The Rock ‘ n Roll of
Running history of trail and mountain running is uncannily similar to that of rock ‘ n roll music . – BY KIM STEPHENS & SEAN FALCONER
Rock ‘ n Roll music originated and evolved
in the US during the late 1940s and early 1950s . It was ostensibly a hot melting pot of Gospel , Jump Blues , Jazz , Country and Rhythm & Blues music . The beat usually featured a dance rhythm that was less structured than the musical genres that went before it , and it was generally led by either a saxophone or a piano , and a personality . Also , its followers were considered rebels by traditionalists , referred to as instigators , and even called the heathens of music .
There are many comparisons that can be drawn between the Rock ‘ n Roll movement , and the renegade rock-hoppers of trail running . The truly off-road running ‘ genre ’ came about as an alternative to mainstream running , a breakaway sport for athletes seeking a less structured , but no less challenging , running discipline . However , while Rock ‘ n Roll was busy getting the nonconformist feet tapping in the late 40s , historians claim that trail running as we know it today was , in fact , born in the USA as far back as 1904 !
The Oldest Trail in the US
The story goes that one summer day in 1904 , several members of San Francisco ’ s venerable Olympic Club set off for the Dipsea Inn , which had just opened on the Pacific Ocean sand spit now called Seadrift . They took the ferry to Sausalito , then the train to their starting point , the depot in Mill Valley . A wager was made as to who could run the fastest from there to the Inn , and the challenge proved so exciting that Club members decided to make an annual race of it .
The first Dipsea Race was held on a rainy November day in 1905 , with more than 100 runners registered for what was proclaimed as “ the greatest cross-country run that was ever held in this or any other country .” That original “ cross-country ” title was something of a misnomer , as the Dipsea was more in keeping with the “ fell races ” traditionally run in the UK . Participants chose their own routes , much of which was forested , root-infested and featured jarring flights of stairs . Today , the scenic 7.4-mile ( 12km ) course from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach is still considered to be one of the most beautiful courses in the world , but the many stairs and steep trails make it a gruelling and treacherous race .
Interestingly , winners in the Dipsea record book range in age from 8 to 70 , and women featured in the field of participants as far back as 1918 , with the all-women ’ s Dipseas held from 1918 through 1922 actually outdrawing the men ’ s editions in terms of numbers ! That was long before women were permitted to line up in American ( or global ) distance races on road , and the event ’ s unique handicapping start system has made winners of both men and women of all ages . Just a few more ways trail running has always tended to buck the norms set by road running .
Getting Back to Music …
Legendary Blues singer , guitarist and songwriter Memphis Minnie , who was active from the 1920s to the 1950s , would probably have enjoyed the company of the running women of Dipsea . Rock ‘ n Roll has its roots in the Blues , and Minnie was one of its stars , recording over 200 songs . As Blues legend Big Bill Broonzy said , she could “ pick a guitar and sing as good as any man I ’ ve ever heard ,” and her songs have gone on to be covered by the likes of Led Zeppelin and many other modern musical acts . Like the Dipsea trail runners , she was a true trailblazer .
That is part of the history of Rock ‘ n Roll , which has had its labels . One of the ground-breaking , historical and original arenas of interracial connection , it is often referred to as the amalgam of black Rhythm & Blues , and white Country music . In as much as the conservatives feared the jukebox of the 1950s , perhaps the same could be said for the governing bodies of athletics today , when it comes to trail running .
The definition of trail running has , over time , seen some attempts at documentation and legislation by the powers that be . However , much like the Rock ‘ n Roll genre , it has escaped the confines of specific labels and remains an eclectic mix of its origins . Some gravel , forest escape , single track bliss and mountainous meandering combine happily with inclines that cause calf muscles to curl up and escape behind kneecaps , or quad-pummelling descents that simply defy the rules of gravity , and logical self-care . Trail running is a full body , multiple sensory experience . It is freedom , and an escape akin to a secret dance floor .
Many believe that trail running , like rock ‘ n roll , is where it ’ s at for anyone who cares to beat a drum to the likes of lyrics such as Led Zeppelin ’ s “ a new day will dawn , for those who stand long , and the forests will echo with laughter .” Trail … Rock ‘ n Roll … It never dies .
Credit to Wildrunner This article first appeared in the regular newsletter sent out by Wildrunner , a Cape-based events company specialising in trail running events , including the popular Trail Series Super League and the Mountain Challenge Series . More info at www . trailseries . co . za or www . mountainchallenge . co . za , or you can visit www . wildrunner . co . za .
Images : Jonathan Jones & Pexels
28 ISSUE 133 SEPTEMBER 2020 / www . modernathlete . co . za