Last Friday (25th) after work I headed up north to Tongariro National Park to take part in The Tussock Traverse, a 26km trail run that cuts across the heart of the World Heritage Tongariro National Park.
After arriving at National Park village I went to the race headquarters in The Park Travellers Lodge. There I picked up my registration pack, timing chip and got checked for the compulsory gear check. The event is well organised by Total Sport who do a number of other great off road trail and mountain biking events. This was my second time doing the Tussock Traverse having done the event in 2012. For the 26km run event the number of runners are limited to the first 500. This trail run starts off at the Desert Road on the Eastern side of the National Park and taking in the Rangipo Desert and Waihohonu traverse track, finishes at the Chateau Tongariro in Whakapapa village.
The forecast for Saturday (event day) was fine with temperatures of up to 24c, which translated to being “It’s going to be a scorcher, take lots of water with you”. Since the event is in a protected area there are no drink stations along the way & you have to carry your supply of water with you.
For this race, here is what I opted for to comply with the gear check regardless of what the weather man predicted.
- 2 litres of water in hydration pack (usually enough for me for about 3+ hrs run)
- 400ml bottle of Powerade
- 4 mini mars bars – mini mars bars are my standard for any trail run over 1 hrs duration
- 1 sachet of Gel – GU – Lemon sublime flavor
- Thermal blanket
- Pair of thermal gloves and beanie
- Light wind proof/water proof jacket
- 1 very torn Icebreaker 260 (been with me for over 6 years) which I wore to race start and ditched to be transported back to race end
Friday evening was a nice evening in Whakapapa village where we stayed. We went for a short walk and then after having dinner (a very nice vegetable pasta) at the Pihanga cafe went to bed around 11pm.
As usual the night before the race sleep wasn’t great. I wasn’t that much worried about it since my body felt rested so just lying in bed was enough for me, sleep did come eventually & overall I think I slept for 3-4 hours.
Saturday 26th morning I woke up around 5:45am and had breakfast around 6:30. My usual race day breakfast is toasted crumpets with peanut butter & a couple of bananas about 2hrs before race start.
Because this race was point to point there was a bus ride to the race start from Whakapapa village at 7:45am. The ride takes about 1.5hrs to race start at the Tukino Ski field which is on the Rangipo desert road. The landscape is amazing on this ride. I sat next to another runner & we talked the usual running related stuff, how long he’s been running to what other running events he’s planning, running shoes, hydration tablets, online shopping for running gear, training & being injury free. He was from the UK living in Rotorua and after we arrived at race start the obligatory “good luck mate” & we were both off to queue up to the 8 porta loos that was there. Because the race was held in a conservation area the organisers asked everyone to use the provided loos instead of going bush, apparently last year it wasn’t so & DoC (Department of Conservation) doesn’t like that.
So anyways, the race start was at 10am there was plenty of time for everyone to have that all important pit stop before the race start. Since it was a very warm day the event organisers had plenty of water & electrolyte drinks available at the start & you could do a refill if needed before the start.
Since I had done this race last year I had a plan in my head on how to approach the race & I had last years data from my Garmin. I wanted to finish this year in 2:45 & mentally I knew this was achievable, however I didn’t really want to take any risks on the technical parts of the trail & twist an ankle by pushing for pace. It was also very warm so I knew that fluid intake will also need to be balanced.
The race started & off we all went. The first 2km or so is all uphill on a 4wd track – this is where the climbing speed goats get the better of me. I was in the middle pack & kept an easy pace running and speed walking in congested places. My target was to get to the top in 20mins & then pick up speed on the immediate descent to a valley through a partly rocky downhill trail. The descent is tricky & you have to concentrate on the trail because of loose rock, stone & very easily a wrong step can mean the end to your run with a twisted ankle. I got through this section without any incidents & settled into an easy paced run alongside another runner. The field was getting spread out at this stage & I passed a few people. A quick glance at my Garmin & my pace was on target as I passed 6k in about 40mins ! Time for hydration & I drank a few sips of water from he hydration pack. Right only another 20k to go!
The next 4k is along a dry stream bed & the ground was pretty soft with gravel & sand so there was more effort in each step, I still kept up on same pace & was now running with another couple of runners. 10k marker is the last extraction point & there was a cutoff time at this point if anyone took longer than 3hrs. I passed 10k in about 1hr 7mins slightly off my predicted pace to finish in 2:45 but still OK & feeling pretty good. I had a mars bar at the start of the next climb & water along with a gulp of Powerade.
The next part of the trail is pretty scenic with views of Mount Ngauruhoe & the surrounding area. Next is a few undulations along with a couple of climbs. The trail is also quite narrow so passing becomes impossible if the person(s) you are behind don’t want to give way. I felt that I could have run a bit faster if I had the chance, for about 5k I was off my pace until I found a clearing to overtake the 4 runners in front of me. One of them was probably feeling the same as she also kept up with me after I took off.
By the 18k mark I was feeling it a bit in my legs & lungs so I had half of my GU Gel along with water & some of the Powerade. This slowed me down but not too much & I could see another group of runners in front so I kept up pace up the next incline to the 20k mark where I caught up to them. From here it’s mostly downhill & I felt pretty good & just put the hammer down running quite freely cause I knew it was only another 6k to go!! I was able to pass quite a few runners on the last 5k & I was home in 2hrs 50mins & 16secs! Overall I was 73rd & 66th in the Mens section. In my age group 20-39 men’s group I placed 45th.
Pretty happy with the net result & my overall improvement of 15mins from my time of 3hrs 05mins in 2012.
The overall winner was Matt Bailey, who finished in 2hrs 05mins! Women’s Race winner was Katy Dawson in 2hrs 29mins.
Below is my overall improvement comparison from 2012 and 2013. In 2013 I’ve spent less energy but run faster with a lower heart rate. All indications that overall my training is working well!
The Tussock Traverse is definitely a must do trail run if you are into trails. It supports the Project Tongariro Conservation Trust & part of the entry fees go towards conservation of this area. The event is very well organised by the Total Sport guys!
Thanks for reading!