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Why trail running

A group of Terrigal Trotters running the Patonga-
Little Wobby trail loop in 2012
The night after a long hard run is often punctuated by sudden awakenings with cramp or sore joints, and last night was no different.  My right knee, in particular, was sore, and my right arch as well.  After going through my morning usual exercises I felt a little more flexible and later went for a 5km walk.  The arch injury is definitely a little worse after yesterday's run, but not that bad that I'm contemplating time off running.  I'll try an easy 10km tomorrow and then play it by ear for the rest of the week, though optimally, I would like to do another easy long run on Wednesday as part of my program to regain lost fitness.

The Terrigal Trotters Facebook page was humming with comment about yesterday's trail run last night and today, most of it good-natured banter about those runners who lost their way at some point.  The growth in the popularity of trail running in recent years has been dramatic, and I often ponder on its drivers.

Another stop on the Patonga-Little Wobby loop
Is it a reaction to our claustrophobic urban life?  We live in an artificial environment, usually within the sound and sight of neighbours and traffic, and our training runs are through busy suburban settings.  I think there is something within many of us, maybe a kind of primeval instinct, that wilderness satisfies.  Almost a sense of belonging.  Trail-running evokes a sense of space and purity and an appreciation for the wild.  It rejuvenates the spirit, but also reminds us how small and transient we are in the scheme of things.  Running over mountains, through old growth forests and past ancient rock formations puts us in our place, as well as inspiring awe.

Sometimes a bit of swimming is involved
in trail running (also on the Patonga-Little
Wobby loop)
Maybe we have an unsatisfied need to face challenges and unknowns that have disappeared from our routine and molly-coddled lives?  I think the popularity of fun runs and marathon running grew out of a desire to test ourselves, realise our potential, and find our boundaries in a society where risks are minimised and physical challenges rare.  As these events have become commonplace and conquerable, runners have looked for something more.  There is a satisfaction in completing a run or event through an environment where dangers lurk, and help is far away.  Not so much the dangers from wildlife, which are generally minor, but the risks from falls, uncompromising terrain, weather conditions, navigation and inadequate nutrition and hydration.  There is seldom a trail run involving a group of people that does not yield adventures and stories of obstacles overcome.

Perhaps it's something as simple as trail-running being less damaging to the runner's body?  That's not to say that it's easy, but in trail running, there is a tendency to run slower and to have the footfall, muscle and joint demands vary with each step.  It's more of an all-round physical work-out, but not as tough on specific parts of the body.  In long road runs, the exact same footfall is repeated with every step, as is the very specific impact on muscles and joints.

Whatever the reason or reasons, I think trail running is here to stay, for very good reasons.


  1. I've also thought about this Dave i.e. why was it that I found trail/bush running to be one of the most satisfying experiences of my life when I moved up to the Coast 7 years ago and started to do it regularly. I would certainly echo your thoughts regarding it being a reaction to modern day life. My slant on it is that it is meditative. We think too much due to modern day life stressors or what we perceive to be stressors. We think, think, think and over-think it. When I'm running through the bush I'm thinking about where my next foot-step is, I'm quickly glancing ahead to see what direction I'm taking for the next few steps and then I'm looking back down and watching my step. Hopefully I look up to appreciate the scenery as well. But I'm also listening to the rustles in the bush - 'what was that' - a snake, a lizard, a wallably. I'm listening to the bell birds, one of the nicest sounds when I'm running in the bush. The point is, I'm not thinking my day to day crap......I'm experiencing and thinking in the moment in a very raw and instinctual way as you refer to.

  2. I agree with you, James. The switching off is refreshing. You should try, once your kids have grown up, some long-distance hiking trips. After a couple of weeks, your concerns are pretty much reduced to the availability of food and water. Even where to sleep for the night is not usually an issue. It's almost like a vacation from life or a reboot. Dave.

  3. I started doing some a few years ago - McDonald Ranges and a infrequently used Trail (by whities anyway) in Kakadu called Jatbula. What we took in for 5 days we took out and we started with 20kg + packs. Was tough but an experience that is imprinted on my conscience and something I endeavour to get back to. Didn't come across any other inhabitants for 5 days. I was asked by someone when I got back "what has happened to you? You seem different, you seem very calm, at peace!"