Monday, January 27, 2014

Race Report:Tussock Traverse 26km

I did it!  I ran the Tussock Traverse 26km -  traversing east to west between Mt Nguaruhoe and Mt Ruapehu - my longest run ever!

By the way, this photo was taken the evening before the race when I was excited.  I am not sure I was capable of jumping at all the evening of the race!

But let's start at the very beginning...

We drove down to the Chateau Tongariro on Friday afternoon, in time for the evening registration.  Registration involved a gear check (jacket, hat, thermals, emergency blanket) and a clean shoe check (to prevent Didymo spreading into Tongariro National Park), before picking up our bib, transponder, and goodies*.  I bought some more GU products and admired the (weightless) Marmot jackets (maybe next year!).

I didn't sleep that well, and woke before my alarm - plenty of time for some Weetbix and blueberries, and some last minute organisation (got in a little tizz about closing the bladder on my hydration pack until I realised I had folded it wrong...!)  and I made it to the 26km runner's bus in plenty of time.

The bus journey took us right around the mountains to the start - well almost.  We had to transfer to a smaller shuttle to the actual start line, which was up a 4WD road towards Tukino ski field.  It was a bumpy will-we-get-stuck-in-the-sand lunar alpine experience unlike anything else in NZ, that transported my mind back to my backpacking-around-the-world days.   Here's a quick snap out the shuttlebus's back window...

The first thing to do at events like this - even if you don't want to go - is join the toilet queue. You can guarantee by the time it is your turn you will need to!

You can always leave the queue if you want, but here there wasn't much else to do!  That is the start line down there, with Mt Ruapehu still shrouded in morning cloud.

If you are a runner you will naturally have noticed that uphill gradient.  This race starts with a 2km climb, probably to spread out the field for what is to come.  Here we are at the race briefing ready to face the challenge:

By the start Mt Ruapehu had cleared, and the initial uphill grind began.  It was actually good to get moving as it was quite cold and windy, and I had made the decision to strip down to my T-shirt for the race.  The climb soon warmed me up, and I passed a lot of runners later stopping to undo their packs and remove their layers so was glad of my decision.  I could have done with a buff to cover my ears in that wind though!

At the crest the views were awe-inspiring, and I had to stop and take a photo even though it cost me my age group win ha ha;)

As you can see by that line of runners we descended steeply into a rocky valley, and from there it was a gradual descent for the next 8km, bar a couple of uphill/downhill sections (those hills in the middle distance).  I may have run a bit harder than I should have here. I felt good and wanted to take advantage of the downhill, but possibly paid for it later.

By that, I mean I hit a bad spot.  By the 12 km mark I was jog/walking, and not just the uphill portions either.  I began to think that I was not even halfway, yet physically done.  I had gone out too fast. All those people I had passed were now passing me.  I took a second gel and jog/walked the next couple of kilometres.  I fell behind the group I had been running with.  Can I tell you that I actually started crying here?

I wimpered feeling sorry for myself for a hundred metres or so until I heard someone run up behind me, which prompted me to get my act together. "Suck it up, Buttercup" suddenly popped into my head and seemed to jolt me back into a better space.  I know this saying came from reading Christy's blog, so I've gotta give you a big thanks Christy!

I nibbled on some dates and pecans while I struggled onwards and upwards, walking the hills, jogging the flats, taking a tumble (grazed knee), and running the descents as fast as I could.  Eventually the kilometre markers started popping up with more regularity.  The course headed west between the mountains following a relatively dry river bed, sometimes crossing its tributaries, sometimes serpentining through knee-high scrub, but mostly across gravelly tussock-strewn desert.

I forgot to charge my watch fully and it died somewhere around the 21km mark!
At one stage I looked up to Ruapehu and suddenly realised we had almost made our way to the other side of the mountain.  Soon we came to the Tama Lakes (which were dry) and I knew we would soon be joining the 13km course that I ran last year.  Something about being familiar with the course gives you a new confidence, or maybe it was the end in sight, but I felt a lot better by now.  My hips were stiff but my legs still managed to shuffle along on auto mode.  I even found myself running some little uphill sections!

Finally we reached the long descent into the bush.  My legs were a bit shaky on the downhills by now so I had to be a bit careful.  Last year I skipped happily past the Taranaki Falls like mountain goat, but this year I felt like an ultramarathoner just trying to make it to the finish in one piece!  The bush provided welcome shade, and I concentrated on lifting my feet here as this is where I tripped on a root last year.  I did come across a runner who had fallen, she looked pretty shaken but was OK and being assisted by others.  

The last kilometre of this course is an uphill climb out of the bush and towards the Chateau - which I mostly walked.  I managed to put on a running performance for the photographer though!

Thank you photos4sale for the awesome shots and cheery face out on the field!
 Boy, was I glad to see the course marshalls directing us into the downhill track about a hundred metres to the finish!  With newfound energy I ran as fast as I could, passing a couple of runners, through the puddle, over the bridge to the green lawn and the finish line.

Whew!  I sat down to take off my transponder and didn't want to get up!  My hips felt really tight, but a lot better after a few stretches.  My finish time was 3:37:59 - that's 12/29 in my age group, and 49/103 women overall.  It was a great feeling to lie down and relax at the event base with some GU recovery drink and a Speight's Cider (probably counter-productive, I know!)

Thanks to Total Sport and the awesome sponsors - Marmot, GU, Rocktape, Inov8, Speights, Jack's Links, Blackmores and the Chateau Tongariro :)
 My husband had a good day too, running the 13km and finishing second in his age group!  He asked me yesterday if I would do the 26km again next year or stick to the 13km.  I hesitated, but said 26km.  Today I know I wouldn't hesitate - it is such an amazing experience I couldn't let another opportunity to run it pass.

Go on - put it on your bucket list!


  1. Way to go you!!! Seeing your photos, I now know that I did indeed miss your finish by a minute. I had said to my friend as we sat on the bus "I think that's Sheryl that just came in". Apparently it was - orange shirt and white hat! Oh well, never mind :)

  2. Great work on the Tussock Traverse, wonderful photos! It’s one of my favorite races. What other races are you training for?

  3. Wow what a great run to get to do! and YAY I am so glad you found some motivation from me :) makes me happy to know I helped get you through a rough spot. Your photos are all so awesome and you look like you are having a great time in the race photos. That looks like a tough course!

  4. I couldn't even jump like that before the race! Congrats on your race finish! It looks so rocky and tough!

  5. Your pre-race photo is amazing! I hope you enlarge it on canvas and put it somewhere prominent in your house! And this race is definitely going on my bucket list. New Zealand as a whole is on my travel bucket list!

  6. That looks like a tough, but beautiful course! Way to put on your running performance for the race photographers... They got some great shots of you.

    Congrats on a great run!


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