Heading out on a trail instead of pavement is appealing for so many reasons. “Trails are going to take away a lot of stress from the impact that you’d normally get running on harder surfaces,” says Dr. Scott Levin, a New York-based sports medicine expert and orthopedic surgeon. “Some of the forces that would normally be transmitted from the pavement up to the ankles, knees, shins, and hips are dissipated when the foot hits the ground on the trails because there’s some give there.”
A friend of mine and I headed to Balmoral Beach on early Sunday morning in order to explore the local trail running from the beach to the Zoo and back. I wasn’t 100 percent sure we could even get to the Zoo as I wasn’t very familiar with the track. It only makes it more interesting, doesn’t it.
We arrived to the Balmoral beach at about 8am. Stunning views of the Middle Bay instantly increased our serotonin’s levels. It was a hot day accompanied by strong cold winds which made it easier and more pleasant to run all the hundred something stairs along the track. As soon as we’ve had enough of the serotonin’s heaven, tied our shoes up well, turned the tracking devices on and jogged back and forward the local oval to warm up we were ready to take off.
I must say, trails provide an undeniable escape indeed from what can be an otherwise hectic day… or week. “Spending time in nature can give a person a spiritual connection,” says Clinical Psychologist Shoshona Bennett, who specialises in treating women with postpartum depression. “You feel like you’re connected to something bigger, and that’s Mother Earth. When a woman [or man] looks at the trees, the birds, the sun, it’s very grounding.” I cannot agree more! However I didn’t enjoy the fact that I brought some nature home, falling asleep with a few tree bugs in bed.
A trail, of course, doesn’t have to be steep, rocky, or riddled with roots to be called a “trail” or to give you any of the benefits of mind and body. However, it only makes it more fun if there are stairs to climb, roots to jump over and other common trail obstacles to tackle along the way. Why trail? Running on an uneven surface can make you stronger overall. “You’re going to be recruiting more of the smaller, more stabilizing muscles that we rely on for proprioception and balance, especially around the ankles,” Dr. Levin says.
It can be challenging though! I want to really stress it again do not push yourself when starting trail running for the first time. Injuries are almost inevitable therefore please be gentle. Trail running requires overall good fitness and well developed muscles. If you are unsure of your current condition just take it easy and explore the track before rushing it through. Try to juggle roads with trails for some time to just get your legs and mind ready for a new challenge.
“Changing running surfaces works different leg muscles which, will lead to physical benefits,” says Eric Blake, head cross country and track and field coach at Central Connecticut State University. “And different scenery in your running will lead to mental benefits. Staying soft doesn’t always make the most sense. You’ll need to harden your legs to the harder surface, and the best way to go about doing so is to pound the pavement every once in a while. Aside from not worrying about rolling an ankle on a root or dodging some other unforeseen obstacle, you can work on your race rhythm much more effectively and get your fast-twitch muscle fibers firing that much faster.
Sydney is absolutely amazing, trail wise! Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing pubs and clubs too but if you are an early bird trail runner or would simply like to improve your health a little, get your legs moving. Balmoral beach is a Middle Harbour stretched beach hidden in between the South Head and the North Head. Balrmoral beach is a steep ride down from suburb called Mosman or Neutral Bay on the northern side of Sydney.
The trail starts at the very end of the bay right outside the Balmoral Oval which is not always easy to find as it is right in the corner of this picturesque area. Get to the Oval, where a 12 hour parking area is, and cross it diagonally walking into the bush. There would be a map before you dive into the forest so keep it in mind as your navigating starting point. As soon as you cross the gates you will find yourself climbing almost 100 stairs before the trail starts. Just do it – it is super worth it.
Follow the trail all the way to the Chowder Bay, a tiny hidden beach in the Middle harbor, through some more stairs. You are now not only running through some stunning natural beauty but an important historical part of the harbor. When you get to the beach (which might be a little confusing so follow the dive school signs and the narrow passing path through the coffee shop jumping right on the beach), enjoy your short sandy jog and continue with the trail. From here on you are now arriving to Bradleys Head which is one of my favorite parts of this trail. Continue your run till you see the stunning Opera House and Harbor Bridge – it is only 600m to the Taronga Zoo from here.
Overall, the trail is only 6km one way however involves a lot of stairs, trees, narrow paths and roots along the way – keep your eyes peeled as there are many runners taking up the Balmoral to the Zoo challenge. As soon as you hit the Zoo, catch your breath and head back – you will end up doing some awesome 12km trail run. HAPPY TRAILING!