One run - and 700 reasons

By Peter Thornton

The Tussock Traverse, in the Tongariro National Park, may not be the toughest Ruapehu race, but it still sets a test for all who take part.
Photo / Supplied
The Tussock Traverse, in the Tongariro National Park, may not be the toughest Ruapehu race, but it still sets a test for all who take part. Photo / Supplied

There are about 700 athletes and almost as many reasons for taking on the sixth running of the FIX Tussock Traverse next weekend.

Take 66-year-old Dorothy Watkins, for example. She is running the 26km event to keep her daughter, Stephanie Turner, 37, company as she prepares to hike in Nepal.

Kerry Suter is a man who loves a challenge. He runs the 26km event both ways each year - he runs from the Chateau to the start line, joins the race and then runs back to the Chateau.

Suter has inspired a group of runners to do likewise next week.

Shaun Watkins is a 21-year-old who plays on the wing for Grammar Carlton RFC. He is doing the 13km event as part of his pre-season rugby training as he tries to make the Premiers.

Then there is Aucklander Grant Watson, who aims to run all three Ruapehu events this year.

Many factors inspire people to the start line of the Tussock Traverse, but they share the common bond of a sense of adventure and the desire to take on a challenge.

The Traverse is one of three off-road running events - the Tussock Traverse, the T42 and the Goat - staged in the Tongariro National Park every year, and is more user-friendly than the gruelling Goat.

The 26km run or walk event is the top event of the Tussock Traverse and, this year, the more achievable options of 13km and 6.5km have been introduced to the event.

Last year's champion, Scott McGregor, is unable to defend his title as he is in Auckland for a friend's wedding. But he believes competitors are in for something special.

"I wish I was running it," said McGregor, who won the 26km event last year in 2h 7m.

"It was a great race for me; the scenery was magic, the conditions were tough - we were drafting in a running race due to a 20-knot headwind - and the competition was fierce.

"It came down to a sprint finish after 26km of racing and I clinched it by just one second. Best wishes for all competing in this year's event, it's a ripper."

That is what has attracted the likes of rugby winger Watkins, who is looking for a tough training session to put him in good stead for the season.

"I want to improve my cardio so I feel just as good in the 80th minute as I did in the first," said the signwriter.

"The uphill running will help improve my lower body strength and increase my speed.

"I haven't done an off-road run of this distance before, so I'm looking forward to the challenge."

Also up for the test is supportive mum Dorothy Watkins.

The former New Zealand netball umpire has continued with her running as a means of keeping fit and participating in sport.

"It is a little bit hard for me when ladies of my age don't participate, so I am tagging along running with my daughter," she said.

Dughter Stephanie has run three marathons and decided she wanted a new challenge by hiking in Nepal.

"She has done hiking in New Zealand, but this will be an opportunity for her to participate with other people in a culture unknown to her," Dorothy said.

"Stephanie has done this event before - it's the first time for me, so the challenge is to enjoy the event and stay with my daughter.

"I am often known as the motivator, so it keeps both of us going and reaching our goals.

"As a family that has done a lot of events together, the kids are supportive and fitness keeps you young. Maybe the next day there will be some aches and pains."

Dorothy's husband, Russell, is also doing the event to set up a battle for family bragging rights.

"I don't think he will want the ladies coming in before him. Time will tell."

Time will also tell how Grant Watson handles all three events at Ruapehu this year.

For the 40-year-old, the alpine environment is a special place to run.

"The vast and variable unique alpine landscape - there is nothing else like it in New Zealand.

"The 26km run is at altitude in such an amazing landscape. The off-road nature of the run makes for a far more stimulating run compared with, say, a standard half-marathon.

"It truly is an alpine run and needs to be treated with such respect."

It is the relatively easier challenge of the Tussock Traverse (compared with the Goat) that makes it accessible for runners of a range of abilities.

"The course is much easier in terms of hills and track terrain, but both share magnificent scenery," said race director Nick Carroll of Total Sport, which has run the event for the past three years.

"Where the Goat is quite tricky underfoot for much of the 21km with loose and slippery rocks, the Tussock is run over much more well-formed tracks, with one or two technical sections of around 500m.

"There are fewer hills in the Tussock and they are nowhere near as steep, apart from the first 2km, which is a good climb."

When they arrive at the home straight with the finish line at the Chateau in sight, the hard work will be worth it and the 700 athletes will be able to share their "war stories" about taking part in the Tussock Traverse.

Tussock Traverse
Where: Tongariro National Park
When: Saturday, January 28
2012 Event options:
- 26km (run/walk)
- 13km (run/walk)
- 6.5km (run/walk)

Last year's champions:
Men's: Scott McGregor (2h 7m)
Women's: Ruby Muir (2h 30m) (also winner of junior category)

- NZ Herald

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