PROFILE: Rising Starr

For more than 14 years, running was an addictive curse feeding a sickness that clouded Lauren Starr’s world.  TRM Editor, Chris Ord, goes for a run with an inspiring young woman who has battled Anorexia Nervosa and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.


I am an insensitive idiot.

For most of her life, Lauren Starr has suffered from anorexia nervosa. An eating disorder. So where do I arrange to meet for the first time?

“Let’s meet at The Pantry, it’s a great little foodie place on the main street.”

The Pantry.

You idiot.

That said, like a contortionist unencumbered by the warning bells of a normal person’s sensitivity radar, I manage to squeeze the other foot into my mouth with ease.

In the initial email detailing her background, Lauren, a 26-year-old physiotherapist from Rowville, Victoria, tells me that she has also suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a debilitating state that renders people unable to function in daily life as they struggle with unending and extreme exhaustion.

My idea for a good interview session, then?


“How about we run the first leg of the Victorian Trail Running Festival course,” I suggest, thinking it appropriate given Lauren is an ambassador for the event. The route is 34km, a distance she has – despite being a talented runner – only completed once before, and one that would require a fair energy-sapping effort. Lauren later explains that she has to be measured about her physical undertakings and the level of exertion required, as keeping at bay a potential relapse into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome means being careful about what she takes on in terms of running efforts.

Halfway through our run – she remains sensible and curtails her effort to a more comfortable 20km – I’m also still mortified to think that the first thing I said after hello, was “what would you like to eat?”

“It was okay,” says Lauren when I apologise. “The eating disorder will always be with me, but that’s not what I fear or obsess about as much now. It’s more the fear of lapsing back into Chronic Fatigue that dictates how I live my daily life.”

It makes sense, then, that she eventually ordered a muffin back at The Larder. I took that as either a sign of being free from the monster that is calorie-counting anorexia or that she was, against advice of all her inner demons, being polite. Wrong on both counts.

“No, once I realised we were going to run longer than I expected, I was weighing up how much energy I’d use, what would be the nutritional needs against that kind of distance, to ensure I wouldn’t take a massive dip in my energy reserves. It’s a constant balance like that – I’m always thinking about how to maintain a level of energy and healthiness. I never want to be so debilitated again, like I was with Chronic Fatigue. I never want to be unable to run again.”

WEB 2Today, running – and a pure love of it – is Lauren’s angel on the shoulder where once it was the devil. In the darker days it played a large part in fuelling the anorexia.

“I used it [running] to keep weight off,” says Lauren. “I was always pretty competitive and driven – I think you find that in a lot of sufferers – so the fast times, personal bests and trying to win was, like it is for many runners, part of the drive. But the over-riding motivator to run was because it kept me skinny.”

Lauren recounts one of her darkest moments as being in an almost manic meltdown as a teenager, when it was looking like she could not go on a planned after-school run. Unable to drive her to the run, her parents copped the wrath of a girl consumed by an irrational fear that missing one single outing would lead to devastating weight gain.

“I cried and shouted until they relented and found a way to get me to that run. At the time, in my head, the world was crashing down around me. Looking back, it seems so ridiculous. But the disease of anorexia is not a rational or sensible thing.”

WEB 3While running became an integral part of the machinations of anorexia, it was not what initially sparked the downward spiral. Until the age of eleven, Lauren had like many other young girls her age been enjoying childhood and was yearning to own a horse. Her naturally driven personality came to the fore as she asked for no presents just money every Christmas and birthday from age six until she had saved enough money to buy the horse. Her spare time was then consumed with riding and caring for it.

“Because I was always riding or mucking out stables, I was physically active,” says Lauren. “And that meant while other friends were watching TV, eating crisps, I was burning energy and as a result I lost some weight.”

“Before that time, I had never even thought about the concept of fat or skinny or been conscious of my weight at all. But some random – and they were actually positive – comments on my change in body shape woke up something inside me, it turned attention to how my body looked. That quickly turned into an obsession.”

