Some call it the Tussock Traverse, but last Saturday was more like Tussock Transcendence for me. The 26km trail race in the epic setting of Tongariro National Park is one of the fastest courses around. It suites me quite well, and I was psyched for a hard slog to defend my title from last year and break the previous record held by Andrius Ramonas.
I have been doing some good training recently, although with much more cycling than planned because of a knee issue from December. Swapping most steady runs for cycles has been seamless, and preserving my weekly sprint rep progression has maintained a good level of conditioning, and possibly even improved my top end speed.
After running a very satisfying 1:59:43 last year, I believed I had a good chance at beating the record of 1:57:26, but I knew everything was going to have to fall into place. I felt good warming up, and this helped me relax and get into some pre-race banter before the start. The starting pace was a little faster than last year, reaching the top of the Tukino Access Road climb 20 seconds faster but back in 6th place. It was clear the field was stronger this year and I had to think not only about the record, but also how to ditch the competition. Matthew Battley made a strong start and I was happy to sit back with a small pack of Tommy Hayes, Florian Attinger, Tom Reynolds and Peter Bakah and wait for him to slow. But instead I felt the intensity of those around me reducing slightly as Matthew scampered further ahead, so I decided to make the jump and bombed 2 of the technical descents to catch up to the lead.
I learned a lot running behind Matthew for 5 minutes. He was prepared to push hard on the climbs and was also very fast on the flat, but I was comfortable sitting on his pace when running on the gradual downhill sections and I was definitely faster when the trail was narrow and twisty. So I relaxed and waited for the perfect chance to attack; a long section of soft sand, gradually sloping downwards before the trail turns narrow and twisty again. This worked perfectly, and I opened up a gap faster than I expected. This is definitely my favourite part of the course and the outstanding flow makes it one of my favourite sections of trail EVER to race.
The rest of the race is less technical, and although it felt much shorter than last year, the 10km false flat was a long mental battle. I describe this section as the grind. I was really hurting here, and I thought about how far I have come in the past years and how this was a chance to do something special. An old memory dwelled up from cycling at school, when our coach Jon-Paul Hendriksen described the box within the box, and the box inside that one. I’m not sure how many boxes deep I got, but this is the highest intensity I have ever held in a race of this distance, and I wasn’t sure if I could maintain the aggression.
After cresting the highest point at 21km I knew I was on a good time and had the fuel left to burn hot all the way to the finish. I stayed aggressive on the long descent and into the beautiful beach forest for the final uphill push. This last km was tougher than I remembered and I left nothing on final stair cases. The finish line couldn’t come soon enough, and when it did I was stoked to confirm the new course record and finally give in to my body’s requests to stop.
Congratulations to everyone who completed the course, especially those who have been working hard and achieved their goals. It never gets easier, you just go faster. Thanks to Icebug for the unwavering support, and Sports Lab for their guidance as I trained through a number of injuries over summer.
I’ll stick to doing more cycling over the next 5 days before 3 orienteering races in Queestown, followed by 6 days on an ONZ high performance training camp.