Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tussock Traverse - the Reprise

So I kinda left you hanging huh? Is anyone out there even still reading? The truth is, I messed my shoulder up really well back in January, and it's taken till now for me to be able to get back into my usual running/cycling/group training/yoga routine. Things got pretty dark there. Whole weeks went past when a simple flat mountain bike ride was too much, when I couldn't run and couldn't even imagine getting back on my road bike. Those were days when I would sit at my desk trying not to cry from the pain.

Let me remind you - I slept on my shoulder oddly in December, then did an upper body workout in mid-January. That was it. It took three months of weekly osteo and physio appointments, some dry needling and the occasional massage, to get things to where I am today - around 95% of normal. Between Tussock and now there's been a lot of mental anguish and several kilos of unwanted comfort eating and general sedentariness. I just couldn't face posting anything about my race.

But anyway - here is where I left you - early on the morning of the Tussock Traverse. As you can see, it was stunningly beautiful and rather cold.

(Sorry for the sideways photo - I couldn't figure out how to turn it around. This photo doesn't look steep but was in fact near the top of a killer two kilometre climb on a 4WD track).

After a long bath the night before the race, an early night and a sleeping pill, I woke, ate a fairly solid breakfast, and drove down to the village for a bus to the start. Of course, as is typical, I was there rather early, and got on the first bus. I sat next to a woman who wanted to chat, but I really just wanted to sit there quietly and collect my thoughts. To add to my discomfort, the bus was freezing cold. I had my merino jacket and a polyprop on over my running gear, but I was still shivering.

It wasn't much warmer when we finally got to the start line. I put my bag at the drop off and took my merino jacket off. Unfortunately we go there just as the walkers were leaving - half an hour late. That meant we got delayed by half an hour as well. Cue some major dithering. I put food in my hydration pack, took it out, put it back in again. I was lucky to have some fruit and a power bar in my drop bag, and that kept me from starving. Finally, right before we started, it got warm enough that I felt I could take my polyprop off.

(Not the start - this was near the end)
Tussock notoriously starts with a big climb up a 4WD track. Uphill is not my strength, but I'd spent plenty of time running Wellington's Tip Track, so I was confident I could handle it. As i was I still ended up near the back of the pack as we climbed. My goal was simply not to reach the top last. Mission accomplished, so far so good.

At the top of the climb we were directed down a steep rock scramble. I managed to regain a little ground here as I passed some women who were less confident on the downhill. From there the next 8 or so kilometres were rocky, and we were warned that most injuries occurred on this section of the trail. Once we reached the bottom of the hill we ran through a large valley. This section of the track was indeed a little more technical, but not as bad as some of the rooty trail I've run in Wellington. There wasn't really a defined trail here - instead we ran from marker post to post. There was a real trick to selecting the best path through the volcanic rock, and I could really appreciate how a course in rock hopping could be an advantage. In the end I thought I did quite well. I only came close to twisting my ankle once, about four kilometres in, but after a few metres it eased up and stopped hurting.

I really enjoyed that first ten kilometres. I found myself tagging along behind an older gentleman who had run the course several times before. He set a good pace and knew where he was going so I was happy to follow, particularly when the track became more sandy and started to wind through deep trenches. My friend was able to lead us either over or through these. He also led me down the side of some river valleys and up some steep sand dunes. However there was one problem with my new friend - he was wearing full length compression tights, and they were sitting halfway down his butt. So I was faced with the choice of leaving him behind or sitting behind and trying to avert my gaze.

In the end we reached a long sandy stretch - similar to running along a beach, and I left my friend behind. I kept expecting him to catch me up, but he never did. Kilometres 6ish to 10ish were beautiful. We were running through something like a Japanese garden - rock, sand and little clusters of alpine tussock and shrubs. I was feeling good at this point, took in a gel, and kept hydrated.
(Flashback - the view from our rental accommodation)
At the race briefing we were told that the 10k marshall point was pretty much our only chance to pull out. I don't know whether that stuck in my head or what, but it caused me some significant mental anguish later in the course. There was nothing to say we were at 10k, just a marshall sitting in her tent and an injured running standing in a stream icing his ankle. I don't know what I expected - perhaps some medics? Anyhow, at about 11k the wheels majorly fell off. I found myself walking a lot and I felt hideous.

