Hitting the Trails

It gives new meaning to the phrase, ‘hill repeats’. It’s like rock climbing without a harness. It burns. It’s hard. It demands respect and perseverance. But when all is said and done – it’s worth it, and the view from the top is breathtaking!

Welcome to the trail running craze!

Speak to any regular trail runner and you’ll quickly discover that the popularity of trail running has exploded over the last few years with the number of trail running events held across Australia increasing. From the Two Bays Trail Run to the Salomon Trail Running Series, you can take part in an event all year round. For triathletes, trail running is a great way to build or maintain strength and fitness in the offseason, while keeping training fresh, fun and interesting.

My Trail Running Cherry Popped

I was first introduced to the world of trail running in the winter of 2015. After a grueling summer, training for Ironman Melbourne, I was tired of pounding the pavement, tired of running the same old routes. I needed to try something new to stay motivated and keep my training fun and fresh. So, I decided to try some trail running events in Melbourne (the Salomon Trail Running Series). However, it wasn’t until I did the Buffalo Stampede trail running camp in Bright, Victoria earlier this year that I discovered what trail running is really all about.

The Buffalo Stampede trail running camp, a camp designed as a race recon for the Buffalo Stampede trail running event (held in April), was a female-only camp that ran from 5 – 7 February 2016 in Bright. The masterminds behind the camp were two well-known, top-of-the-field female trail runners, Lucy Bartholomew and Caroline Gavin, whose goal was to ‘introduce more females in to the sport’. A friend suggested I attend the camp. “This might be your new niche”, he said. “How hard can this be?” I thought. Intrigued by the idea I immediately enquired and subsequently signed up to the camp.


Buffalo Stampede Camp – Top of Clear Spot

As it turns out – trail running is hard! Leading up to the camp, I had no idea what I was getting myself in to. What’s the opposite of the saying ‘all the gear, no idea’? Well, that was me. I had no gear (thankfully, at the last minute, I borrowed another friend’s hydration pack) and definitely no idea! And let me tell you – up hill is one thing. Down hill is on a whole other level. During the camp I quickly discovered why trail running shoes would have been beneficial, instead of my worn out pair of old runners with barely any tread. I also discovered why trail runners use poles. No, poles aren’t just for fending off wild beasts if you get lost!

Trail Running – The Basics

If you want to stop pounding the pavement and get off the road during the off-season, trail running is the way to go. But there are a few things you need to know before heading out in to the wild.

I sat down with trail running extraordinaire, Junior Female World Skyrunning Champion, Lucy Bartholomew, after the Buffalo Stampede camp to get the lowdown on trail running, why everyone should try it, trail running basics, nutrition tips and tricks, best ways to recover, where to train and race and more.

AT: Tell us bit your background, how you got in to trail running and what you love about it.

LB: I started trail running when I was 16. At first it was about having a way to spend time with my dad who was training for his first 100km event at the time. I remember thinking it was a bit pointless to run a loop and end up where you started for no reason. But when I went up to crew and cheer for him during the 100km race in the Blue Mountains it was amazing! I had no idea how to get from aid station to aid station so I did as I had learnt to do [in training] and ran between aid stations, cutting through the trails where possible but pretty much running the entire racecourse in front of dad. It was one of those decisions in life where I could have been normal and taken the train but it was a life changing decision that I would never change.

What I love about the sport is the places it takes you, the people you meet and the way you can push yourself in race, distance or time. I love the trails, the views and the atmosphere. I feel very lucky to be in this community and receive so much support for running free on the trails.

AT: What is your favourite trail running race/event? What is your favourite race distance?

LB: So far my favourite race has been the Skyrunning World Championships, which doubles as the Mont Blanc Marathon. It was my first trip to the big mountains. Representing Australia/New Zealand was unreal. It was so beautiful. The locals were out on the course, up on the high peaks, yelling in French, which was super cool for me, even though I had no idea what they were saying at the time. Plus it was there I became the Junior Female World Skyrunning Champion.

AT: Wow! Very impressive! You’ve come such a long way in such a short space of time – well done. So, if you’re a triathlete interested in getting off road, what’s the best way to start out in the sport? Are their events or races that are tailored to beginners?

LB: Obviously it’d be a mistake to try to run 75km if you’re new to the sport! But you will run Buffalo Stampede 75km, yes? I think a good way to start is with some training. Just go out on the trails with a group, friend or your dog and just get used to the ever-changing conditions of trail running and start to feel comfortable with your body’s ability to adapt. Then enter a small race that is flat and not so technical [such as the Salomon Trail Running Series]. Slowly build up after that listening to your body and aim for consistency rather then pushing and then having nothing left to continue the fun!

AT: What races/events would you recommend for beginners?

LB: In Melbourne, I highly recommend the Salomon Trail running series to start. It has short, medium and long course options and an awesome atmosphere. I know that there is similar events around so I suggest having a bit of a Google and finding a short trail race that’s not too hilly and has a good atmosphere to keep you going when it gets tough!

