Whether a long-time Melburnian, a weekend visitor or a traveller, discovering new and enjoying good running trails in any city is vital to a runner, be it recreational or serious.
Melbourne's Royal Botanic Garden 'The Tan Track' is quintessentially Melbourne, and also a run that can be challenging for the elite, and a good workout for the hobbyist. It even has it's own Strava page.
By Cookaa - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, commons.wikimedia.org
The Tan is a 3.827 kilometre perimeter track around Melbourne's Royal Botanic Garden. It consists of sandy-coloured stone gravel except for one section called Anderson Street. The gravel provides slightly less grip than asphalt, but delivers lower impact. One of the excellent running aspects of the Tan, is although there is an official start-finish line near Swan Street Bridge, named the Pillars of Wisdom, starting a run or walk anywhere and in either direction is easy as there are distance markers every 250 metres, and two large digital time clocks at the start/finish and halfway points.
There is no consensus on where the name 'Tan' comes from. The three theories are, 1) a shortened form of The BoTANic Gardens; 2) from the tan-like colour of the sandy track; and, 3) my favourite, from its origins as a tan-bark horse-riding track for Melbourne's establishment!
One circuit of The Tan covers 63 metres of elevation. There are two schools of thought on the 'best' direction to run. One way, clockwise, or in the official Tan direction, incorporates Anderson Street uphill. Anderson Street is the only section of footpath, and is a 29 metre elevation over 300 metres, and is challenging for the sprinter through walker. The following kilometre along Birdwood Avenue varies between a short downhill then gradual uphill of another 30-odd metres, to the highest point of the track near the Shrine of Remembrance just after the halfway marker. From here, the remainder of The Tan is an easy downhill back to the Yarra River, and the finish line.
Going anti-clockwise, or 'Anti-Tan,' is less popular but many runners believe it is the more challenging direction due to the gradual and long incline along Birdwood Avenue. Either way, 3.8 kilometres is better than nothing, and whether you're going for Craig Mottram's 2004 course record of 10 minutes and 12 seconds, a more leisurely thirty-minutes lunchtime stroll, a jog somewhere between those times, or doing multiple laps, there will be a range of other active people in either direction, at varying paces, and the scenery and atmosphere is very pleasant. The track is nice and wide, providing plenty of space for runners, walkers, prams and even the odd cyclist, and you may even see a professional runner or footballer trotting along. For longer runs, The Tan provides a good link between the Yarra banks (Capital City Trail) and even to Albert Park and Beach Road; a runner can cover anywhere from 3.8 through to 21 kilometres by using The Tan as a link. The Tan is lit from 5am through midnight, and is safe and well-frequented.
Getting to The Tan is easy, as it's very central to Melbourne and South Yarra. Flinders Street Station, Richmond Station, St Kilda Road, and South Yarra Station all provide convenient public transport within a ten minute walk to the track. There are a number of other activities to partake in if running or walking isn't the order of the day, from enjoying Domain Road's bars, cafes and restaurants, to the galleries on St Kilda Road, shopping on Chapel Street, or exploring The Domain Parklands, including the trio of gardens (Alexandra, Royal Botanic, Queen Victoria) and all the secret spots hidden within, as well as the sombre Shrine of Remembrance and interesting sites within King's Domain. The beauty of the Parklands is they can be explored with only two minimal-traffic road crossings, and there are amazing sites both within the Parklands, while also offering terrific vantage points of Melbourne skyline, city and Yarra riverbanks.
Halfway Marker, on Birdwood Avenue near The Shrine of Remembrance. 'Tan' gravel very clear. Photo credit: Batrouney.