We had the good fortune of connecting with Mike McMonagle and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mike, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed photography for years, and by early 2022 I felt like I’d been steadily getting quite a bit better at it for some time. At that point, I’d had a few people, brands, or publications reach out to me to pay for some photos. I was still working full-time, but that was the first time I realized there was at least some potential to actually get paid for something that I’m genuinely passionate about.
So I decided to start shitinthewoods, llc, mainly to make myself a little more “official” and give myself a more formal opportunity for growth. I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to take it at the time, and honestly I still don’t. But whether it remains a sort of side gig indefinitely, or ultimately becomes my primary way of making a living, I wanted to set the groundwork with a business license.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
Running long distances changed my life, and I firmly believe I am a better person for it. I vividly remember standing on the starting line of my first marathon in 2006, unsure whether or not I’d actually accomplish what I was about to attempt. But I did. That was a turning point for me. I leveled up my confidence — not just with running, but to face other challenges or goals in life. The same thing happened again a few years later when I attempted and finished my first 50 mile run.
In the sport of running — whether it’s on the track, the roads, or mountain trails — people are constantly exploring their limits and asking how far can they go, or how fast. And then when they find out the answer, they ask themselves if they can go farther, or faster.
So what does this have to do with photography? Well, I want as many people as possible to be able to see it — to see the grit, the adventure, the risk-taking, the gratification that comes with questioning personal limits. Because if more people see it, more people will want to try it themselves. And like I said, it made me a better person, so I believe in the positive influence it will have on people’s lives.
I hope that people see some of my photos and think, “I want to see what that feels like”, or, “I think I can do that too.”
That’s a major source of my motivation to provide inspiring images to as many people as possible; but, more specifically, I hope that people can relate to the runners they see in my photos. I want a young girl to see a picture of Leah running on a mountaintop at sunset and be inspired to try it herself. I want someone who may not feel welcome or represented in the outdoors to see a photo of someone they identify with, and be similarly inspired to try it themself. Representation and inclusivity, especially in trail and ultrarunning, is an ongoing challenge, and something that I believe I have a responsibility to improve. I believe that I, and the sport in general, have a lot of work to do and a lot of room for improvement, but I hope that I can continue to become more and more part of the solution.
If I can feel like I’m making an impact to those ends, I will feel like I’m contributing something valuable.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I live in Salt Lake City, Utah, so a week-long itinerary with a visitor would be largely dependent on the season! Skiing is great in the winter, but I’d recommend a summertime or autumn visit. So let’s say it’s wildflower season, or explosive fall color season, in the Wasatch Mountains. Let’s get up early in the morning, make some coffee and drive 10-15 minutes to a trailhead where we can run/hike a few thousand feet up to the summit of any of dozens of mountains to choose from — maybe Mount Raymond, Gobblers Knob, Superior, or Timpanogos. Let’s time it so we’re at the summit right around sunrise; I’ll take some pictures of you, and then we’ll run back down!
After that, more coffee of course. Let’s grab an espresso at Blue Copper, or maybe a latte and breakfast at Tulie Bakery.
We’ll have a low-key afternoon, and maybe swing by a state-regulated liquor store (that’s the only option) to pick up some cocktail ingredients, then do an evening campfire at a picnic site in Millcreek Canyon.
Let’s be real — next morning, we’re hitting another mountaintop or alpine lake. Maybe White Pine Lake, or an iconic loop through the mountains around Brighton, Alta, Solitude, and Snowbird ski resorts. If we’re up there, it’s never a bad idea to swing by Snowpine Lodge for some brunch/lunch/apres.
We could continue this pattern all week, but since we’ve got a few days, let’s go camp a night or two in the Uinta Mountains. It’s only about an hour and a half drive, depending on where exactly we go, but we’ll camp at 10,000ft and should definitely make time for the 26-mile roundtrip summit of King’s Peak, the tallest mountain in Utah.
Back in Salt Lake, between all this adventuring, we’ll make sure to get fried chicken sandos for lunch at Pretty Bird, Caputo’s for breakfast sandwiches or Italian meats and cheeses, coffee at Honeysuckle, Publik, and Three Pines, and beers at Fisher or TF Brewing. If we’re feeling fancy, a night out for sushi at Takashi and cocktails at neighboring Post Office Place is a must!
Salt Lake City is growing fast, so there are seemingly infinite options and probably many that I don’t know about! But one thing I can promise is that your week here will be somehow both extremely exhausting and relaxing at the same time!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’m extremely lucky to be Leah’s husband. She exemplifies continual growth and sustainable balance in all aspects of life, and I’m lucky enough to get a front-row seat for it! She encourages me to challenge myself, inspires me to work hard, and is extremely patient when I’m lugging my camera around on a long run asking her to “run across that rock one more time”.
Leah and I both are constantly inspired, and lifted up, by the ultrarunning community. We’re surrounded by people with a remarkable combination of ambition, humility, and sense of adventure. Maybe one of the things I love most about that community is that the line between “mentor”, “friend”, and “role model” is often blurred. I admire my friends, I’m friends with my role models, and I’m constantly meeting my heroes.
All images are my own.