Hobart, Tasmania, is one of Australia’s blossoming trail running hubs. Close to the southernmost point of Australia, in the south of the island state of Tasmania, the city is overlooked by the imposing 4,170-foot Mount Wellington — or kunanyi, to refer to it by its indigenous name. Almost half of the state of Tasmania is encompassed by national parks or wildlife conservation areas, so there is a wealth of multiday bushwalks and wilderness adventures within reach of the city. The booming trail running scene in Hobart features a weekly running group called Hobart Trail Runners, who operate out of a Facebook group with 3,300 members — huge relative to the city’s humble 200,000 population. There are also a number of smaller, splinter groups; and the rapidly growing kunanyi Mountain Run event — which this year acted as the Australian Trail Championships and the 2023 Trail and Mountain Running World Championships national team selection race.
One runner and Hobart resident who is passionate about developing the Hobart trail running scene to its full potential, is kunanyi Mountain Run race director and former Hobart Trail Runners run leader, Lincoln Quilliam.
Quilliam grew up in the Hobart area, on the foothills of Mount Wellington. He moved away some 25 years ago and discovered trail running in the course of his travels. Having moved back to Hobart five years ago, he recalled the wonderous trails of the area from his youth, but wondered where all the trail runners were. He said, “There were definitely trail runners, but there wasn’t much of a strong, connected community. There was a lot of small groups and a lot of solo runners out doing their thing. There were some events, but not too many.”
There was already a Hobart Trail Runners Facebook group present at the time, but with little activity. Quilliam said, “I could see there was a need and runners really wanted to connect with more people, so I created a regular weekly social run for people to come and connect around. I was also hearing that there were a lot of people who were keen to try trail running, but didn’t know where to start.”
The weekly group run quickly expanded, with 40 to 50 runners heading out on a weekly basis, often in the rain and with headtorches throughout the winter months.
The feedback from runners was hugely positive. As Quilliam said, “It was an opportunity to step away from life and give back to yourself. Running on trails gives a connection to land, a connection to community, and a connection to yourself.” For Quilliam, the connection to and respect for the land is central to the diverse, mountain-loving trail community in Hobart, and is an example of how the sport can be a force for good. He said, “We’ve got pretty diverse views, on the political scale. But we’ve seen new trail runners come in, and after a year we find that they are understanding the natural environment more, and we find that their views on certain developments change, and they become more understanding and respectful of the natural environment.”
In order to help develop the trail running culture in the area in harmony with the interests of land managers, while keeping respect for the natural environment to the forefront, in 2020 Quilliam co-founded the Tasmania Trail Running Association.
Quilliam is now race director of the kunanyi Mountain Run, a multi-distance event, which takes its name from the native name for the town’s mountain. The second edition of the event took place on March 24 to 26, 2023. The 67-kilometer distance was recognized as the 2023 Australian Trail Championships, and was also the trial event for Team Australia in the 85k race at the 2023 Trail and Mountain Running World Championships in Innsbruck-Stubai, Austria. The vertical-kilometer race also carried national championship status.
In the event’s inception, Quilliam recognized the potential of Hobart as a major trail running hub for Tasmania, and felt that the event would complement the small city’s growing trail running culture. He said, “We’ve got a great array of accommodation and services and an airport right on the doorstep of this epic mountain. So I thought, where is the awesome event that should go with all these ingredients?”
As well as being a celebration of trail running for the locals, the event attracts runners from all over Australia and beyond to Hobart. Quilliam said, “Almost a third of participants are interstate, a handful come from overseas, from New Zealand, Japan, and elsewhere. So it’s well attended locally but there is a really strong interest from the wider Australian trail running community.”
Once the kunanyi Mountain Run was off the ground, Quilliam stepped back from Hobart Trail Runners, which continues to go from strength to strength, with Gareth Hinds now acting as the main leader of the group runs and administrator for the Facebook page.
The group continues to meet at 6 p.m. every Wednesday, and one regular attendee is Team Australia skyrunner and ultrarunner, Jessica Collins, who lives in Margate, 25 minutes south of Hobart.
Collins said, “I got into trail running when I was a university student. I used to just run to keep fit and played other sports but then some friends that I met said, ‘Have you done trail running, and have you heard of this race?’ So they brought me up Mount Wellington and showed me the ropes. I bought a couple of books, and I’ve been obsessed ever since.” She has since represented Australia at the 2019 Trail World Championships and at the 2022 Skyrunning World Championships.
