In this age of the instantly disposable digital tweet, it’s a rare thing that a book can have the power to influence a whole sport.
Yet this is what happened to running with the publication, in 2009, of Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.
It is the story of an eccentric American, El Caballo Blanco, who hooks up with the reclusive Tarahumara Indian tribe and runs massive distances barefoot through the Mexican Copper Canyons.
McDougall discovers them on a quest to rid himself of persistent running injuries, caused (as he persuasively argues) through the cushioned running shoe, invented by Nike in 1972.
It hit a chord. Though relatively few diehards can be seen running city marathons without shoes, sales of low-cushioned shoes – designed so you can feel the ground – have boomed.
It was only a matter of time before this desire and fashion for connection would translate from our feet to the ground on which we run.
So it is that trail running has become the latest running fashion, encouraged by books like Run Wild by rock musician and off-road runner Boff Whalley.
He argues for a new way of running ‘‘that exercises your entire body, not just the identical stretch and pull of the same few muscles’’.
But more than that. He argues that trail running will give road runners ‘‘a new look at the world, at the way seasons and years change your surroundings’’.
‘‘A freedom from the dead weight of fixed measurements . . . and a gloriously gut-wrenching separation from the clock,’’ he writes.
Trail running is nothing new in the Illawarra, rich as it is in trails across the escarpment and beyond, though many of the best trails beyond are in catchment areas and therefore off-limits.
Geoff Stalker is part of Athletics Wollongong and a former organiser of a trail-running competition for four years.
Races would be held over a number of distances from five kilometres to a marathon length of 42 kilometres.
Now aged 54, Stalker started running trails long before it was fashionable, when he was five years old and growing up around Woonona. He uses trails to give students strength conditioning.
‘‘Hills are a basic way of strength conditioning for runners,’’ Stalker said.
‘‘The trails are softer so it’s easier on the legs.’’
Stalker recommends trail running to all runners, but warns that many trails along the escarpment run through private land.