Digging the dirt

“Stadiums are for spectators. We runners have nature and that is much better” - Finnish champion Juha Vaatainen.

I’ve just been lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks in the UK. Naturally, I took my running shoes.

The highlight of the trip was getting out to run in the Peak District National Park and the Yorkshire Dales.

I spent a lot of time in the are in my younger days but it’s a long time since I’ve been back and I’d forgotten just how jaw-droppingly beautiful the country there is. And how just being out in it lifts the soul like nothing else I know.

All of which got me to thinking about just how much I love running on trails and how, in an ideal world, I’d do all my running off the road.

For me, running in a natural environment is what the sport is all about. Period.

What’s not to like about breathing sweet air instead of car fumes and being rewarded with a soaring view after a long climb?

Trail running is also better for you. Generally, the surfaces are softer than unforgiving bitumen and, because they vary so much, you are forced constantly to adjust your gait, dodging rocks, roots and puddles (or just running through the water like a big kid, which is what I like to do, a habit that mystifies my running partner.)

On the road the identikit regularity of each footfall can cause injury simply because your foot hits the ground without variation time and time again.

Trail running is also a much better whole-body workout with all the dodging, swerving and even scrambling involved.

For me, road running is a necessary evil (and, I admit, I don’t mind occasional races on the road) but the real action for me will always take place a long way from the bitumen and cars.

And, judging by the huge boom in trail running here and overseas it seems a lot of runners agree with that sentiment. Races like The North Face 100 in the Blue Mountains, Victoria’s Bogong to Hotham and the Cradle Mountain Run in Tassie now sell out within days if not hours.

It’s true that, until recently, trail-running events have been largely confined to the ultra-marathon (42km-plus) end of the spectrum, but shorter trail events are now popping up to give us mere mortals a less extreme taste of trail competition.

Running Wild has just released the details of its upcoming trail series in the spectacular Blue Mountains and the events range in distance from 16km to 45km.

Meanwhile, the Salomon Trail Running Series in Victoria offers distances from about 15km down to a distinctly manageable 5km. Under the banner “Bitumen is boring!” the organisers invite runners to:  “Smell the fresh eucalypt air and join us running through fern-fringed valleys, weaving through towering stands of gums and sweeping along flowing trails beside rivers and creeks.”

What do you reckon? Are you a dedicated bitumen basher or have you fallen in love with trail running? Maybe you like to give it a try …?