Trail Love Tongariro- My Tongariro Holiday Training Blog
6 Days after racing Tarawera Ultra 2015 I found 2 ticks on my neck and wondered why I was feeling so tired and lethargic…..racing Tarawera Ultra 100km or being poisoned? The poison that having 2 ticks on me for about 3 days did to my body totally wiped me out. Ahhhhhh more joys of living in QLD. Snakes, green ants, ticks, mosquitos, leeches…..
10 days after racing Tarawera Ultra I was out training a Outdoor PT Brisbane and Ultra Training Australia Client, Jess Schluter. Running with our Kelpies on Mt Coo-tha, my Black Kelpie “Bubble”, who has been clocked at 45km an hour whilst chasing cars in The Gap, took my feet out from underneath me. It was like getting hit by a car. Bubble ran underneath my feet, my feet flew up into the air above my shoulders and I landed smack, flat on my back on hard clay. I landed so forcefully that I winded myself and embedded stones into my butt through my Inov8 Race Pants.
The look of horror on Jess’ face told me that my fall was pretty bad and I probably wouldn’t be running for a while. It’s usually 2-6 weeks for a bone/impact injury. She was worried I had a spinal injury. I was with the right client, Jess is an emergency nurse and gave me the check over, making sure I did not have a spinal injury or broken pelvis. I got up and could barely hold my own body weight on my legs. The pain across the back of my pelvis was insane. I tried to run but my legs just would not work. Sharp, stabbing pain shot into my pelvis, lower back - so scary. All I could think about was my NZ Tongariro holiday that I had coming up in only 4 days.
I sent Jess off with her Kelpie, Siddy, to do her 5 reps of Cockatoo track as part of her 6 Foot Track UTA Program and I hobbled back to the car and called my physio Paul at Bodyleadership for some help. I drove home, iced my butt/pelvis which made my legs give way. I had bruised the bone……I had been waiting to travel to Mt Ruapehu (AKA Mt Doom from Lord of the Rings), run around the Tongaririo Northern Circuit for about 16 years. I was not going to miss the chance of this trail running experience and much needed RNR. I did not care how injured I was.
I iced my pelvis, took a few pain killers and was back out training The Gap State School Kids and by lunchtime I was up and running in 60 sec intervals with Outdoor PT Brisbane Clients. I could not believe that I could go from crippled to be running small intervals of 60 secs. As long as I ran on my toes and lifted my legs instead of pushing, I was pain free. By the afternoon I was running 1-2km at a time. I could run without pelvis pain as long as I held perfect form. Man, I was so happy I had a strong butt. My glutes took the impact of the fall. The pain was intense at the start of each session but I became more free with my action the warmer my muscles became instead of doing more damage. The Tongariro trip was looking more promising. By the end of the week I was running more freely. I hit my core and stretched out my back. I worked my glutes with strength exercises. They were my armour and were going to protect my pelvis while it healed for the next 2-6 weeks. I then was into epsom salt baths and foam rolled, self massaged, reversed crunched my way back to running again. Bodyleadership Physio also helped me a lot with massage and Ultra Sound. I was still in pain but man I’d come a long way from that Tuesday, when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to run for 2-6 weeks. I hopped on the plane knowing that I would be able to run, it was just a matter of how far and whether I could back up for 5 days.
Trail Love Tongariro
After Arriving at the Ngauruhoe Ski Lodge at 1600m elevation at 10pm at night, Steve my partner discovered that the key to enter the Lodge had not been left for us, so had to bunk in the storm shelter of the Lodge. It was pretty chilly…….. but we had our trail kit on us, red wine, chocolate, air mattress and sleeping bags, so we were happy to snuggle into the surroundings and enjoy the rugged experience.
Day 1 Easy Taranaki Falls Walking Track 6km
We grabbed the keys for the lodge and drove down the mountain to the Whakapapa Village and ran the easy 6km loop of the Taranaki Falls Walking Track which left from the Grand Chateau, dropping into the soft track of the beech forest and climbed slowly up to the top of the rocky Taranaki Falls, following a gravel trail across the top of the ridge which is part of the Northern Circuit Great Walk Track, which then descended back to The Grand Chateau.
I used this Easy Scenic Trail Circuit to warm up, flush out my flight legs and increase my range of motion in my hips, glutes, hamstrings and lower back. Each session I did I seemed to get better rather than worse and range of motion improved, so I was happy to try for the Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk Tramp 44km the following day, only 1 week after injuring my pelvis.