At around 12k I actually stopped, regrouped, sucked down another gel and drank a heap of fluid. I'm sad in some ways that I lost it here because the next 10k were probably the best for running. The trail became gently undulating, with gravel underfoot and boardwalks to carry us through the boggy bits.

I had never really set a goal other than to not come last, and I was aware that I was undertrained, so I let myself set a pace I was comfortable with. I alternated walking and running for the rest of the course. In other circumstances I would have been able to run the whole thing, but for whatever reason I was feeling a need to pace myself, so I wasn't going to beat myself up.

(The villa I booked for us to stay in - fabulous)
I ended up running the flat and the downhill, and walking the uphills. I started overtaking walkers! After about 15 or so kilometres I lost the dead feeling I'd had at 10k and started to feel good again. I felt good again to go chasing some of the other tail end runners. The relief of knowing I wasn't last on the course was immense.

(The startline)
In the race reports I'd read I remembered reading about seeing the Chateau then having to run away from it for another 6k. I don't know whether I was delirious or what, but I never saw the Chateau. Instead I got overtaken on a big climb onto a ridge by the runner I'd seen icing his ankle. He was strapped up and flying.

At the top of the ridge he was gone, and I was on my own. It appeared that I was supposed to turn left, but at this point the arrows started pointing in conflicting directions, and the distance markers started to read screwy as well. In the end it turned out I was reading the distance markers for the shorter run as well as the 26k. All the same, it was a relief to come across two marshalls directing me down a step set of steps to a river.

(Desert plateau - taken from the start line)
The last 5 to 6 kilometres were tantalisingly close to the start, and some of the most beautiful of the trail. We ran along the side of the river, past a waterfall and swimming hole, and past supportive tourist walkers. Some of the best marshalls were here - calling out enthusiastic support. I should have blitzed this seciton, but any time I got to anything remotely technical (rocky or rooty) I slowed right down. I was definitely having fun though.

Of course what went down eventually had to go back up, and I found myself climbing more stairs. I even overtook a male runner! The last 500 metres to a kilometre were back on an open gravel path, and uphill to the Chateau. I was convinced my Squad crew were going to be right there cheering me on, so I made myself stand upright, run and smile, as if I was fresh and feeling great.

In the end I ran across the finishline to see my supporters sitting around drinking beer and chatting, oblivious to my anticlimactic finish. I berated them a little then sat to gossip before Duck noticed I was cold and shivering again and we headed back home.

I ended up finishing right on the time that I thought I would. I wasn't even last! I'm confident that I can easily knock half an hour off that time, so I will be heading back again to do just that next year. In the end though I was just full of disbelief that I'd just gone out there and run (ok, run/walked) a fairly intense and remote 26k trail run. I was so incredibly proud of myself at that point! From someone who in 2004 was diagnosed with a potential lethal autoimmune disorder, someone who, two years earlier had had brain surgery which had left me with vision and balance issues, I'd become a true hard core adventurer. My achievement was just as noteworthy as that of the race leaders.

The aftermath, well, I later discovered I'd probably only drunk around one litre of liquids, and I'd only had a couple of gels. I went back to the villa, ate too many carbs, and drank a little too much cider. I developed a major migraine and was in bed by 8.30. I slept for over ten hours. I woke incredibly, uncomfortably sunburned, and still have a great 3/4 length tights tanline on the back of my calves. I also had a wicked bit of chafing on my neck from the hydration pack and a bright red forehead.

The next morning the weather had closed in so I was glad I hadn't brought my mountain bike with me after all. The cloud was dropping, the rain steady. Abandoning plans of a touristy slow trip home I was in my car and away by 9.30. My shoulder had felt fine while I was running, but the next day's drive home sent it into spasms which, as I noted above, took months to come right.

So yes, it's now March and I'm back discovering the trails, and realising that although I'm heavier again from what I was when I ran Tussock, I'm still thankfully quite fit. I've just signed up for the Xterra trail run series and the first is here on my home turf - Red Rocks. My goal now is to run all of the series, and the upcoming Waitarere half marathon. On top of that I also want to get out on my new old mountain bike regularly and start road riding with a mission again. By November I want to be near race weight (being able to do my morning small group training sessions again will help with that) and in prime bike fitness to have as good a chance as possible of going sub-six round Lake Taupo.

All that and I haven't even mentioned my new role at work or any of the other amazing things which have been going on around here. Guess I should really start posting more regularly huh?