A Different Beat

The revelation came to me somewhere around the middle of the race. I'm pretty sure it was after I'd fallen the first time, sending my glasses flying into the brush while I was yelling, "I'm fine!" to those around me while I staggered to recover my pace, but still before I'd fallen the second time, cutting my hand open and yelling a slew of bad language into the trees. Sidenote: if this runner falls in the woods and he can not see another runner in front or behind him, I assure you: he does makes a sound. Plenty of them, in fact.

The scene for all of this was the On the Rocks Trail Run at Rocky Ridge Park in York, PA. This was my first trail race in nearly a year and more importantly, my last prior to the Susquehanna Super Hike, a 28.4 mile ultra coming up next month. On the Rocks featured a 2 loop course; runners could choose between the 8.5 and 16.3 distance. I'd chosen the latter.

Given the name and location of the race, it shouldn't surprise you and it didn't surprise me, but it really can't be overstated: the course was all about rocks. Big rocks. Small rocks. Sharp rocks. Slippery rocks. Rocks, rocks, rocks. Rocks which essentially exist to punish runners who aren't well versed in trail running. Like me.

It's isn't that I don't enjoy love trail running. On the contrary, I adore it. But being a great (or mediocre) road runner doesn't automatically translate to the trails, and I was reminded of this throughout Saturday's race.

Specifically, my efficient road style, with a very low foot lift in my turnover, when placed on shifting terrain, translates to a guy kicking everything in his path throughout the run, which in this case happened to be rocks. It hurts a little on the rocks that moved. It hurts like hell on the ones that didn't. Seven times, I counted this happen (in addition to the two spills). Twice, I was more than a little scared I'd broken a big toe. The first five times it was my left foot and just about the time I was concluding that foot was the culprit for all my problems, my right went into a rock so large and immovable that I wobbled on for a quarter mile, certain my fall season might be over before it started.

And it occurred to me while I was doing all this that being a runner isn't unlike being a drummer, something I know a little about, though truth be told if I'm a mediocre to good runner, these days I'm a poor to fair drummer. And road running, it seems to me, is like being a rock-n-roll drummer. The beat might be fast or slow, but once you set your tempo, aside from a few creative bridges, that's the song, dude.

But trail running isn't like that. In trail running, you can easily go from sprinting to walking in a matter of seconds. And here's the key; if you focus, even for a second, on what you were doing 5 seconds ago, that's when you screw up and find yourself rolling in ferns. In that way then, trail running is more like jazz drumming, where measure and time are frequently changing and the challenge is to keep up with all of those changes.

The good news? As terrible as this experience was, I learned that lesson last year, and have been doing "jazz" practice once per week at the local park, substituting hills and trails for suburban macadam. And while practicing jazz once per week won't make you a great drummer, it will make you a lot better than the guy who only plays rock and roll and shows up to a jazz concert and thinks he'll sound good.

Diabetes-wise, it was a dream day: I woke up at 100. I had a Clif bar (40 g.) 30 minutes prior to the race with no insulin and set my basal rates to 50%. During the race, I took a swig of gel every 30 minutes. At the end of the race, my blood sugar was 109.

And thanks to my practice, it was also my first award in a trail race, as I took home second in my age group, covering 16.3 miles of rock in two hours and fifty minutes.

Truth is, I've always liked jazz.


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