Mountain Running in the Victorian Alps

I discovered trail running accidentally. I was chasing a boy – well, not literally, but he is a trail runner, and I agreed to go for a run with him, naively. I found myself slipping, sliding and struggling on tough trails. After this rough start, I took his advice and ran some milder trails – ones with fewer things to fall over and lung-busting climbs. I got the boy, and my love for trail running grew and grew. While I’m confident on extreme trails now, the simple joy of running any trail – that is, not bitumen or concrete – is meditation for me. So, when I receive an invitation for a guided running tour on Mt Buller, in the Victorian Alps, I jump at the chance.

In our group, only one other journalist is a trail runner, and as running kits are handed to us, there are nervous looks in the room. Gloves? Beanies? Rain jackets? Emergency space blankets? Snake bite kit? For a road runner this equipment spells disaster. But, when running on trails, particularly in the mountains, safety is our own responsibility. We carry our food, water and safety gear in our backpacks. The old adage “Better safe than sorry” is our motto. Over the past few years, I’ve run thousands of kilometres on trails, and – without jinxing my next run – the compression bandages and space blankets I carry religiously on every run have never left the bottom of my backpack.

Mt Buller trail runningAfter breakfast we set out, all of us chatting about how well we slept and how fresh the mountain air is. As a ski destination, we’re used to seeing Mt Buller blanketed in snow, but today, as we head out onto ski runs, they’re covered in grass and flowers. Our guide, Chris, points out a mountain peak in the distance. “That’s our lunch stop,” he says. We’re running a total of 24km, and although I can run that distance in under three hours on the road, in the mountains – with winding trails and weather elements – it’s a totally different ball game, and we’re allowing six hours.

We’re in no rush as we take a turn off the road onto a narrow track. My feet thank me for the soft but compacted dirt. People often say, “Trail running must be bad for your joints!” but the reality is the opposite. My body is strengthened thanks to the unevenness of the ground, and the hill climbs and descents. All these force me to be nimble on my feet and engage my core.

The other journalists have never run more than 15K, and they’re nervous. Privately, I don’t expect them to last, but as the day progresses, everyone is clearly having fun. The climbs and descents are almost constant, the trail winds around the mountainside, and we jump over fallen logs and duck under low branches. I feel an incredible sense of connection, not only with nature, but with my fellow runners – trail newbies taking an instant liking to this incredible sport. A support vehicle meets us at various points, but no one gets on.

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After a tasty, mountaintop lunch at the 20km mark, four kilometres from the finish, something unexpected happens. I hang back to take some photos and, with the others far ahead and out of sight, I take a wrong turn. Suddenly, my relaxed day out turns quickly into an adrenalin-filled hour of desperate map reading, climbing up peaks in search of phone reception, and a few ineffective “coo-ees’’. With my not-so-booming voice, no phone reception, and very average map-reading skills, I settle for retracing my steps to where I last saw the rest of the gang. Soon, I hear the sound of a 4WD and sheepishly make my way over to the nearby firetrack, to be greeted by a smiling Mt Buller staffer. How embarassing!

The experience is a reminder that no matter what, I always need to pay attention on the trails. During the three-hour drive back to Melbourne, we talk about what we each experienced that day; including how tough some of the hills are, and how breathtaking and rewarding the peak-filled views are from atop the mountain.

Mt Buller is definitely on my list of favourite places to run, and getting lost is a blessing in disguise – I found some tough, gnarly trails that I’m keen to explore properly later this year, when the snow melts.


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