That night I hit the sauna, foam rolled and stretched and engaged my core again.
Day 2 Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk Tramp 44km
We woke up at 4am, ate our oats with coconut milk, cacao, drank coffee, drove down Mt Ruapehu and into Whakapapa Village and parked at the track head of the World Heritage Listed Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk Tramp.
This circuit is so special that it is part of New Zealands Great Walks and attracts a crowd to experience the active Volcano Mt Ngauruhoe, South Crater, Red Crater, Central Crater, Emerald Lakes and views to the Blue Lake. The Alpine Crossing links up with part of the Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk Tramp and much like Uluru in Australia, is a sacred place with its beauty and draws a crowd of over 10 thousand travellers from all over the world some days.
To beat the crowds we started with Ay-Up head torches at about 5:45am. We decided it was the best idea to start early under lights and avoid the bus tours bringing in walkers to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which follows the Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk Tramp for a few kilometers.
Steve was pretty keen to have a crack at the Fastest Known Time (FKT) which was about 5 and 1/2 hours. I was not sure where my mind was. I was still pretty sore, tight from my “Bubble Fall” only 1 week before. We were in two minds about how to attack the day. Go for the time or just enjoy it and take the pics and make the most of the scenery as it happens. I’m not sure if both Steve and I totally decided how to handle the day. Steve had completed the circuit before in about 8 hours with an ITB injury, so he’s done it slow and seen the sights. Me on the other hand, coming from Australia, I was totally blown away with the scenery. We left the Taranaki Falls track, crossed the bridge, following the single track through the beech forest, then popping out onto the alpine marsh land with sweeping views of the valley between Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe, rolling along the track, dropping down to cross creeks, climbing back up on the the plane, stopping to take pics and enjoy the scenery. I was slow. I was so tight in my glutes and hamstrings, it was taking me some time to warm up. It was also a bit of a shock to my system after coming from Queensland 32 degree day every day to now 5 degrees. My asthma was shit to to say the least.
The cold dry conditions was sending my lungs into a spasm. I was freezing in my legs too. I let Steve lead and I just did my best to stick with him. Before long the track widened and we hit the fork in the track where the Tongariro Alpine Crossing connects with the Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk Tramp. Even at 6:30am, just after sunrise there were a few Trampers spread out on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We continued up the valley, following the mountain stream that was nestled at the foot of Pukekaikiore 1692M, Mt Ngauruhoe 2287 and Mt Tongariro 1967M above sea level. The trail narrowed and started the snake it’s way up towards the saddle between Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro, becoming stairs named the Devils Staircase.
We ran and walked up the stairs. I was again slow. I felt like I was under attack from the elements. It was freezing to me and I was having problems catching my breath. I was in a total panic stations with my asthma and the cold dry air just freaked my lungs out. The wind was sweeping though this valley and taking my O2 with it. I put on more clothes and pumped in some ventolin and hoped that the weather would warm up soon enough.
I soon made it to the top of the saddle and was astounded to see the big wide, flat expanse of the South Crater that sat at between Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro. We cruised along the South Crater then climbed up the stairs and single track onto the Red Crater that is active with smouldering steam and sulphur fumes. There were breath taking views down the ridge to the east. Wow! This place was just so remarkable. I’ve never experienced so many spectacular formations in one kilometre of trail running. Mt Ngauruhoe is a perfect conical Volcano, The South Crater is unique, and a contrast in texture and shape to the mountain ranges that it sits between. The Emerald Lakes are an incredible milky green, The Red Crater is like what I can imagine Mars would be like. We stopped and took in the views of Mt Tongariro, North Crater, Central Crater and Blue Lake. Out came the camera. I totally forgot we were pushing for time and Steve and I happily snapped and appreciated our partnership together. Our life is so easy together. We share the same ethos, work ethic, positive outlook on life and how we are in control of our own destiny. There are so many possibilities in life and I finally have made it to this region of the world and I have Steve to thank for bringing me here.
We cruised down the Red Crater and stopped 1/2 way down to take more pics and just enjoyed the stunning views. This is some of the best scenery I’ve every seen. Every step I was filled with excitement. I was blow away by the all engaging scope of this place. No wonder the Tongariro Alpine Crossing has over 10 thousand people walking this section of the track at times.
