The Tussock Traverse is an iconic trail race starting below the Tukino ski field on Mt Ruepehu and finishing on the lawn of the Grand Château, Whakapapa. The course spans 27km of spectacular alpine terrain with rolling hills of scoria, tussock, sand and volcanic rock the likes of which can only be found in the North Island's National Park. Almost entirely above the tree-line the run has unobstructed views to every horizon offering a vista beyond compare. The ideal environment to spend hours throwing yourself at the terrain across the famous "Northern Circuit" trail.
I first ran the event in 2008. I had only recently pushed away from the dinner table and my running career was in it's infancy. All the same I fell in love with the Tussock Traverse. Everything about the event was worthy of my time and money. Under the watchful eye of Jason Cameron (the Goat), The Tongariro Natural History Society played host and the majority of your entry went to supporting environmental endeavours to restore or maintain the parks natural beauty. It felt less like a race and more like a run for charity. Despite the hardship I finished well and thoroughly enjoyed myself swearing I would be back. The drink bottle handed to me on the finish line says I was 6th in a time of 2:16.
In 2009 with another years training under my belt I decided to forgo the lengthy bus trip to the start line primarily for financial reasons but partly because the journey is a long one filled with frequent toilet stops and nervous excitement. What better way to savour a 27km trail run in mind blowing scenery then to run it twice?
A pedestrian trip to Tuakino meant a pre-dawn start under clear skies in the crisp alpine morning. Running away from an abandoned finish line on your own under the light of your headlamp seemed like a silly idea only until your legs wake up and you fall into that steady rhythmic flow of efficient movement across groomed walking trails. The Château and Whakapapa Village asleep behind me I climbed alone through beech forest and past the thunderous Taranaki falls barely visible in the surrounding darkness. At an enforced leisurely pace it's hard not to be slowed by the breathtaking views eastward across the Desert Rd to the Kaimanawa National Park and as the sun slowly crept over the distant Kaweka's shadows melted away around me illuminating valleys soon to be filled with athletes, backpacks, sweat and hardship.
The first signs of life greeted me with surprise some 23km into my morning. A pair of completely naked marshals confused to see someone in full race trim headed in the wrong direction. Their nudity perhaps equal to the insanity of my effort to save a $20 bus fare and as such I thought little of it only hoping I wouldn't see bush again until last 2km of my rapidly approaching race.
|Post race theatrical collapse|
And race I did. After a 3:06 warm up I eased into a solid 27km effort back to my car. Arriving on at the finish in 2nd place in 2:18, less than 10 minutes adrift of the winner and only 2 minutes slower than my time for half the distance a year prior. The mercury topped 30 degrees that day and I remember hearing of a marshal that required recovery from the course. My post race cramp and inability to walk testimony to the rigours of a long day on the trail under a clear January sky.
The following year I returned in the best condition of my life and the 55km 'there-and back' (now affectionately known as the “Tu55ock-Яeverse“) would round out a 207km training week. This time I was accompanied by up and coming ultra distance start Dawn Tuffery who ensured we maintained a relaxed 27km warm-up again reaching the start line in 3:06. Another sweltering day battling the elements but a good result crossing the line 1st in a time of 2:07. Only a couple of minutes adrift of the then race record.
2011 and my running career on the shelf while I took some time out from the rigours of ultra distance it was an enthusiastic Darren Blackwell that carried the torch completing the Reverse in difficult conditions but keeping the dream alive.
|A typical day in Tongariro National Park (Darren Blackwell) Photo supplied.|
Another year on and 2012 I returned to run the Tu55ock-Яeverse that, with the help of a it's own Facebook group, was growing in popularity. Always a glutton for punishment Darren was back along with a handful of deranged souls keen to get their own double dose of lush alpine desert. The return from my running hiatus had been a short one and I was lucky to even complete the run suffering a multitude of ailments including full-blown stomach mutiny. Glad to have my 3rd Reversy done I've become a little disillusioned by the constant track upgrades eroding some of the intrepid nature of this challenge replacing it with a vanilla sanitized McDonalds serving. Now in the hands of Total Sport the even continues to grow. My only hope is that the Natural History Society continues to receive the support of the runners and event promoters using the park. The 2012 event was a tough one for me physically and mentally having never been hobbled to a walk and effective DNF. It left some what of a bad taste in my mouth and it may be of surprise to hear that I'm not in a hurry to go back and make amends with the reversy. Perhaps our paths will cross but most probably not in 2013.
The Reverse will always remain a unique challenge in my favorite scenery. The thought of running full race distance to the start line still having obvious appeal I may cast my eyes further afield and look for an even more idiotic venture.
At glance at the Tu55ock-Яeverse facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/events/266982303413739) and it looks as though the 2013 run will be well-attended once again and I encourage anyone looking to save $20 and get twice the value to sign up and show their interest. The first 27km are free and represents easily the best value running in NZ.