The Gold Coast's Best Pre-Work Trail Running & Coffee Combinations

Trail Guide
Most people have to work. Such is life.

The struggle is real though; you want to fit in a trail run, followed by a good cup of coffee, and still make it to the office before the boss starts pointing at their wrist watch. Fear not - I have some options for you!

NB - KML files linked below can be opened by Google Earth on your desktop, or on your phone for on-the-run navigation using a suitable app - Maps.Me is my go-to.


Coffee Shop: Dust Temple

I usually start these runs at the Currumbin Fair shopping centre, and then head up to the Border Track from there. There are plenty of route options once you get up on the trail, such as THIS ONE (KML), or THIS ONE (KML) or THIS ONE (KML). The Dust Temple is then just around the road for a heck-of-a-good cup of coffee to round out the early morning fun.


Coffee Shop: Borough Barista

This area is on the fine line of being road running, but for those in the Broadbeach - Burleigh region it's by far your best option for a pre-work off-road run and coffee combo. I have a few routes from Burleigh - such as THIS ONE (KML) or THIS ONE (KML) - and both take in some fun areas and finish not far from Burleigh or Tallebudgera Creek for a quick post-run dip. Then duck into Burleigh proper and get yourself a takeaway from Borough Barista.


Trail: The Spit
Coffee Shop: Beaches off Tedder

Definitely more cross-country than rugged trails, but the undulating gravelly/sandy trails hidden in the dunes at Southport Spit are an excellent option for a quick pre-work trot. If you like running early, this makes for a cracking sunrise run. I generally choose to start this near Southport SLSC, and from there my suggested route is THIS ONE (KML). Given I live on the southern end of the Coast, post-run coffees have usually included breakfast, and Beaches off Tedder is both convenient and tasty!


Coffee Shop: Cadence Cafe

Nerang has long been the go-to location for trail running and mountain biking enthusiasts on the GC - what with it's many, many kilometres of fire- and singltetrack trails - but dare I say that Cadence Coffee is the best thing to happen to the Nerang trail running scene in a long time. Literally around the corner from the trail head, Cadence is the perfect spot to grab a coffee before getting the suit on for the day. Just watch out for the lycra on show ;-) There are too many route choices to name them all, but THIS ONE (KML) is a great pre-work hit-out (or THIS slightly longer variation - also KML). Also check out the National Park map HERE.

7 Must-Do Trail Runs on The Gold Coast

Binna Burra


Purling Brook Falls Circuit (Springbrook National Park)

Distance & elevation gain // 5km, 300mD+/-
Why is it so good? // The waterfall, the trails, the swing bridge. This one is beautiful and Purlingbrook Falls is just the icing. The trails are fun, there is lots of variety in the terrain and the cliff top views to start and finish are superb. This one is easier run clockwise, but I think it's more fun the other way!
Top tip // Early morning is the best time for this run. This loop gets busy (for good reason), so by starting early you both beat the crowds and get the scenery at its best. A sunrise is particularly good from up here.

Twin Falls Circuit (Springbrook National Park)

Distance & elevation gain // 5.5km, 280mD+/-
Why is it so good? // Everything. If you only have time for one short walk on your visit to the Gold Coast, then do this one. Seriously. It's just WOW. The trails are super fun to run, the cliff-top views are amazing, and the falls for which this circuit are named are other-worldly. Trust me on this one - go and do it.
Top tip // While only short, leave yourself plenty of time to complete this loop. And make sure your camera battery is charged. Better yet, bring two cameras, both with spare batteries. Just in case.

Morans Falls Track (Lamington National Park - Green Mountains Section)

Distance & elevation gain // 4.5km (return), 300mD+/-
Why is it so good? // The waterfall is beautiful, but for mine it's the view out over the valley that really makes this run. Be sure to keep going beyond the first lookout...continue on over the causeway across the creek until you get to the lookout on the western side of the Falls. From there you can really soak it all in. Suitable for kids, but it's a fair climb uphill out with them.
Top tip // Rug up, bring a torch and get yourself to the valley lookout for sunset. You won't regret it.

Morans Falls Track at Sunset // Photo: Judd Adventures

Caves Circuit (Lamington National Park - Binna Burra Section)

Distance & elevation gain // 5km, 240mD+/-
Why is it so good? // It's just damn different. We did this one with a 3 year old on foot and, while slow, we got it done OK - just be careful with kids on some of the steeper sections. Kweebani Cave is awesome, and this run is unique in Binna Burra in that it looks out west and is a nice walk late in the afternoon as the sun is dropping behind the range. Runnable terrain too, but busy on weekends.
Top tip // We suggest starting at the bottom of this loop and doing it clockwise - that way you get the road section out of the way first and get to finish on the fun stuff! Just be careful of cars on your way up.


Ships Stern Circuit (Lamington National Park - Binna Burra Section)

Distance & elevation gain // 17km (without additional side-tracks), 600mD+/-
Why is it so good? // Much like the Twin Falls Circuit above, if a visitor to the Gold Coast asked for a recommendation and only had time for one trail run while in town, this would be the "long" option that I give them. It has as much bang-for-buck as any trail you can imagine: rainforest singletrack, expansive valley views, cliff-top trails, rock-hopping across creeks and surprise waterfalls.
Top tip // Take a headlamp and start early - the eastern section for sunrise is spectacular. Aim to be at Kooloobano Point about 20mins before sunrise...then watch the sky work its magic (but dress warm!).