AT: How is the training different for a fun run compared to a trail run event?

LB: The main difference is that you need to train on the type of trail you will be racing on so you can train for the technical, the ups and the downs and get your muscles and ankles ready for the changing environment of trail running. Also maybe for the trail running you might actually need to train to ‘walk or hike’. This can be unusual for the road/fun runner.

AT: Good point! So training on the trail or terrain you’re planning to race on. So, do you then have any specific ways that you would prepare for race day? Particularly for the longer, harder races?

LB: Before a race for me it’s important to look at the course map online. I look at the elevation profile; trail running normally involves increased ascent and descent; these are factors that will have a direct impact on your finish time, preparation and gear. Sometimes trail races will ask for mandatory gear if it’s in an alpine region or there is limited access to the trail. It’s crucial to check you have this gear. When you have the maps you can start to plan where the checkpoints are and how much nutrition and hydration you will need to keep you fuelled and full of energy. I like to break down the course into sections, maybe with the checkpoints or sometimes if I can get out on course I will do it on big climbs, I will map out the river crossings or any features that can help me estimate time and needs to complete these sections.

AT: Great! OK, so what tips would you have for athletes new to trail running? Specifically what is your advice on gear, hydration and nutrition?


Image: Ben Read Photography

LB: I think, firstly, for beginner trail runners and maybe more specifically to those coming from doing some running on the roads, it’s important not to focus on pace and time. These factors are void on the trails because you are naturally slower and it can be demoralising if you don’t hit [your regular] targets. So, to keep motivated, just start with enjoying the feeling of the bush brushing past you and focusing on each unique step.

For nutrition and hydration its important to fuel for the activity and to go out on the trails prepared – with the slower moving time you will be out for longer hours. If your focus is for a race then trialling race fuels like gels, CLIF shotbloks, bars, wholefoods and drink mixes. It’s important to use these in training and practice taking them in without running off the trail into
a tree.

Basic gear includes trail running shoes, a 1.5L hydration pack and poles. You’ll also need to carry a waterproof jacket, thermal top, headlamp, a beanie/buff, gloves, phone, a whistle and a space blanket. This is the mandatory gear you will need to carry in a race. It’s ideal to train with the weight you’ll be carrying on race day!

AT: What is your favourite snack when running?

LB: I am sponsored by CLIF bar, so for longer hour runs I use CLIF bars or if I am racing I use the CLIF shotbloks and gels. Sometimes I like to use more natural wholefoods like some salted roasted chickpeas, dates, fruit or a combination in a bliss ball.

AT: Being out on the trails, in the middle of nowhere, can be intimidating for some athletes. What are you safety tips, when out in the trails?

LB: I think when you are new it’s best to go with others. This sport is growing and there is always someone keen to go out but if that’s not possible then travelling with a pack containing some first aid kit, a phone, map and letting people know where you are going and when you plan to come back is really important.

AT: Good point. What are some of the biggest mistake beginners can make?

LB: Thinking that the distance on the road is the same as the distance on the trail. Trail running adds more hills and is more technical so it requires some specific training and a positive mindset to enjoy the faster running but also the slower sections too!

AT: What are some lessons you have learnt so far in your career?

LB: Sometimes it’s not about the racing, but going out and sharing the trails and feeling free. I guess the whole ‘it’s about the journey rather than the destination’ is where I am going with this.

AT: Trail running can be pretty gruelling. What are some of your top tips for recovery?

LB: Don’t underestimate the importance of recovery! Sleep, eat and put your feet up! It’s common to be having too much fun to realise when it’s time to take a rest. So it’s really important to listen to your body. Your body is an amazing machine and resting is what will make you the stronger runner.

Running Along

Unsurprisingly, The Buffalo Stampede trail running camp was one of the best camps I have been on. It was hard, challenging and it almost broke me. But it was worth it and I loved every minute. It was a great introduction into trail running, something I would highly recommend to any triathlete.


For a trail running event near you, check out the following websites:

Rapid Ascent Salomon Trail Running Series: http://rapidascent.com.au/SalomonTrailRunning/

Buffalo Stampede: http://www.buffalostampede.com.au/

Ultra Trail Australia: http://www.ultratrailaustralia.com.au/

Surf Coast Trail Marathon: http://www.surfcoasttrailmarathon.com.au/

Two Bays Trail Run: http://www.twobaystrailrun.com/

Rapid Ascent Run Larapinta: http://www.rapidascent.com.au/runlarapinta/Welcome


Feature image: Ben Read Photography


Margaret Mielczarek

Margaret Mielczarek is the deputy editor at Australian Triathlete Magazine and writes the web series 'Shenanigans of a Deputy 2.0'. She is a passionate age-group triathlete and four-time Ironman finisher - currently in training for Ironman number five!

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