Lauren was soon refusing food and counting calories with fervour.


“You could show me nearly any food and I’d know the calorie count and fat content,” says Lauren. “I knew it wasn’t normal, I guess, in that my friends weren’t doing the same thing and they would try to get me to eat things. But I justified it in my head – my world-view somehow contorted what was happening and made it okay, made it normal. So nothing was wrong with me.”

This despite increasing visits to doctors and specialists and, as she came of age, her menstruation was MIA. All the while, and despite low calorie intake, Lauren’s running excelled.

“I wasn’t a regular runner as a kid so much, but a friend encouraged me to go running with her shortly after I initially developed anorexia. The more I ran, the more I found I could maintain or even drop my weight, so it started to feed into the anorexia.

“I also began to do well at it, so the recognition I received for performing on cross country runs, road runs and eventually triathlons, also helped. I needed that reassurance, the affirmation of being good at something. And the fact I was skinny was seen as a good thing. In the running world, being skinny is a positive. Also, in my head, it helped my performances. So the skinnier I was, the better on all fronts.”

Cover TRM14 medDiscover how Lauren overcame her challenges…read the rest of her story in Edition 14, which you can download for FREE now, here

To talk to someone confidentially about anything relating to eating disorders, see 

For more information on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, see

Lauren is an ambassador for the the VICTORIAN TRAIL RUNNING FESTIVAL, 1-3 November. Worth a crack…

Run through history

WEB IMG_1756Fact: Aussie Rules Football and the logging industry played pivotal roles in the genesis of trail running. At least, in Victoria they did. And the evidence can be found under the fallen foliage of giant fern trees and towering gums in the mountains nary 80km east of Melbourne.

In history books detailing the early 20th century history of the Upper Yarra Valley, under the chapter ‘Hard Men, Harder Work, Hardest Wilderness’, you’ll find stories of loggers who endured dangerous work felling and milling giant trees – some of the biggest recorded on the planet – in some of the roughest, steepest, leech-infested country imagined. Six days a week they toiled, chopping and sawing timber, loading it onto bush trams that trundled down mountainsides, headed ‘down the line’ on steam trains that had their terminus at the small logging town of Warburton.

Every Saturday, workers would down tools early, grab their footy kit bag and, in order to make the opening siren present and accounted on a forward flank or otherwise, they would run the 10-15 kilometres down into the valley and back into town, just to get a game of footy. There are no records detailing if any ran back the same day having played four quarters, but with a licensed publican in town, it would be fair to bet that most left their return to the working slopes until after Sunday church.

The sawmills among the mountains are now long gone, with scant metal cog remnants being slowly engulfed by rampant ferns and moss. But the legacy of those hardened footballers – arguably some of Australia’s very first trail runners – remains. The tramways on which they shunted huge trees, and the trails that were their highways back to civilisation, today prove excellent singletrack ripe for the pacing.

WEB A Running VTRF (1 of 1)-7Indeed, not only were these trails the Enchanted Forests of my own childhood – I grew up in Warburton – they were also (unknowingly at the time) the genesis of my own trail running affair. So too, strangely, was Aussie Rules. Like the loggers before me I played on the local footy team – the ‘Burras’ in honour of the choir of Kookaburras that would laugh their heads of whenever I got touch of the ball (true story). Unlike the latter day loggers, I did not have to run 10km to take up my place every Saturday (maybe if I did I would have kept my slot as a running ruck rover, short-lived as it was). However, the trails that shoulder the Yarra River through town and climbing up the mountain slopes that envelop it were regular hosts to training run sessions aimed at readying us for the perils of country footy (run fast and nimble or get hit, hard and fast).

No wonder then, as I start trotting out twenty or so years later from the very same oval on which I so perfected the art of ‘invisible man football’ (no one knew I was even on the field), I start to reminisce. The smell of damp fern aromas fills my senses. I am transported back to my youth, but with the rose-coloured perceptions of an adult drunk on eucalypt-tinged nostalgia.

