When I started to run more seriously after having children to get fit, I lived in suburbia in the south west of Sydney. My normal running route was around the streets, on the sidewalk where I battled the pavement for kilometres at a time, my only scenery the houses that lined the streets and the cars that drove by. Sounds of life, smells of dinners cooking and a low hum of the traffic not far away.
I used to get up early to run when it was dark as I loved the peace that this time provided me. Solace. Time to just hear my footsteps on the path and less ‘noise’ of the world, but something still made it hard to get out there.
When I started training for my first marathon, I would map out a route and would spend hours pounding the pavement on a big loop that would see me run upwards to 34kms. I would always come home exhausted, bored from the run and my body would be sore all over for days. This went on for a few years until I discovered that I had a bit of bush that surrounded my suburb.
The thought of going out into the bush at first on my own was daunting and so I went with a friend sometimes, sometimes by myself, but never too far away from the houses. I began to love what this form of running offered me.
When I was road running all the time the focus was always on being faster; pushing harder, but the trails instilled in me something so much more than the grind of the road did. It gave me an inner peace and joy of running that I didn’t have before….an experience like no other.
Not long after I started to explore trails I decided to try my first trail event. This was at the Southern Highlands Challenge. I competed in this event with my daughter and we had a lot of fun. After this I began being coached by one of Australia’s best trail runners, and I also started my journey towards my first Ultra Marathon. My next trail event was the Coastal Classic. This event was a major turning point in my running journey to a focus on trail and ultra running.
Being a distance runner, and being an ultra runner particularly tends to lend towards trail running. This is because most ultra distances in Australia are off the road. For me personally though, the pull of a trail event over a road event gets me every time. I find them to be just what my soul needs. Since competing in the Coastal Classic I have gone on to run quite a few trail events, and they trump any road event that I have ever ran (yes, even my sub 4 hour road marathon), and this is why;
- The people are genuinely friendly
- The scenery is spectacular
- The challenge is greater for me
- The locations heighten my sense of being one with nature
- I don’t focus on things like pace, the terrain dictates this for me
- I run in amazing places
- I find great joy by completing the events
Yes, trail running can be tricky, and it can lead to injury from ankle rolls etc (you only have to ask me this as I have had some doozies), but with practice and running on the trails all the time you get so much better at navigating terrain, especially at speed and how to run on trails is very different to the road. I am no expert, but I have noticed a vast improvement in the last 12 months of my ability to navigate technical terrain than when I first started out, just due to practice.
Road running doesn’t go without its’ fair share of injury risk either, in fact I would argue that it is much harder on the body and you are at a greater risk of injury from running on the road than on trail due to the pressure on the body it creates.
Most of my racing and training is on trail now, either trail or grass, because I want to preserve my body to be able to race well and since doing this I have suffered less injury as a result. I do easy fire trails, technical trails, trails with stairs, overgrown trails that involve climbing, hilly trails….lots of types of trails. This means I mix it up so that when it comes to race day I am well prepared for whatever is thrown out me out on the course.
I am known to get very excited when running on trails and we come to a particular “pretty spot”. I am also known to whip my phone out at every opportunity to take pictures, because I want to capture the joy I see on the trails and remember it when I can’t run anymore.
Some of the highlights of trail running for me have been:
- The finish line of the UTA50 race when I made my goal after having the most magical race ever, zooming along the single tracks, feeling strong to the finish and passing so many other runners on Kedumba climbing out of the valley when I felt strong and in total control of my race.
- Finishing Six Foot track marathon with my friends after quite an ordeal during the race with heat exhaustion, the will to push on and the desire to finish and see the whole course carried me to the end. To finish with my friends and share the magic together was amazing.
- Cruising spectacular single tracks of the coastal track in the Royal National Park, views for days…..
I am lucky that I have trails at my back door, and the national park is not far away, so I try to train where I can on trails all the time. Nothing beats getting out amongst nature. When I step out onto the trail all I hear is the sound of my footsteps, the call of the birds around me and the wind in the trees. The challenge of the tempo through the dirt, or the climb to the top of the mountain fills my desire to feel free. It doesn’t get better than that, why don’t you try it? Do you love trails as much as I do? What would be your ultimate trail experience?