Bringing Wild to Mainstream Running

4 November 2018

At what point did epic runs through rugged mountains become weekend sport?


I had been excited for weeks about the inaugural Wonderland Run. Arguably one of the prettiest places in Australia, the prospect of 36 kilometres of trails through the Grampians in the Victorian mountains had been causing me intermittent bouts of secret grinning.


Image thanks to David Hughes



I knew the first 12-ish kilometres were uphill across slippery slabs of bare, sloping rock. I also knew it would be rugged and I’d have to scramble in places. And being, shall we say, less graceful than some on my feet, there was a definite chance I’d end up on my rear, or knees, or face.


Or all three.


All giggling about my lack of coordination aside, even for those who have fewer issues staying upright, danger on the trails is a reality. Although both organisers and runners take every precaution, racing across such terrain is risky. All can go seriously wrong with one misstep.


Wow. How incredibly appealing is that?


Somewhere along the way, adventure and daring have become increasingly necessary elements of weekend sport. Wonderland Run race organiser Rohan Day agrees, saying the last five or so years have seen a boom in the number of people signing up for long distance trail runs, including a significant increase in the percentage of females who are willing to toe the starting line with the men.


Having the pleasure of chatting with Rohan after the event, I sought out his perspective on who trail runners are and what draws them off the couch and into the bush. Whilst he agreed with me that we trailies are generally a tough breed of driven individuals, he also believes that people seek out these ambitious runs as a type of freedom from the pressure of times and paces.


Long distance running over unforgiving terrain becomes more about the achievement of getting from A to B, and less about missing the time you ‘should have run’ by five minutes. So while there’s something dangerous about it, he wonders if in some ways, it’s actually a little safer.


However, whether trail running is more or less risky than other styles of running, it certainly offers its own brand of exhilaration for those who like to not only be out in nature, but right in the guts of it.


When asked about the Grampians course, Rohan spoke of the feeling of being swallowed by the enormity of the environment: “It’s a great experience. You’re in amongst rock, and on top of the rock. When I was out there the first time I just let out this ‘woo whoo’ in the middle of the rock canyon, just because you go: ‘this is such an intense feeling!’ ”


And although I didn’t do it myself, there was a whole lot of cooeeing in the canyon on race day.


Image thanks to Matilda Iglesias



The reality is, runs like this are addictive. Somewhere along the way, the need to run fast – faster than everyone else – becomes lost in the beauty of the landscape and the instinct to survive. To get through. To complete what you set out to do. There will always be those talented few who can race these events at super-human speeds, but for the average person, the trails can offer something above and beyond the pavement. Or at least, I’ve found truth in the theory.


Having said that, it’s no picnic out there. Despite doing what I could to be mentally and physically prepared, the Wonderland Run turned out to be a rather tough day at the office for me.


My mojo was MIA.


I rumbled with some nasty brambles early on. I was ready to sit down and have a quiet cry at the almost-1000m highest point of Mt Rosea. I was taken down by a root at 34k. I was bruised and bleeding and exhausted by the finish line. I pretty much collapsed into the arms of the volunteer who placed the medal around my neck (then immediately offered to carry me to the first aid tent).


But how incredible. What an experience. Despite the many ways it sucked, I would absolutely do it again tomorrow.


I wouldn’t trade the spontaneous conversations, or the momentary friendships. The image of the girl with the muddy butt sliding down the steep bits. The chat with the guy who had never run more than 10k in his life (seriously, mate?), or laughing about my nickname ‘The Black Widow’ as people were slipping and tripping around me.


So, my conclusion: a hard day in the wild far outstrips vegging-out on the couch with a movie and pizza.


Actually…maybe there’s room for both.


By Trina Denner

Enjoyed this try: Training for an Ultra: the good, the bad, and the ugly. by Trina Denner


Image thanks to Andrew & Tamsin Bearsley

Image thanks to Andrew and Tamsin Bearsley