WEB Vic Trail fest (1 of 1)-41I’ve returned not to bathe in the mud and blood-bath memories of my feeble footballing days, rather to recce-run a bunch of trails that, come this November, will again feel the footpadding of runners.  Only this time, they won’t be running to a footy match. They’ll be running for fun. And they won’t be running just 10 kay or so. Rather they will run up to 100km, over three days, in the inaugural Victorian Trail Running Festival (1-3 November).

For event owner, Greg Donovan, the concept was simple and in keeping with his other events such as the Big Red Run: find a beautiful part of the world where there was enough trails to run for three days; set up a camp to encourage an community vibe where celebrating the trail running lifestyle is as core to the experience as trying to dry your muddy sock by the fire will be.

Not far from my first childhood home, the camp paddock he has chosen as base for the event sits aside the Yarra River and in a bowl of towering Eucalypt that step up the mountain on all sides. It is where I will finish my first recce (and the Festival’s Day One) run: a 34km loop with two out and back sections, mostly routed along an old concrete aqueduct, set high above town on the northern valley slope.

WEB A Running VTRF (1 of 1)-3Starting from near the footy oval, the course traces the river before edging up the valleyside through the grounds of what was originally a Sanatarium when it opened in 1912, and was then variously a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, a wellness centre, and a fully-fledged emergency hospital. As a kid, I never met any of the recovering drinkers there but I did have plenty of stitches sewn over cut knees (an early clue to my running co-ordination) in the hospital and I admit to breaking into the indoor basketball court and heated pool as a teenager. If nothing else, Warburton is freezing in winter, so the November timing for the festival is a smart choice.

Above the hospital grounds, runners quickly reach an old aqueduct. Built from 1911-15, it once streamed drinking water from O’Shannessy Dam (after which the aqueduct is named) downtown to Surry Hills. Today, it is covered in moss and dry, a concrete remnant of old-school water transportation (perhaps it was the constant dead wombat carcasses caught in grates and spoiling the water supply that made them finally shut it down, although not until 1997).

WEB IMG_1691

Here, Greg and his Race Director, Adrian Bailey (of Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon fame) runs competitors out east along the mostly flat double track trail that parallels the aqueduct. Although a ‘road’ as such, it remains a wild experience as the track weaves in and out of the mountainside contours. Above are walls of ferns and messmate stands, rising up towards Mts Victoria, Boobyalla and Donna Buang above. The latter is a well-known target for many trail runners and trekkers looking to get some vert training into their legs. A trail darting up from the township rises steeply with a total ascent profile of approximately 1400 metres in 7.5km. Not a worry for those running the Festival’s first day as the course turns around out past East Warburton, heading back above the Warburton township for another out and back to a magnificent lookout just above the township of Millgrove.

On the return leg of the recce run, the night closed in and I was reminded of yet another link Warburton has with my trail running life, this one notched after I had left town and as an adult. The Oxfam Trailwalker also uses this same aqueduct in the latter stages of its Melbourne edition. Running my first (and to date only), I reached the aqueduct stretch above Warburton in the pitch of night, exhausted, hurting, and to be honest, not 100% compos mentis. Checking my mobile phone in the dark while continuing the continuous forward motion thing (lest I collapse), the earth suddenly opened up beneath me. With stars in my head and grazes on all limbs, I came to realizing I had in fact stepped straight off the edge and fallen into the dry aqueduct. Nearly ninety kilometres into the Oxfam, and on my last legs, it was the last thing I needed.

WEBRunning VTRF (1 of 1)-9But now my legs were in full swing, with only 28km in them and my Ay Up headlamp brilliantly lighting up the danger of the aqueduct drop to my left. Instead I dropped down the Donna Buang Trail that the vert-freaks love so much, negotiating the slip-n-slide mud fest, to run back into the centre of Warburton, picking up the brilliant singletrack that weaves alongside the Yarra River, which I follow to the far end of town and the paddock cross river. As a starter day and distance, it’s a sweet introduction to what the Festival is all about: enjoyable running.

