I find it easier to train with some sort of goal, and with this in mind I looked for something to enter. There was no way I was going to be fit enough for The Goat, but heading back to the mountain in summer appealed and I knew there was something slightly easier I could enter, so I entered the Tussock Traverse.
At 27km it is longer than The Goat but there are no major river/stream crossings, it's slightly lower altitude, and more undulating slopes rather than steep sections, and the track is well formed and easy to navigate. (The event is also open to walkers) It starts off on the the other side of Ruapehu at the road to the Tukino ski field, onto the Round the Mountain Track, then over the Waihohonu Traverse, past the Tama Lakes (which you don't see, it's off on a track diversion), past the Tarankai Falls, and finish on the Chateau Golf Course at Whakapapa Village. WHEW.
I have done this event once before in January 2008 at the start of my "training" for the Goat in December 2008. When I last did it we walked quite a bit cos it was rather HOT and also not long after I had a major break and 2 operations on my arm. We did it then in 4:40:52, so with the aim to run more (and train more) I wanted to complete it in 4 hours this time.
The cool breeze at the start on the Tukino Road was mildly deceiving, at the 9.30 start it was already easily singlet weather. At 8.30am the walkers departed, then it was our turn to run UP the mountain road to where the Round the Mountain track dropped into a sandy and stoney valley floor with a desert scape as far as the eye could see. We ran towards Mt Ngauruhoe for a time, then onto the Waihohonu Traverse, with Ruapehu on our left and Ngauruhoe on our right. I remember walking here a lot last time, and this time the heat had well and truely caught up on me so I was walking once again. The landscape makes a bit of a change here, resembling a dry swamp with low scrub and various muddy and dry holes on the track. Some areas were being upgraded with boardwalks. But oh the heat, there seemed to be no breeze and no cloud above us and no shade to find. There was brief relief by scooping my hat in a freezing mountain stream, but plodding/walking was the best I could manage for a while.
I was beginning to think I wouldn't make my 4 hour goal. Walking a lot more than I would like... Somewhere near the other end of the saddle I managed to pick up my game a bit more. The early afternoon cloud was beginning to form over Whakapapa way, and oh my goodnes, there was even a small breeze. I was running a bit more now and at the Tama Lakes track junction my plod was more of a trot and people were starting to let me past. Then it was downhill towards the Taranaki falls. The steps have eroded away, so it was soft knees bouncing around either side of the track in the mini diversions that have been worn in.
When I hit the Taranaki falls area I knew exactly where I was and the closer I got to the finish the more I thought I might be able to make the 4 hours. There is some tree cover near the end here, but there is also a series of deceiving dips and steps where you think you are not far away from the Chateau, but there is actually a bit more than you think to go. The last 1km seemed to take the longest of the whole day. There was a very subtle uphill on a gravel track very near the end, but man oh man, I had to walk this bit too. It got to the point where I was calculating metres vs minutes left. As the subtle uphill became a subtle downhill I ran into the finish chute with about a minute to spare. (final time 3:58:32)
Competitors and supporters were all sprawled out on the lawn enjoying the hot hot sun. Dark rain clouds threatened. A beer and a bbq sausage were the order of the day, and a massage! Boy was a glad this was over! But a big smile on my face too. 3 months of training from not running much, to this, had paid off. The stupid hills around my house, paid off. The not pigging out and drinking heaps over Christmas and New Year cos I had long training runs to do, paid off.
Next? Not sure! Watch this space I guess...
start line Tukino Road
Dropping into the Round the Mountain track