As Collins explained, “Tasmania is best suited to skyrunning and mountain running. You struggle to find somewhere flat to run, even going for a road run here has got significant hills! And then our trails themselves are usually more technical and rougher and steeper [than elsewhere in Australia]. A lot of our bush walks and trails tend to take the most direct line up a mountain, rather than weaving back and forth. So, they tend to be very steep, and rocky and rooty underfoot.”
Collins now runs with Hobart Trail Runners, and with some of the many splinter groups that have sprung out of this wider community. She said, “The group is really big now, so we always have new people joining or trying trail running for the first time, and we often have people who are visiting from interstate or overseas. They’ll often find out about it from Facebook and will come and join.”
The runs alternate weekly between two different routes, both of which start and end at local pubs. One route starts in the city, at Hobart Brewing Company, and loops around the city’s urban trails. The other route begins at Ferntree Tavern, on the side of Mount Wellington, and follows a trail known as the pipeline track. Often smaller groups will branch off from the main run and opt to go a little bit longer. The vibe is generally very informal, with many of the runners staying on for a drink and a bite to eat after.
The group also organize speakers every few weeks, with different areas of expertise, which can be very beneficial to newcomers to the sport. Collins was one such speaker and said, “I’d just come back from a race, the Oscars 100 Hut 2 Hut, and had done really well. So, they interviewed me about that, and some training advice, because I coach. They had one a couple of weeks ago that was a local runner who is also a physiotherapist, so they had her talk about training load and recovery.”
Aside from Hobart Trail Runners, Collins has no trouble finding training partners for her long runs within the wider Hobart running community and said: “We’ve got Messenger chat groups that have the people who are always keen to get out at the weekend. And to force myself to do a little bit of fast stuff, I run with an athletics group on a Tuesday after work, just to get that more formal interval training speedwork stuff in.”
Andy Palfreyman lives in south Hobart and is a long-time trail runner. He said: “I started running when I was 29, so that’s 33 years ago … I spent a couple of years just doing road running until a mate introduced me to trail running, and that was the beginning of the end!”
Palfreyman belongs to a social group of runners called the kunanyi Dirtbaggers — a smaller group of diehards, who get together for unscripted adventures on the mountain. He said: “We get together on a Tuesday night, we call it Dirtbag Tuesday, and we just head up the mountain. There’s never any plan, except that it always has to end in the pub. Rain, hail, or shine — we’ll go.”
The group is organic in structure, without a self-identified leader, but Palfreyman said: “We meet at my place. I’m hesitant to call myself a leader but I’m probably the most consistently present … Generally we just start running and then somebody says, ‘Why don’t we go up here?’ and if it’s snowing and blowing a gale, then we’ll go to the top of the mountain because it’s awesome.”
The kunanyi Dirtbaggers range greatly in ages and abilities, and Palfreyman said, “We have some top 10 trail runners and people who are just a different pace, but no one cares. Most of the time we just all run together at the pace of whoever is slowest.” The runners range in age from early thirties to the oldest runner, aged 70, and the demographic is just over 50% women.
For Palfreyman, trail running is not just a hobby, but a vehicle for carrying out his daily work, and he said: “I’m doing field work for some German scientists at the moment, collecting some small mountain shrimps. We have a lot of lakes and rivers that are quite remote to get to, so I use running as a means to get around. If there is a track somewhere close, I will hop on the track and go over land. So I actually use trail running as a means to cover as much ground as I can, so I don’t have to carry tents for overnights.”
Palfreyman enters races mostly for the social aspect, but added, “My brain thinks I’m 30, so when I’m in a race I go out hard trying to keep up with 30-somethings, which tends to destroy my body a bit! But I do like the social aspect of trail racing. It’s just such a friendly environment.”
At a successful weekend at the 2023 kunanyi Mountain Run, Hobart local Andrew Gaskell and Broome runner Sarah Ludowici took top honors in the 67k, earning their places on the Australian team that will compete at this year’s Trail and Mountain Running World Championships in Austria. For Gaskell, the opportunity is something beyond his wildest dreams. He said, “I don’t think I’ve run outside Tassie,” adding, “It’s something I think that hasn’t sunk in. It doesn’t seem real.” Gaskell won’t be lacking support for his international debut, and the cheers of the Hobart trail running community might just be audible in Austria.
Call for Comments
Have you run in Hobart? Or elsewhere in Tasmania? How did you find it?!