Day two of the recce, and of the event, is the Big Day. This is the marathon effort that has runners being transported over the other side of the southern range, via Powelltown (another old logging town, the old mill there still hanging on to existence). The race directors lull you into a false sense of security…

Cover TRM14 medThis article continued in Edition 14, which you can download for FREE now, here

Check out the VICTORIAN TRAIL RUNNING FESTIVAL – three days of awesome running, in beautiful mountain country only an hour outside Melbourne. ENTRIES ARE DUE NOW. It’s three days but achievable distances, and a great introduction to what multi day running – and the great community vibe it engenders – is all about!


Preview: Victorian Trail Running Festival

Event Preview: Victorian Trail Running Festival

Running VTRF (1 of 1)-5There are a few trail ‘festivals’ on the calendar. Kind of like the adjectives ‘extreme’, ‘toughest’, ‘hardest’, ‘festival’ is a word bandied about a bit. There’s the You Yangs Trail Running Festival, the Brooks Trail Run Fest at Mount Baw Baw, the On Trail Running Festival in Glenworth, the Mount Buller Mountain Running Festival, Wagga Wagga Trail Running Festival, Tamborine Mountain Sports Festival…and we could go on…

Yet, to this scribe, the word festival encompasses so much more than simply stringing more than one trail run together in a row, which seems to be the qualifier for applying the word festival these days.

Rather, in the form of a traditional festival, shouldn’t it be about a pure celebration encompassing all the things we love about trail running, as much an event with a structure to communally appreciate the trail running lifestyle (and it is a lifestyle) as it is an event inclusive of the actual running of trails?

With this in mind, and with a minimum qualifier that any ‘festival’ must last for days, not hours, the new Victorian Trail Running Festival (1-3 Nov, 2014) could prove to fill the boot of its labelling more than adequately.

Running VTRF (1 of 1)

Three days of trail running. A plethora of trails and distances to suit trail runners of all abilities and experience (non-elitist – after all, festivals are about celebrations of and by the common person!). And a bunch of time between getting the pegs dirty to revel in our mutual love of running wild, as people gather round the campfire, traditional style, to muse about the spirit of our passion for going bush.

I have a theory borne by enough anecdotal evidence and experience that single day events just don’t capture the hearts and minds as fully as multi days do. On a single day event, once the line has been crossed, and the thirst quenched, the mind reverts back to the chores left undone at home, the errands to be run, the workday ahead, the lawn unmown, the dinner to be cooked, the family preparations for the school week…and on. Witness the rush to get back to the car and zip home. The mind just does not get to luxuriate in the after-moment. And the participant is momentarily, but not fully engaged in the experience or even committed to its fullest entity. Witness the low numbers at most presentations.

A multiday has the benefit of pre-commitment to the fact that the line may have been crossed, but the experience kicks on for a few days yet, so your attention remains focused as does the group energy and, as Dion Milne from the Surf Coast Trail Run crew would say, the #TrailLove remains and the vibe grows strong.

Vic Trail Fest (1 of 1)-14

So Greg Donovan, from Big Run Events – purveyors of the Big Red Run, Trail Fest Sydney, Big Forest Run and the Sydney Trail Series – may have cracked the real code to what a festival is all about with his inaugural Victorian Trail Running Festival, set for Melbourne Cup Weekend, 1-3 November.

With this in mind, Trail Run Mag headed to the Upper Yarra Valley, and the small hill town of Warburton, to get a sneaky few runs in to preview the course.

