I never, ever, ever thought that I would enjoy running. I was the type of sprinter that thought the 200m was a cruel joke, and the thought that people might deliberately just run for fun or fitness seemed ludicrous to me. To my mind, distance running was an actual form of torture.
That is until a friend conned me into doing a fun-run with them and I realised it was actually possible to run and enjoy it. To other non-runners, this probably sounds like a lie, or the result of brainwashing. I swear to you it is possible. I might have hated them for dragging me along, but I was falling in love with the trail.
Since then, I’ve found out that because I can cover more ground while running, it’s the perfect way to see more of my surroundings when I have limited time. Moreover, because I can call it exercise, I don’t have to try and jam more fitness activities into my week, when what I really want to do is be out in nature.
When I run, I can be completely absorbed in my environs. I don’t have to carry gear; I don’t have to have a plan. I can just run, and when I see something I want to look at, I can stop. I never let the thought of a PB record stop me from checking out some cool fungi or a bird I’ve spotted, or talking to someone else’s dog. When I get home, the good vibes that come from being in nature plus the endorphins produced by my body equal a grin that doesn’t leave my face or my mind for several hours.
There are plenty of great places to run in Melbourne and Victoria. Here are five of my favourites.
The Mornington Peninsula Coastal Walk (Cape Schanck to Portsea Surf Beach)
I don’t know why it took me so long to start running here, because I’ve been walking here since I was a little kid. This track is 30km long, so regardless of where you start, you are pretty unlikely to run out of trail. The sandy path traces along the edges of impressive craggy cliffs, wends its way in and out of gorgeous coastal scrub and past incredible, secluded beaches. I like to get out here before the sun rises in the winter, and marvel at the softness of the colours in cliff, sand, sea and sky. This run is an absolute feast for the eyes, but since almost stepping on a little jacky dragon asleep on the path, I’ve learnt to keep one eye on the trail ahead. Because much of this track is soft sand, it can be a bit punishing sometimes, but if you wear your bathers and bring some water, there are plenty of amazing beaches to rest at along the way.
Conservation Hill to Rhyll Inlet
This run starts at the Conservation Hill car park between Cowes and Rhyll on Phillip Island. From Conservation Hill to Rhyll itself is a 7km run, but I usually turn around on all my runs about 3km in. My favourite thing about this trail is the constantly changing scenery. The trail starts with wallabies in the paddock, heads through bracken heath and a paperbark forest, over a stunning saltmarsh and along a mangrove boardwalk. After checking out the mangroves, I usually run up the hill to the cliff tops, from whence the trail runs between farmland and coastal woodland, and overlooks the incredible Rhyll Inlet. This is a lovely morning or evening run, with plenty of bush birds to listen to and lovely sunsets over the inlet. You can also join this trail from the opposite direction in Rhyll, or close to the middle of the track at the McIlwraith Road lookout. The beach and mudflats of Rhyll Inlet are very popular with our migratory waders, so it’s worth chucking a pair of binoculars in the car.
The Merri Creek Trail
I don’t think people realise how lucky we are to have trails like those of the Merri Creek, Main Yarra, Capital City, Maribyrnong and Gardiners Creek. The Merri Creek Trail is where I learned to run again after years off post-injury. I loved finding new rapids, new bridges, and massive new trees as I pushed myself further along the trail. I used to love running down to where the Merri Creek joined the Yarra River. Called a confluence, the joining of these two different coloured rivers can be quite spectacular. Just after this is Dights Falls, which have some interesting history and is a good spot to see adorable little red-browed finches.
Main Yarra Trail
The Main Yarra Trail between Victoria Street and Studley Park Road is another favourite urban run. With yellow-tailed black cockatoos, massive old eucalypts, and plenty of little scrub birds, it is easy to forget how close you are to the centre of Melbourne. I love this area, because apart from the main trail there are tonnes of tiny, one-person-wide trails that loop down to the Yarra and back up again through beautiful bushland. You always have a view down to the Yarra, and the steep hills and trees keep the sound of the road traffic out. The added bonus with the Yarra Trail is that if you run far enough (in the right direction) you can get a well-deserved breaky on Southbank, and then just hop on the train or tram home. Winning!
Surf Beach, Phillip Island
There is seriously nothing like a good beach run. If you’re lucky enough to be standing alone on an empty beach, looking at the sand stretching forever before and behind you, relish that moment. For me, that beach run is at Surf Beach, Phillip Island. It was almost always empty when I ran, morning or evening, and the pounding of the surf, the colours in the cliffs, and the patterns in the sky were all mine. A simple landscape like this always mesmerises me. A short run in the Cape Woolamai direction will take you to Forrest’s Caves, which are worth checking out at low tide.
NB: If you are in it for the fitness, the stairs at the Surf Beach carpark are a great way to test yourself.
Running beautiful and interesting trails makes it so much easier to forget that you might be tired or have sore legs. Give one of these trails a try and see if you get hooked too. Even if you have to stop and walk home, you at least had the chance to enjoy some beautiful natural surroundings.
Cathy is a PhD student and science communicator with a passion for natural history, environmental engagement and photography. When she isn't running the Wild Melbourne social media, you'll find her working with little penguins on Phillip Island or underwater somewhere.
You can find her on Twitter at @CavalloDelMare
Banner image courtesy of Cathy Cavallo.