We cruised past the Emerald Lakes, descended the rocky, volcanic, space like single track, jumped a few streams and ran to Oturere Hut, filled up with water and pushed on.
Steve was keen for the FKT. I was not in any shape to do it. I was in a fair amount of pain. I did not let him know that I was hurting. He offered many times to run next to me but I much preferred that he ran out about 20m-100m ahead, pacing me and giving me something to focus on. I could not talk, if I did talk to him it mean that I was going to have to slow down. My asthma was crap, I still felt like my whole body was under attack. I was tight in my leg muscles and tight in my chest.
We pushed on through the Mars like landscape, climbed up a ridge and entered the Beech forest again, before descending into Waihohonu Hut. I decided not to fill up water here. Thinking we’d made it most of the way around the mountain now and we should not have much further to go. The Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk is well sign posted but the signs only have the estimated time it will take to walk between each section, not the amount of kilometers which threw off our calculations a bit on how much further we had to go over the last section of the 44km Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk.
The track widened and we swung around the south side of Mt Ngauruhoe in to what is known as the savannah. Steve kept checking up on me, waiting for me, looking after me. I asked him to pace from ahead of me, knowing that we were close to making the FKT for the Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk.
We hopped in and out of steams, we decided to use one to fill up as we’d miscalculated the distance form Waihohonu Hut and were both out of water and thinking that we were still about 1 hour from the finish. We past the dried Lake Lower Tama and started the climb up the Tama Lakes Walking Track, along the stony trail and stairs onto the plateau where we met the Taranaki Falls Walking Track. Here Steve decided that he’d try and go for the FKT. I was way to sore to try and chase him. I was tight all through my right leg and just doing what I needed to do to get back as close to the FKT of the Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk as possible.
I cruised along the track, trying to go as fast as my injury would allow, dropping into the beech forest, crossing creeks, climbing up some stairs and back out onto the gravel path and descending into the car park where we’d left the car.
I knew I’d missed the FKT by a few minutes. I was hoping Steve got it though. He sadly informed me that he’d missed it by about 90 seconds. I felt pretty bad, because we took a fair amount of photos along the way and if Steve was on his own he would have been so much faster that waiting for injured old me. I guess we will have to come back again to go for the record. I finished and I pissed blood again…….my core was still weakened. Time to hit some exercises and I decided to tape my abs up for any more running that I will do on the holiday.
Day 3 Mt Ruapehu Summit 2751m
Mountains are dangerous places, storms can roll in from any direction and at this elevation we could have snow at any time of the year. On the Wednesday morning after eating Cacao Oats with coconut milk and drinking a coffee, Steve and I looked up at the Summit of Mt Ruapehu and saw that it was a beautiful clear day and decided to go for the Summit then and there.
We grabbed Hammer gels, hydration drinks, endurolytes, bars and headed out from the Ngauruhoe Ski Lodge at 1600m and straight up the snowless ski fields under the Rock Garden Chair Lifts. With Steve guiding me through all his old favourite ski runs, the Waterfall Express, Waterfall T-Bar and Knoll Ridge T-bar. We picked out a bit of a track following the white posts, then it was Steve’s navigation through the snow fields up over the Whakapapa Glacier between the Dome shelter 2672m and Paretetaitonga 2751m.
We explored the Summit Plateau, had a picnic and caught glimpses of the etherial Crater Lake. through clouds below us. Recent eruptions have lead to a weakened rim on the Crater Lake, which sometimes releases lahars with masses of water and volcanic debris into the valley below leading to flooding. It was kind of scary standing on the top of an active volcano. So wild, untamed and thrilling.
We checked out the Dome shelter, chatted to other tourists about how amazing this volcano summit was with the glimpses of the Crater Lake between the clouds.
Our bellies decided that they wanted more food so we followed the ridge line back down to the Glacier, running, sliding, gliding, bum sliding on the snow down towards food. When the snow ran out we walked down the rocky summer ski fields and decided to grab a coffee at the stunning Knoll Ridge Cafe.
After a coffee we hit the trails again and descended back to the lodge.
Day 4 Mt Ngauruhoe 2287M and Mt Tongariro Summit 1967M
We woke again at 5am to drive to the Mangatepopo Car Park again and the start of the Alpine Crossing. We thought we were in luck seeing the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe that we were about to climb was clear. So we pushed on to the base of the mountain after retracing the same track of the Tongariro Northern Cuircuit, up the Devils Stair Case, through the South Crater and following the poles to the summit trail of Mt Ngauruhoe.