In essence, all of the runs featured across the festival take in trails that have a strong link to the Valley’s history as a tree-felling, saw milling township that had a brief heyday in the 1920s, before lumbering (pun intended) through the ensuing years, first as a resort town for the European rich and then in more modern times as dying logging town. I can say that. I lived there for my entire childhood. Don’t get me wrong, Warburton is one of the most beautiful towns you’ll find in Victoria, up there with the likes of Bright with a similar mix of European-transplanted trees, flashing bountiful rainbows of colour in Autumn, embedded within and surrounded by quintessential Australian bush, all eucalypt and giant tree ferns. It was always a special place, one with a creative soul that long attracted artists retreated into the hillsides, creating amidst the destruction of the loggers. Luckily they were far out of town, and so Warburton township was always a beautiful place, wedged at the bottom of the valley, with the Yarra River a lifeblood through its heart. I recall the artists back then saying the town and place had a certain energy, and looking back as a kid, I remember, or perhaps I layer my memories with nostalgic wistfulness. Still, that’s what Warburton does to you.

Returning there to run its trails as an adult, the scene is somewhat different but the same. The town is manicured, the vibe positive and full of tourism growth. Café’s line the streets where once were boarded up windows, and the Melbourne coffee snob in me can revel not just in one good caffeine dealer, but a few expressing the black gold in quality pours. Looking up, all around, in the form of a cauldron, are heavily forested mountain slopes. What a place to base a celebration of trails.


Lauren Starr (1 of 1)-3

Runners can opt for either an 80km or 100km multiday, or cherry pick from a rich menu of singletrack single day offerings: 41km, 21km, 15km or a 10km night run.

I decide to run the recce in the same order as the three-day 100km version of the Festival. The full shebang.

DAY 01

The first course is a 34km ‘cruiser’ that makes the most of an old school aqueduct that snakes around the contours of the northern valley, high above the township. I say cruiser, because as is the nature of a trail that runs alongside a now empty concrete aqueduct, the running is in the majority flat. Runners begin nearby the Warburton Football Oval, tracing the Yarra River upstream on a township trail, before a short stretch alongside the main road. There is a pinch of a climb early, shooting runners up into the grounds of the old Sanatarium. Opened in 1912 it has variously operated as a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, a wellness centre, and a fully-fledged emergency hospital.

A short climb up behind the hospital, runners reach the aqueduct (at 2km), where they hook east on what will become a double out and back course. While the terrain underfoot is predictable (gravel double track – essentially what was the service road to the aqueduct), the scenery astounds with the mountain side rising sharply up on one side, a wall of giant tree ferns giving off a magical green glow. On the low side stand guard giant eucalypts through which occasionally are glimpses of the valley below.

Hitting the 10km mark, it’s a U-turn. While you’re running the same route the view is different (unless you kept looking backwards on the first leg), keeping the run a parlour of mountain scenery never boring.

The run hits the treetops above the township at 20km, giving false hope, as the markers will direct competitors further back west, towards the township of Millgrove, 4km further on. At the turnaround is a huge vista up the Yarra Valley, one enough to fool you into thinking you were somewhere in the rolling hills of France or Italy. The Eucalypts give it away, however.

Given the running remains flat, the four kay turn back to Warburton isn’t too strenuous, it’s just the over half marathon distance starting to nudge the legs a little.

At 29km, a little excitement is injected in, with a steep descent down a slippery trail dropping you back to the township. This is the trail that links Warburton with the summit of Mount Donna Buang, a favourite extreme hill climb training ground for trail runners and those looking to a Kokoda adventure.

Hitting the top of Martyrs Road (reputedly one of the steepest suburban streets in the southern hemisphere), it’s on further down to the Yarra River before a stunning riverside trail run back to where you started. Although, that’s not the finish – two more kilometres to go. Runners continue on to the rear of the caravan park, a flat and firm run, and just as you hit the 34km mark, looking for the finish arch, it’s a short river crossing to clean the shoes (they’ll need it from that steep slippery trail), and back into the campsite, a huge private paddock sitting in a bowl of mountains. No cows.

Screenshot 2014-09-08 23.23.31




DAY 02

Lucky there was little climbing on the first day (370m), as today makes up for the flat and fast of yesterday. But don’t stress, it’s no killer: 1200m ascent (Event organisers record it as 1340m).