Coomera Circuit (Lamington National Park - Binna Burra Section)

Distance & elevation gain // 17km, 630mD+/-
Why is it so good? // There is a reason this is called the Coomera Circuit, as Coomera Creek is the star of this run. We've joked about it when out there, but it almost gets to a point where you've seen that many waterfalls it's hard to appreciate the later ones you come to...too much of a good thing I think the saying is! Nothing will outdo the spectacular Coomera Falls and Coomera Gorge lookout though.
Top tip // You will likely get wet feet on this one, and if the weather has been wet in the days prior to heading out be prepared to encounter leeches. Repellant on your socks prior to starting out works or, if you're like me and constantly forget, you're better off letting the leeches finish what they are doing and drop off on their own - the bites bleed less when you let the critters finish!

West Canungra Creek Circuit (Lamington National Park - Green Mountains Section)

Distance & elevation gain // 16km, 690mD+/-
Why is it so good? // Once again, it's the unique rainforest trails adjacent to a creek that make this run so spectacular. It's a little slower going than most other runs on this list, primarily due to slippery trails in and around the creek, but the scale of the canyon into which this trail descends is a sight to be seen. There are many picture-perfect picnic spots adjacent to ridiculous swimming holes - if only the run back out wasn't so uphill.
Top tip // Bring a camera and a sense of adventure. There's plenty of rock-hopping as the trail criss-crosses the creek on numerous occasions, and there are photo opportunities at almost every turn. Avoid this one if you don't like chasing waterfalls.

Training to Effort: The Talk Test

80/20 running

After discussing MAF training and effort vs pace based training in the last few blog posts, I thought it worthwhile to finish off by discussing a method for measuring effort when you don't have a heart-rate monitor.

While I think purchasing a HR monitor is an extremely worthwhile investment for a runner to make, there are other methods available for monitoring your effort during a run, my favourite of which is the talk test (not to be confused with the breath test, which is a common roadside measure to reduce drink-driving).

Let's first look at some data:

The idea behind the talk test is that your respiration rate (the rate at which you are breathing) correlates with the effort at which you are working during your run.

The below is a snippet of data from a training run, in particular on an undulating section of road. In the chart, the yellow line represents my respiration rate and the white line my heart rate.

The numbers for this aren't important; what I want you to note is the relationship between heart rate and respiration rate: when my HR goes up, so does my respiration rate; when my HR goes down, so does my respiration rate.

So if you don't have a HR monitor but want to know what your ticker is doing, it makes sense to become aware of your respiration rate i.e. how hard you are breathing.

So what is the talk test?

The harder you run, the more load there is on your cardiovascular system (i.e. your heart and lungs). This equates to an increased heart rate and more rapid breathing. The rate at which you are breathing then affects how easy/hard it is for you to talk - when you are breathing easily, talking too should be easy; when you are running hard and breathing heavily, it is hard to talk more than one or two simple words at a time.

OK, so I puff like a steam train running uphill, and I feel like I wouldn't blow out a candle when I go for an easy jog on the flat. What's that telling me about my effort?

The harder your effort (running uphill, running faster), the harder (more rapid) your breathing becomes. The way to most accurately measure the relationship as it applies to you is to run with a heart rate strap and note how hard you feel you are breathing at a given heart rate. Then when you ditch the HR strap, you will know roughly what your HR is purely based on your breathing rate.

While this is the most accurate way to personalise your HR/respiration relationship, it still requires a HR strap, albeit temporarily. And this is where the talk test comes in.

The talk test is simply noting how hard it is for you to talk at any point in a run. Based on this, you can then approximate what your effort is. Keep in mind, this isn't as accurate as using a HR monitor, but it's certainly better than using a pace-based training approach for moderating effort. As a rule of thumb, I suggest the following "talk test zones" as a starting point for dialling in your effort:

Recovery and endurance zone: you should be able to hold a proper conversation
Your bread and butter runs - if you can't hold a conversation, you're running too hard for this run type.
* Word of caution: in my opinion, the biggest downfall of the talk test is its inability to get you running at a correct recovery pace - even when you can hold a conversation, the effort is often still to high for a proper recovery run. To overcome this, think of recovery runs as easy jogs - it's not running. The idea of jogging seems to slow people down, and that's exactly what you want for recovery days. The "conversational zone" then more accurately applies to endurance running (which should make up the bulk of your running each week).

Steady state zone: Talking in sentences but need to catch your breath every 2 or 3 sentences
Steady state zone runs are sustained at your aerobic threshold, the point at which you are about ready to recruit your anaerobic system for help. Once you go beyond this, you're out of your aerobic zone (meaning your muscles no longer have the oxygen they require to produce their own energy).

Tempo zone: Talking in 1 or 2 short sentences only (if you can only gasp words you're going too hard)
The line between the steady state and tempo zones is a fine one, but they work different energy systems in your body. Tempo runs typically work at the lactic threshold, which is the point at which your body starts producing more lactic acid than it can clear (below this point, your body is still producing lactic acid, but it is able to convert the lactic acid to energy). It's an important zone to work correctly...dial this breathing in!

Speed/VO2 max zone: Only able to manage a few words at a time
I'll be honest - I don't use this zone much. As in, nearly never, except for the very occasional 5K race or sharpening up session towards the end of my training cycle. The idea behind VO2 max workouts is that they increase the amount of oxygen your body is able to use, which then translates into the ability to run faster. But I just don't think for ultra running that the increased injury risk of working in this zone (as it correlates with faster running, unless you're doing hillwork) is worth the benefit - I think there's more value in working your aerobic system or getting in a good tempo run. Anyway, to work this zone you should be gasping out a few words at a time. Have fun with that.

And that's it. So while I still recommend that you invest in a HR strap, if you really don't want to wear one the talk test could be an option for you. If you have any comments or questions - let me know!