From Tarmac to Trail

For almost two decades I’ve thought of myself as a pretty decent runner.  I’m certainly no Paula Radcliff or Joan Benoit Samuelson, but I always thought I’m pretty OK.  During high school I usually came in the top 3 for the 1500m.  Even throughout my drunken university days I ran a strong 10km in the college Harriers.  Throughout my mid-twenties I really found my niche with half marathon and marathon running; my legs can keep ticking over for miles as long as I pace myself properly.  Then I discovered trail running.  Whole different ball game.

Otford to Bundeena, 12 km in

Running out of Excuses
Over the last couple of years, I have thought about running trails but usually managed to talk myself out of it.  I don’t have a car so I can’t get to the location; I dislike having to commute to start a run; it’s not safe for a girl to run on an isolated path by herself; it’s too hilly/too hot/too cold/all of the above.  Did I mention that I don’t have a car?  But when a friend suggested we go for a trail run through Sydney’s Royal National Park—which was the same trail that forms the annual Coastal Classic race that I had talked myself out of entering for the last two years—I found that the excuses had run out.

For the last two decades I’ve run on roads, at times up reasonably steep hills and occasionally on grass.  Never have I battled steep stairs, undulating rocky paths, thick ferns and miles of soft sand.  Until last week.

Armed with a camelback filled with 2L of water, 2 bananas, a muesli bar and a few GU Gels, I set off on my very first trail run; 27km from Otford to Bundeena.

Dropping a spare clothes bag at a local cafe in Bundeena, we promised the owner that we would be back in about 3 and a half hours for a large burger and milkshake.  We told her we were running from Otford to Bundeena; her unbelieving smirk suggested that she either thought we were crazy, didn’t think we would actually make it back, or both.  I knew I was crazy.  Did I think I’d make it back?  I was already wishing I’d had my phone on speed dial to the SES.  Just in case.

Burning Hamstrings, Beautiful Views
The thing that has always drawn me into running this particular trail is the pure uninterrupted beauty that surrounds it.  Hugging the NSW coastline, the run takes you across some of Sydney’s most scenic and remote beaches, through a canopy of lush forests, across limestone and up to some spectacular panoramic views of aqua blue sea and golden sand.

The thing that has always stopped me from running this route has been the steep ascent to get to the panoramic views, the burning hamstrings as you run cross the remote soft golden sand, the strong probability of rolling your ankle as your feet pound the unstable surface of the limestone and the battle through the thick, spiky, overgrown ferns of the lush forests.

Something Special
The pain, sweat and burn aside, trail running unlocked a sense of discovery and adventure that I don’t get from running on a road.  Each twist and turn produced a new, undiscovered sight; whether it was a recently filled river, a blanket of untouched sand, remote beach huts peppered throughout the headland or a lazy lizard soaking up the sun. That meditative, trance-like feeling you get from long distance running is heightened from the silence of cars and a path that is devoid of traffic lights and pedestrians.  Of course, there were a few ‘pedestrians’, taking a hike along the same route, but their calls of ‘good on you’ and ‘fair play to you’, gave me the feeling that I was doing something pretty special and unique.

Finish Line in Bundeena

The Reward
I can’t say that this is the best run I have ever done, or to some extent even the most scenic (the Great Ocean Road Half Marathon comes pretty close); to do so would mean that I ran without stopping or that I felt like my legs were flying through the air.
In fact, this is the first run I have done in a long time where I have had to stop.  For me, stopping during a run would usually be as crazy as pushing a bike instead of riding it; what’s the point?  But as I metnioned earlier, trail running is a whole different ball game.

First I was stopping just to take a gel.  Then, from about 10km in,  I was stopping each time I reached the top of a hill.  At about the 20 km mark, I could barely even walk to the top of a hill. Finally, with only 3km to go before we reached Bundeena and my mouthwatering juicy burger and ice-cold milkshake reward, I stopped with severe muscle cramp in my right quad.  This led to a 1km ‘half walk/half dragging my right leg behind me’ technique.  Never a good thing.

The one thing I will say however, is that this was the most challenging yet most rewarding run that I have done to date, and I can’t wait to take to the trail again.  And yes that burger and milkshake at the end tasted pretty damn good!

Course Profile

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