Friday, February 1, 2013

Tussock Traverse

Standing at the starting area on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu in bright sunlight and the cool crisp mountain air at 9:30 in the morning, the central plateau stretching out behind, and the Tongariro Crossing in front - definitely the most picturesque place I have ever qued for a port-a-loo.

Waiting for the race start - Mt Ruapehu in the background
 We bussed off early from National Park, passing the steaming Mt Tongariro, and bumping our way across the volcanic desert onto the side of Ruapehu.  Several hundred competitors waited in line for their final pre-race loo opportunity (DOC had issued strict instructions to avoid mass bladder voiding at the start line much to the chagrin of the runners in the que behind me.

These complainers,middle aged men, boasted their impressive running C.V.s in between abusing DOC (for restricting a man's right to pee in the wild) and loudly stating that they had purposely chosen the line with the least females in it, women taking so much longer because there weren't mirrors in the port-a-loos in which to check/adjust/apply make up.  The women around me, hardened athletes every one, discussed their enjoyment of the scenery and recommended races, gear, food and travel destinations, managing to complete their pre-race rituals with little regard for applying anything other than sunscreen.  My turn for the loo eventually came just before the complainers behind me (everyone seemed to be taking their sweet-toileting-time), and I had to chuckle to myself, there WAS a mirror behind the door inside.

We had transponders attached to our laces, so once the starting horn was sounded, individual timing commenced as soon as we crossed the blue mats on the start line.  I had not raced with a transponder before, and had laced mine through the last cross on my shoe.  I saw that other runners cable-tied, or used string to secure their transponders, something that I will probably do next time.

Off. Up the hill (quite steep). I started running, but the press and pace of other runners was so great that we ended up walking after a couple of hundred meters.  Power walked to the top of the first climb.  Reddish-grey rock and gravel extended in front, and beyond that, the snow smeared sides of volcanic Ruapehu, sooty and dirty looking from recent geothermal activity.

Reached the top of the climb, the power walk nicely warming up my legs.  I had been walking with my friend from last weekend, chatting away, and taking photos, but on beginning the descent she shot away, and I got stuck behind another competitor, and I didn't see her again until the finish.  The downhill I quite enjoyed, it was steep and technical with loose rocks, sand and scrubby bushes.  I was able to travel quite fast, but my progress was some what impeded by other runners, who concentrating on their own descent, were quite oblivious to those behind who wished to pass.  I can not stand the feeling of someone traveling close behind me, and would much rather let them pass, I would hate to think that my bumbling running was holding up a faster, or more experienced athlete, so I endeavored to let anyone behind me pass where ever I could.

Reaching the valley floor was amazing, the alien landscape - like running on the moon.  I was able to speed up, and even though I had had almost no experience of running in such a rocky and sandy environment, I was able to plan my route ahead with my eyes, and really enjoyed the challenge of the terrain.

The volcanic-valley-moonscape gave way to slightly hillier vegetative landscape.  The track cut deeply (sometimes to shoulder height) into the banks in some places and widened into deep sand.  Sand running required a different momentum altogether, and it took me a few minutes to settle into the sand-running rhythm.  I kept thinking to myself, wow I am running in the most incredible place.

We crossed some streams, and started climbing again.  The first few km flew by.  I was feeling good, and was enjoying being fit enough to be able to power walk up the steeper sections.  The trail headed towards Mt Ngauruhoe climbing and descending through rocky and tussocky terrain.

Somewhere between the 12km and 14km mark I crashed.  My energy just ran out.  I stumbled on with my run, but every step my legs felt like lead.  The heat of the sun was beating down, and even slowing to a walk, I felt like I was in hell.  The run up to this point had been amazing, but now every step was a mammoth effort.  I guess that this was me hitting the wall.  I struggled on for about 4 or 5km, feeling a bit dizzy, mostly feeling gutted that I was going to have to walk half of this race.  Despite the fact that I was drained, empty and hungry, I was frustrated – if I had properly fueled I could have kept going.

In retrospect I can attribute my loss of energy to not eating enough pre-race, and not carrying enough fuel for the race itself.  

By the 16km mark I was aching to start running again, and made a few stumbling attempts on down-hill sections.  I persevered, and started running more and more, taking on great long sections, but still only able to walk up the steep sections.  Then my second wind came and I was away. Oh the bliss and the joy of being able to run again.  My tired and hungry brain rejoiced – I had passed through the fire and come out the other side, and I was running.  

Only 8km to go, and we were starting to climb again, the long uphill’s followed by the easier and longer down.  A welcome and refreshing mountain breeze sprung up.  More alpiney-tussocky ups and downs.  The sun beating down. I kept running.

ONLY 6km to go! Easy, I cover that sort of distance in a fun run.  I picked up the pace.  The trail was mostly descending now, and Chateau Tongariro came into view. I could practically see the finish line.
I descended about 700 (or maybe it was only 50) super steep steps, my tired eyes making the steps swim under my tired and not-going-down-steps-cooperatively legs.  Then a stunning waterfall.  I took a photograph without breaking stride.

Only a couple of kms to go. We plunged into bush and I sped up, galloping along, every turn, I was sure would reveal the finish line.  Keep going, keep going legs.  The bush was lusciously cool.

Still no finish line, these last couple of km seemed to stretch out longer than the entire distance I had thus far covered.  And, to add insult to injury, I was climbing again, and then into the blistering heat.  Surely, surely I must have traveled 4km by now!

A trail side sign "Look Up and Smile for the Photographer".  I looked up and grimaced madly at the lens.

Then I heard the loudspeaker, and rounding the final corner, crossed into the finish area. Runners and supporters surrounded the finish area and cheered while the compare announced "Kat - finishing with a big smile. And I did. And I had made the "sub-four-hour club"!

I met up with my friend again who had finished some time before me.  We lounged about in the sun, celebrating our accomplishment with chocolate milk and cheering on the other finishers. Wicked.


Post run feet and shoes - covered in volcano

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