Running is a tough sport no matter where you live, but inner-city running is made even more challenging by the difficulty to find an even, unsealed track without any bicycles around. There are trails around Melbourne that fit those criteria, but most of them are far enough away to require a car or train to get there.
These 3 tracks are all close to Melbourne CBD; they are all unsealed gravel, which takes the impact off of your knees; they are all even, which lowers the risk of ankle sprains; and they are all (mostly) free of cyclists.
The Tan Track (3.8km)
The Tan is the most famous track on this list. Because it’s so popular, the gravel is relatively flat and compressed. I have managed to sprain my ankle while running The Tan, but its well-worn surface means that your risk of rolling your ankle is actually pretty small, even if there is more impact jolting through you leg muscles from the more solid surface.
Most people start at the top of the hill and run clockwise around The Tan – that way the hill is the very last section that you run. Running clockwise also lets you avoid steep downhill running which puts strain on the knee joint.
Cyclists are banned from The Tan, so there’s no risk of being hit by a bike, but there are enough runners around on a sunny Saturday morning that being run-over by another runner is a bit of a risk.
Albert Park Lake Track
Also in the inner-South, Albert Park is more picturesque than The Tan. The view makes it quite popular with recreational cyclists, so make sure you’re highly visible and sticking to the left of the track. The gravel is quite loose, so bikes can’t gain a lot of speed, but you’ll still feel it if they hit you!
This track is dead-flat, so if you’re a quadricep-dominant runner, you’ll almost definitely develop that lateral knee pain (quad-dom runners know what I mean) on Albert Park Lake Trail. If you’re a glute-dominant runner, though, your legs will love it – even if you find it a bit boring.
Occasionally, I’ve found myself having to run around people carrying sailboats on and off the lake, and although camping is banned in Albert Park most of the year, there are som exceptions so keep your eye out for tents and other obstacles.
Yarra Bend Park - Dights Falls Loops
Yarra Bend Park is a little further from the city than the other trails on this list – it’s North of the river, near the Abbotsford Children’s Farm. Yarra Bend Park is the largest section of untouched bushland in Melbourne, making it both beautiful and a little bit dangerous. The ground is quite uneven, and when I went there were warning signs for snakes around so, especially if you’re running in Spring or Summer, keep your eyes on the ground the whole time.
The track is somewhat hilly, so is ideal for runners who are trying to train their glutes (this is the track for you, quad-doms), but there are sections of steep downhill running which puts stress on your knees and make your ankle a little less stable.
Phone reception is patchy at that end of Yarra Bend Park, so best to run with a partner or with a group – just in case you do injure yourself and need to contact someone. All of the tracks are managed by Parks Victoria, and there is staff on-site, but they tend to stay in their office, so don’t rely on them to wander past.
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Dr Mitch Clark