.

I was nervous on the flight out to the photoshoot because I didn’t know what to expect since commercial modeling is not my usual gig, but I definitely wanted to do my part in helping to promote my favorite shoe. In the end, it turned out to be a lot more fun than terrifying!

To my relief, getting “the shot” felt a lot like when I take my own “runfies” for my Instagram. I also love meeting new people, so I had a blast hanging out with the crew on set (the other models, the photographers, and people from the Topo team). The location was also so awe-inspiring that it made it pretty easy to look like I was having a wonderful time, because I was!

We started the shoot in the wee hours of the morning in Monterey, California, on Cannery Row surrounded by bright and colorful buildings and docks hugged by beautiful coastal flowers and vegetation (did I mention bright colors makes me so happy!?). Later in the afternoon we drove a very scenic (and windy!) hour up Highway 1 to reach Big Sur in time to shoot during Golden Hour (the hour before sunset). We stopped at several locations to shoot along the famous Big Sur Marathon course, including the breathtaking Bixby Creek Bridge. You can’t tell from the photos, but since it was very exposed on the bridge, I was freezing from the wind constantly blowing at us. Luckily, I stayed warm from the adrenaline pumping through me from all the sprint intervals we did to time our shots between passing vehicular traffic.

Photoshoots require a lot more endurance than I thought, and it does require a lot of tries to get the right shot. Some of us had to run the same stretch of road multiple times making small adjustments each time, but the pictures turned out amazing, so I greatly appreciate photographer Stephen Matera’s eye and commitment to perfection (don’t worry, he’s super nice about it!).

I did find that the biggest difference between my Instagram photos and doing a photoshoot with Steve was that I have an idea of how I want a photo to look at any given point along my run, so I just react to my environment and position myself in real-time. Steve, on the other hand, arrives several days beforehand to scope out the ideal spots, what time to be there for the best lighting, what angles to shoot from and all that jazz. Working with him was awesome because he was able to communicate to me very clearly what he wanted and since I’m used to holding an image in my mind to execute for my own photos, I was able to deliver what he was looking for.

By the end of the day, we were exhausted and hungry! We ran around the sleepy town of Monterey looking for anywhere serving food at 9 p.m. I had to tap into my ultramarathon perseverance mindset since at that point it was starting to feel like one of my races through the night (don’t forget, I’m still operating on East Tennessee time!). It was a good day, and I was so thrilled to see that our hard work had translated into some great photos. Now it’s a little trippy to see my face in ads and on the Topo website, but I had a great time modeling for one of my favorite brands and I hope to do it again!

To keep up with Sho, follow him on instagram at @shogray. To check out more amazing photography from Stephen Matera, follow him on instagram at @stephen_matera.