Anu Vaidyanathan: Blazing trails

The first Asian woman Ultraman triathlete on her favourite trails


Hikers walking to the Godley Head track in Christchurch, New Zealand. Photos: iStockphoto
Hikers walking to the Godley Head track in Christchurch, New Zealand. Photos: iStockphoto

Saying that for a runner a scenic track to run on is of foremost importance is like saying optimum amounts of coffee make a good south-Indian grin. Having said that, experiencing some difficult and challenging trails and terrains from around the world has, in fact, helped me complete the Ultraman Canada triathlon in 2009 and in qualifying for the Half Ironman 70.3 World Championships in 2008. The first Asian woman to do the former and the first Indian to do the latter, so say the news articles. Here, I list my favourite trails:

Port Hills, Christchurch, New Zealand

Starting from the quaint beachside town of Sumner, a paved path goes up and then down to a little bay named Taylor’s Mistake. After this, there is almost a 16km path that is a mix of dirt roads through the Port Hills on the Godley Head track taking you all the way to what is called the Summit Road. There are not too many trees on this trail so it can make for a hot, difficult run. A gecko or two slipping from beneath the rocks can help one quicken the pace. At the end of this, one finds themselves on a steep downhill at Dyers Pass, which when running back to Sumner will tease your legs for nearly 5km. Running this trail at night makes it appear to be a long stretch of moonstone as the light reflects off the hillside and rocks, especially on starlit nights.

My running distance: 16-32km

Terrain: A mix of road and track

Difficulty: 7/10

The Burke-Gilman trail in Seattle, US.
The Burke-Gilman trail in Seattle, US.

Burke-Gilman Trail, Seattle, Washington, US

Lined with cottonwoods, Douglas fir, poplars and fruit trees, with one unforgettable stop at Gas Works Park, where kite-flyers congregate, this trail makes for uninterrupted running. I would wear a rain jacket over my backpack and run the 6.5km that lay between my house and the university campus. I ran this trail to waterproof my soul before attempting the trails along Mount Rainier, or Rainy-er as I call it, visible from Seattle. The path goes on for many miles, and a little research beforehand can help in locating convenient pit-stops.

My running distance: Up to 64km

Terrain: All paved

Difficulty: 3/10

Swamimalai to Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu

Swamimalai, near Kumbakonam, is a sleepy temple town, housing the Hindu deity Murugan at the top of the hill. Located 40km from Thanjavur, connected by a snaky, black tar road, there is also a mosque one passes along the way. There is almost no shoulder on the narrow road, lined with jackfruit, gooseberry, coconut and palm trees besides others. Street lights have not caught up too well in this part of the country yet, so when running alone at 4am, a headlamp is highly recommended.

My running distance: Up to 40km

Terrain: All paved

Difficulty: 5/10 (due to blind turns and oncoming traffic)

Naya Nangal, Punjab

Marrying a Punjabi has its highlights. Getting to run in one of the most spectacular places in the world, Naya Nangal, at the foothills of the Shivaliks, is one of them. In the months of October to mid-November and then February to March, the temperature is just right for a long run. The residential areas are divided into neat geometric sectors, which makes getting lost impossible. Running towards the Sutlej river, on tarred roads, is possible almost all through the day because traffic is sparse. In the mornings, the sight of friendly buffaloes and plenty of trees accent the roads even when the path ahead is cloaked in a light fog. Life moves at a different pace there; even an hour-long run seems much shorter.

My running distance: 10-30km

Terrain: All tar

Difficulty: 2/10

Anu Vaidyanathan is the author of Anywhere But Home: Adventures In Endurance. She tweets at @anuvaidyanathan.

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