First it’s a bus trip around into the next valley over, alighting roadside just beyond the milling town of Powelltown.

Then it’s straight into the climbing, The good thing with today’s marathon distance run (42.2km) is that most of the climbing is done in the first 10-12km. First it’s up a winding dirt road, with the big tree sentries giving a small indication of the highlight ahead: the magnificent Ada Tree. At 5km, runners take a beeline off the road and up an old tramline way that was once used to transport gigantic trees down off the mountain, to be further milled and transported to Melbourne to feed the building boom of the early 20th Century. This section is super steep but a good steady and rhythmic power walk up the bark encrusted trail soon has you nearing the high point.

Running VTRF (1 of 1)-178km in at a trail junction (Federation), runners are funnelled east onto singletrack that leads through a corridor of ferns, passing through several old mill sites easily identifiable by the old cog and machinery relics. When we ran it, the ferns were low over the trail and provided a virtual obstacle course, however we weren’t long off the snow cover and the fronds were still bent low from the weight of the white stuff, which would have only recently melted.

A few linking (dirt) roads start looping runners around and ends at the Ada Tree Carpark. Here you enter an Alice In Wonderland style trail that weaves and undulates amid a rainforest of ferns, giant myrtle beech, sassafras and moss covered rocks, with the odd creek crossing thrown in. At the end of this – 13km into your marathon – is the Ada Tree. Around 270 years old, it’s about 76 metres tall with a circumference of 15 metres and is reputedly one of the biggest living things in the world.

After ogling the Ada (a lap of the tree on the boardwalk is obligatory), a singletrail takes you back, eventually, to one of the mill sites, and on to the Federation Junction where you were 9km ago (this marks the 17km mark).

Here the trail rejoins the ‘Walk Into History’ trail, a recognized walking track from Powelltown to Warburton that retraces the route the loggers used – on foot and by tram haulage – when they worked these parts. In fact, some of the loggers may have been Australia’s original trail runners with stories of them downing tools Saturday morning to run this trail back into Warburton, arriving in time to take their place on the football field. Hard men. Think of them when you’re starting to hurt at the 25km mark at Starlings Gap, having followed a mostly benched trail that weaves in and out of contours. The trail underfoot is soft with lots of leaf and bark litter, but eminently runnable.

From Starling’s Gap, the fun begins with a long, steady descent down into the settlement of Big Pats Creek. Again, there is a bit of bush litter to content with, but it’s a sweeping ride all the way down.

Just before Big Pat’s creek (35km), runners take a slight detour, climbing on singletrack to meet the Mississippi fire trail, a final drop back down to Big Pat’s Creek marking the end of dirt for the day, and a road run for a few kilometres back to the campsite.

Screenshot 2014-09-08 23.23.12

DAY 03

The final day is not so daunting, with an out and back 24km  / 420m ascent course, incorporating a loop. Two stretches repeat with the run taking the roadway back to Big Pats Creek before looping further out and up, firstly along a pacey smooth dirt road, then up into a freshly cut track that gets a little bothersome underfoot with a few downed tree hurdles and plenty of loose bush litter. Still, it clears up soon enough, and then enters a fun section that twists and turns its way through beautiful fern country, back to the Big Pats valley. This is a good leg stretching, warm down run after yesterday’s marathon effort, and the final line crossing at the camp paddock sure to mark huge celebrations.

Overall, the combination of trails mixes the experience up well between some fast, flat stretches, a few beefy climbs in the middle section, plenty of impressive big tree bush, a meeting of a living giant, and a bunch of history that means you are running in the footsteps potentially of Australia’s first recreational trail runners. Footballing loggers. Who would have thought?

Screenshot 2014-09-08 23.23.45



Check out a feature that further explores the environs of the trails of the VTRF, along with a profile of event ambassador, Lauren Starr (pictured above), in the upcoming edition of Trail Run Mag, available at