My love hate relationship with Wally Grunta

The gold nug outside Walyunga National Park Rangers Station

I visited one of my long-lost loves today and reignited my passion for trail running.

Walyunga National Park or Wally Grunta as I affectionately call him is the bad boyfriend that I love to hate and hate to love.

He is at times the gentle protector, offering cool water and the shade of the trees, but other times he’s downright abusive with his unforgiving hills and rocky terrain. He’s the all-encompassing reality check that knocks me on my ass when I get a little too big for my running boots, but ….like the loyal girlfriend, I also always find myself going back to him.Wally hosts one of my most favourite trail runs, a gruelling 12-13km trail involving around 7 sections.

Syds Rapids, The Hill of Death, Crapmydaks Lookout, Alien Ant Farm Flats, Sewage City, Cobweb Alley, Aboriginal Heritage Area, & Wally G-pool. I brought my camera along for the trip today so I could share and capture his beauty.

Obliviously happy at Syd’s Rapids

First up I ran Syd’s Rapids, a beautiful stretch of trail about 1km long, spanning wide enough for about three people. Its mainly a mix of sand, dirt and small gravel with bigger rocks embedded in it enough to keep your attention. The trail runs parallel to the Avon River in a section great for kayaking when the waters are flowing. It’s quite grassy at this time of the year which makes it even more scenic. Some trees overhang the trail but not so much so that you still have a clear view of the river as you run along.

The view didn’t last long though as I faced the next and most gruelling 3-4kms. Wally has this way about him, where he lures the first time runner into a false sense of security with beautiful surrounds before unleashing his wrath and I fall for it every time. The next section is an ascent that I like to call The Hill Of Death. No more fluffing around by rivers taking photos and being a tourist. I knew I had to knuckle down, there was no half assing the Hill of Death because if you stopped moving on any of the hills you could easily back step and slip down the gravel to ensure a bad injury, so.. this was it.

I turned right and started the climb. The trail sporadically ascends steeply, with only a few small flat sections not even long enough to say a prayer for the lactic acid to ease before climbing again. Dammit I got up the two first steep parts before I was already walking thinking to myself I’m sure I had done better last time I met Wally G.

Only a small glimpse of what the Hill of Death has to offer

By half way up I was wondering how anyone would even be able to jog this whole section without being a god damn superhero, and I had a flashback to a few months ago when Dean had accompanied me and zipped ahead, jogging out of sight. I shook my head to get rid of the thought, so I’m obviously not the best at this trail running business but I’m giving it everything I got. I then started to realise just how important it is as an athlete to do this exactly. To have one goal or one challenge that is probably quite far beyond you’re reach but that you have to keep revisiting just to reinforce how hard you still need to be working and also to measure how far you’ve come. It’s humbling but educational and a useful measure of fitness in the scheme of things. This is one of the many things I love about Wally. He is my reality check.

After walking and jogging in small bursts and being continually slapped in the face at every turn by another big hill, I finally reached one of my favourite parts, Crapmydaks Lookout. Aptly named because there will always be at least one, if not many times that I will be too busy admiring the view to notice a giant kangaroo who bounds in front of me and makes me crapmydaks. While all this is happening it’s also not unusual that I trip over rocks a few times and almost fall flat on my face, hence the reason I always carry a first aid kit and thermal blanket.

From Crapmydaks to the Alien Ant Farm Flats there are lots of downhill sections. A relief for the legs after the Hill of Death but a little awkward because it forces a shorter stride and braced core to stop the impact on the knees and spine. I was struggling as expected on the downhill sections going slowly and cautiously slaloming away to save my joints. And sure enough I was scared by a whole family of kangaroos jumping out of my skin almost into a bush. Soon I was glad to reach the start of Alien Ant Farm Flats, marking the halfway point in the course. The Alien Ant Farm flats are made up by a hard clay/mud which are home to thousands of ant farms, ants looking like a shredded old mat crawling along the ground. This means that yet again that you can’t stop for long without having ants crawling onto your shoes and consequently up your legs to nip away at your skin. So walking is just not an option. I plugged away up a few more short do-able hills brushing off a few creepy crawlies as I went. I liked this part of the run, it wasn’t too rocky so I didn’t have to pay much attention to where I was placing my feet for once.

Sewage city was fast approaching. I could simply smell it. I passed the camping ground and held my breath past the sewage smelling part and faced the sandy stretch up to the main road leading in. I crossed the road and was into cobweb alley. Sand and dirt covers the ground while the trees and bushes hang across the path. I had clocked about 10 km already and was only just starting to get my breath back. It was convenient because you never wanna be running through cobweb alley with your mouth open. I knew this was the part I could easily keep a steady pace, cobwebs were strung everywhere, and because I was running on my own I kept my hands in front to fend them off.

The Aboriginal Heritage Trail

After stumbling up and down a few little hills again I was into my most favourite part of the run, the Aboriginal Heritage Trail. It was lush and green with a fragrance like no-where else. My favourite wild flower, the freesia was in bloom and it was the best feeling to be running on through there taking big deep breaths taking it all in. Leaving nothing but footprints and taking nothing but photos I reminded myself I was a child of the earth and that I owed it to the environment not to pick a few of my favourite flowers, no matter how tempting it was.

I soon made my way back to where the river was and finished the last short section of the run. I stopped by Wally-G Pool to fix my shoes and sock to try to ease a raging blister I was getting on my right foot. Stopping made me realise just how warm it was and how inviting the water was, so I ‘Bear Gryll’s’d it up and headed into the water for a bit of wading.

Fixing blisters by the Wally-G Pool

It was refreshing and cool but I couldn’t be complacent about what my job there was. To finish this run and get home for a much-needed lunch. I had been seeing pink markers the whole way along the trail, but had initially shrugged them off as having been from a past event. I tsked when I thought someone had obviously just not come to collect them afterwards and left them there instead. However I soon found I was sorely mistaken after I ran the last kilometre. There were people standing around. A guy ready with a camera and he prompted me to take out my earphones and he said ‘you’ll probably be applauded if you keep on going’. All of a sudden it clicked that I had been running the same trail as a local trail running and paddle event. Feeling a bit stupid I skulked my way up the rest of the trail sticking to the edge hoping that somehow the crowd I could just see ahead wouldn’t notice me pit patting up the edge. But sure enough there were a few enthusiastic people who started applauding as I ran my way in, mistaking me for an event competitor. Their clapping soon subsided when they realised I had no event bib or competitor number, and I was sheepishly jogged on by.

I crossed their makeshift finish line feeling utterly stupid but also kept trying to pretend I was completely confident in being there although I obviously had interrupted.

After my silly situation I decided not to dwell and instead followed my hunger home to a lunch before an afternoon swim.

Lesson to be learned: If you’re into trail running don’t hesitate to check out my mate Wally Grunta, he is a ripper and not for the faint hearted. The ascents are challenging but the views are worthwhile, the downhills are sure to have you as giddy as a schoolkid before an easy straight home run. Just be sure to investigate any possible events you might find yourself in the middle of before heading up to the trail.

If you’ve never trail run before, I suggest staying tuned for my next post on trail running for beginners. The advice that’s taken me 12 months to learn, you can learn in less than an hour. Until then, later kiddies!