The climb to the summit scared the pants off me. It was steep, slippery scree and I put absolute trust in Steve to show me the right path along the rocky ridge line to the top without falling backwards down the volcanic cone shaped mountain. I was on all fours, rock scrambling, digging into the scree, not daring to look down because it was not helpful as the slope was intense. I was freaking out, hoping my quads and glutes would hold true and prevent me from falling.
About 100m from the summit, clouds blew in and we were in a total white out, unable to see the summit. I followed Steve who had climbed the mountain before to the summit. We ate some food, took some snaps and enjoyed the foggy volcanic scenery, a bit bummed that we’d missed the clear skies by about 30 minutes. Ahhhhh, well just have to come back.
We started to freeze, with this we decided to head back to the warmth of the South Crater. We picked out the track, not following the ridge line that we ascended hoping that we could run down the scree. Finding that the scree was not safe to run on in the white out we were then forced to return to the rocky ridge for navigation and safety for a few hundred meters before switching back to the scree run.
Running down the scree from 2000M down to around 1600M was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had. I had to put absolute trust in my Inov8 X-Talons 212s to get me down that mountain safely. Bounding, sliding, jumping, bum sliding. I caught a rock hidden in the scree and totally right angled my dodgy right ankle. I heard a crack. Lucky my ankles were taped. I continued on and cruised down to the base of the scree and waited for Steve to catchup. My back injury was feeling so much better with foam rolling, saunas and massage. I think Steve’s ankle was starting to give him grief on the soft, steep, scree descent of Mt Ngauruhoe.
We regrouped at the bottom and Steve decided to rest his ankle and not to run to the Summit of Mt Tongariro. I was a bit upset that he was not going to join me. I decided to push on. I knew I was not going to miss the opportunity to bag another summit and I was so close to Mt Tongariro I had to push on and make the most of the trail running location.
I cruised along the crater, up the Red Crater Nearing the top I heard Steve’s voice calling out to me. He decided to run on and share the experience with me. His ankle hurt on the flats and on the descents but he could climb just fine. We pushed on together along the ridge line between South Crater and Central Crater, dodging walkers towards the foggy summit of Mt Tongariro rock hopping along to the peak.
After a few snaps we rock hopped, then rolled along the scree trail over a few rocks, again dodging walkers and descending back to the Red Crater and rolling back down to the South Crater. Here we regrouped after being separated in a school group and rolled along the flat expanse together, following the stream of walkers to the Devils Stair case and flying down the stairs, along the creek and back to the car. We then hit the Turangi Hot Pools for a stretch and recovery session.
Day 5 Rest Day and Travel to the Coromandels Via Taupo Burger Fuel for some Kumura Fries.
We stopped off at Rotopounamu Walking Track for a easy 6km walk around the pretty lake in the beech forest on our way to Steve’s sister Janice’s Beach bach at Koautunu.
Day 6 Fishing, Wake Boarding, Swimming, Eating, Drinking.
We awoke early and hooked up the boat to the tractor for a beach launch and headed out towards Great Mercury Island for fishing. I did not mange to catch any fish in the mouth, however I somehow caught them by stabbing them in the eye, gills, stomach. Antwhere, you name it! I manage to catch them in the most distressing way for both the fish and myself and I was not feeling proud of my method. I’m such a novice. We then did some wake boarding until we were sore and the sea waved up to big for us to ride before heading back for wine and lunch.
Day 7 Sea Kayak to the cafe from the batch return. Drive back to Auckland and Fly back to New Zealand.
On the final day of my trip to New Zealand we paddled Janice’s kayaks along the beach to Koautunu beach cafe for a couple coffees. After a warming shower, we took off to Auckland Airport and back to the warmth of Queensland.
My Mountain Running Kit
Nutrition for the Training Holiday
Hammer Perpetuem Coffee 1/2 scoop in 500ml of Water
Hammer Heed Mandarin 1/2 Scoop in 500ml of Water
50% Water 50% Hammer Banana Gel in Hammer Flasks
Endurolytes every 30min of exercise.
Daily Nutrition Program in a nut shell
Oats for Breaky chocolate, pecans and coconut milk!
Salmon, avocado and salad for lunch with sweet potato
Warm chicken sweet potato soup with heaps of veges ;-D
Nuts, Avocados, Coconut Oil Fried Banana’s with shaved chocolate and almonds.