• Trailrunning in the Zillertal / Zillertal Tourismus GmbH

    Trailrunning: A Wonderful Family Experience

    You might have heard about trailrunning already? It's one of those new trend sports. And we are not going to lie, at first we immediately thought of distance running and exhausting routes, suitable just for experienced sports enthusiasts. Jurgen Groenwals gave it a try together with his family - and tells us otherwise.

    A sturdy 4x4 pick-up takes us over the steep, winding Zillertal Höhenstrasse. Under the morning sun, the sleepy villages of Hippach, Schwendau and Mayrhofen slowly come to life. American punk band Dropkick Murphy's provides the soundtrack. Behind the wheel: Alex Ganster, born and bred in the region, a passionate trailrunner, mountainbiker and skier. And particularly pleasant and fascinating company. Our family programme for today: trailrunning.

    Trailrunning for Beginners

    • Trailrunning is actually nothing more or less than running on unpaved paths. This can be in your local forest or - as we are about to do - in the mountains. It's less boring and monotonous than running on the road or a track. The "we" in the car, that's me, an avid mountainbiker and snowboarder, passionate about mountains and outdoors. One small concern: I never run, not even to catch my departing train. My girlfriend, on the other hand, puts on her running shoes a few times a week.

    • The 11-year old daughter is a gymnast and climber, crazy about almost all sports, and - as we are about to find out - has built up an iron condition through the many hours of training. The only one nervous about trailrunning in the car is thus me. Alex quickly reassures me. It is not the intention to run many kilometres, we will do a short loop with a few technical and steep sections. We will spend a lot of time on techniques, equipment and simply enjoying the views.

    •                     Trailrunning in the Zillertal / Zillertal Tourismus GmbH
    •                     Trailrunning in the Zillertal / Zillertal Tourismus GmbH

    Lets Get Started

    Meanwhile we have reached Melchboden, Schwendberg and it's time to put on our running shoes. A mini backpack holds drinking bottles, a bit of food and a pair of telescopic poles. It is a sunny day and we are not going to run deep into the mountains, so the rain and/or wind jacket stays in the car. After all, weight remains important for both competitive and recreational runners.

    Amazing Playground
    We can safely say that Alex knows every trail in this area like the back of his hand. As CEO of Rideable Trailbuilding & Consulting, that's hardly a surprise. With his company, Alex is responsible for the construction and maintenance of mountainbike trails and trail parks. On top of that, this is his amazing playground in which he has spent many hours.

    "When I was a child, I was always in the mountains with my friends. For us, it was just playing, running, having fun… We were trailrunners before it was even called that way", Alex tells us.

    The trail is carefully selected for a family without any significant experience in trailrunning. The first kilometres towards the Rastkogelhütte are rather sloping, passing amazing scenery. There are no real obstacles for the time being. The trail flows easily, up and down, the sun is shining, the ambience is excellent. It is pure enjoyment of both the physical effort and the beautiful surroundings. "No, it won't remain that easy," I chant in my head like some sort of mantra.

    Climbing and Descending

    And yes, Alex stops and makes it clear to us that what follows is ideal for mastering your climbing technique. In an almost vertical line, about 250 metres await. Alex explains: "Trailrunning - and especially the very long distances - is all about dosage. Uphill, there is no shame in alternating between walking and running. When walking, the best thing to do is to use your hands to push off on your upper legs for each step. This way you save a lot of energy and power because part of the force is provided by the upper body. It often depends on your own abilities and on the very steep sections sometimes walking is at least as fast as running." At the summit we stop to admire the view. The trail continues between a series of impressive boulders and Alex initiates us in running techniques and the use of telescopic poles. Because that, too, is not unusual in the world of trailrunning.

    Trailrunning in the Zillertal / Zillertal Tourismus GmbH

    "Many people use their 'walking' poles just for balance. However, if you start running more and faster, the sticks are ideal to reduce the forces on your legs. You really need to use them as support for your whole body, both on the climb and in the descent where they take the pressure off your knees and hips. In winter, many runners do ski mountaineering, they have a running technique with rather long strides where the poles provide balance. I prefer to use them as pure support, especially in technical terrain. You put the sticks out in front of you and push yourself upwards. Or support your whole body on the descent,” Alex goes on.

    Indeed, the poles help us climb and descend more easily but our coordination and physical capabilities are not yet up to a level to also gain speed.

    Trailrunning in the Zillertal / Zillertal Tourismus GmbH

    With the Help of Gravity

    An iron law says that after a climb follows a descent. That is, not after a long stretch of "false flat", which Alex affectionately calls "Schnoppa" or "Nepali-flat".

    In the descent, our little family takes care of safety. What we consider too steep to run, Alex simply flies over. He makes big jumps, barely touches the ground and seems to completely surrender to gravity, looking for balance with his arms.

    We take it a little slower and descend in our own pace, back to the start of our loop.

    Trailrunning in the Zillertal / Zillertal Tourismus GmbH


    • At the obligatory Brettljause - schnapps included - we review our experience. As a non-runner, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The fact that you focus less on speed and time and more on the nature around you is a decisive argument. You don't just enjoy the sporting challenge. You don't just stop to catch your breath or eat. You stop to enjoy the view, to take in the surroundings while conquering a challenging trail.

      And no, you don't have to be a highly trained runner with several marathons on your record to start trailrunning.

    • Just put on your shoes and go out. And whether you do it on a five-kilometre loop or on a fifty-kilometre ultra, you can run and enjoy it at any level. My girlfriend is completely sold, she’s already making plans to return. She wants to know everything about the possible trails in and around Mayrhofen and trailrun paradise Zillertal. There are plenty of trails for all levels, perfectly maintained and marked. For the daughter, trailrunning is fine, provided there is Kaiserschmarrn waiting at the finish line.

    Equipment Check

    It should come as no surprise that the right choice of shoes is important. A good shoe for trailrunning offers extra support to the midfoot and heel so that you get more hold on uneven terrain. The sole has a modified profile for additional grip. Most trail shoes are more robust than regular running shoes because of the extra protection. This also means they are often a little heavier.

    A mini backpack holds drinking bottles, a bit of food and a pair of telescopic poles.

    Sun cream and sunglasses - you don't want to get a branch or an insect in your eye - complete the equipment.

    Trailrunning in the Zillertal / Zillertal Tourismus GmbH

    Event Tipp

    •                 Der Hochkönigman, Trailrunningfestival

      The Hochkönigman 03. - 05. June 2022 The Hochkönigman 03. - 05. June 2022

      The trailrunning festival will take place for the 7th time in 2022. The challenging routes lead through the breathtakingly beautiful landscape of the Hochkönig mountain massif.

      Learn more

    Where you can try it out yourself

    About the Author: Jurgen Groenwals

    Jurgen Groenwals is a Belgian-based freelance journalist and storyteller, publisher of the magazines 100% Snow and 100% Trail. He crosses the world for snowboarding and mountain biking. He's passionate about mountains and outdoor sports.

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