#314 TABY Extreme Challenge 100 Race Report

Taby Extreme Challenge 100 done! Buckle #16 earnt. Its lovely to see facebook filled with updates and photos from the London Marathon, it seems almost every person I know in the UK is either running it, supporting it or stalking/watching it, its brilliant that it creates such interest, enthusiasm and motivation, but sadly for me, I fear I am just wired different, I've no idea who the quick guys are up at front, I'm far more interest in friends running than who wins and I have no wish to ever run it, I've never put my name in the lottery. Maybe its just that deep seated desire not to conform... which is why on my late Fathers birthday I found myself in a forest on the outskirts of Stockholm for the TEC100.

My first claim to fame is living with James Elson for the first 4 miles or so, as I pointed out one of us was going at the wrong pace, it wasn't James. It was also about the point he left behind that we discovered the true nature of the course!

I'd seen some photos, a youtube clip and I'm thinking it looks a real quick course (and it is), but of the 10k loop (which I did 16 times) I'd say 5k is tarmac or real good wide flawless trail, 2k is watch your feet trail and 3k is windy, gnarly single track through woodland, which for 30 or 40k was brilliant, but from there on in was a billion trip hazards!

Now seeing the forecast my plan was pretty simple and oddly familiar, run like the clappers till the lights go and the rain starts, so off I went, marathon in 4:20 odd, 50 miles in 9:40. Got to 56 before night gear came out and the rain came down, and it was MISERABLE. Cold, wet and I spent 6 or 7 hours trying to keep my feet dry and stay upright (both of which I managed, at the cost of going at the speed of snail) about 4am the rain eased off and so by 5am I hit the nausea and cannot keep my eyes open stage! (I'd been a pretty freqent visitor to the "facilities" all day actually).

And that was it really, a tougher than I thought 100 that would have been so easy to quit at as Rachel was 200 yards away in a nice warm hotel, in a nice warm bet, and I expect she was pretty toasty too! And I was plodding around not terribly happy! lol But there's not much quit in me, I didn't just want that buckle, I really wanted that buckle. its why I wear a Union flag around my neck at these things to remind me what I represent, my family, my friends, my running clubs, my country. I want people to know where I come from. And despite the tough conditions and tougher than expected course, I'm pretty pleased with 24:36, my quickest 100 which wasn't on mainly on tarmac.


Once Rachel had found out that she wasn't in the London Marathon this year and a trip to the US wasn't on the cards we were looking around for alternative things to do this weekend and this one popped up on a search. The website encouragingly had a page of English information and we found a race report from an Irish chap who seemed to have had a postive experience and not having been to Sweden before, then why not?

I'd been checking the weather from quite someway out and it looked encouraging (I'd found some photos which seemed to involve lots of snow!) and had a chat with James Elson who knew someone there and they said the course looked in excellent condition and the forecast was fairly decent, 10C or so during the day and 4C at night, unfortunately it was due to rain at night too. So packed accordingly and off we went! Arrived in Stockholm lunchtime Friday, drove around a bit before finding Taby and the official race hotel, which was situated just a few 100 yards from the base camp. Best Western Taby very much recommended! Breakfasts included and they let runners have a 3pm checkout...


We (Rachel was doing the 50) picked up the race numbers on Friday evening (although could have done it Saturday morning too) and wandered up to the start about 9:30 and must have been one of the last there! Struggled to find a bit of space in the huge tent thing for our drop bag thing, but the sun was out and the day was looking good! Had a chat with James (doing the 100) and his friend Elliott (50). Having read the race report and having had a wander on the first bit of course the evening before I knew there was a bottle neck after a couple of 100 yards so James and I made our way to the front and we were off!

I'll describe the course first. It's a 10k loop and that's 8 times for the 50 or 16 for the 100. Oddly accurate by my Garmin too, 50 K was bang on 31.1 miles and I got 100.02 miles for the whole event!) You start off at the edge of the park on some high quality trail, down a bit of a hill, then cut off to the right through some trees on to a cycle path, then this takes you down to a lake on tarmac paths, cross a railway (which was quite busy, single track but I reckon I saw a train 8-10 times, but only had to stop once) - then along a road, back over the railway line again in to another park and a sort of tourist farm I think, lots of horses and children and a cafe. Then a long sweeping high quality fire road type road, around a pill box bunker, in to another park type area, or was it a farm?! But a big of decent trail anyway, on to another fire road type road (these were incredibly quiet roads I would point out, saw maybe 2 cars in total on them!) then down under an underpass up a pavement on an ever growing hill, along a private dirt road and then the surprising bit, maybe a mile or so of fiddly single track through woods, bit boggy in a couple of places and route finding slightly tricky till the "indian trails" appeared after all the runners had trodden things down. (Oddly easier to navigate at night due to brilliant reflectors, apparently they alter the route a little bit each year so the trails were brand new), a bit of bike path and back in to the original park again, and another kilometre of so of single track avoiding the roots and rocks and then finally back to the start.

The start as I mentioned earlier was a huge tent and actually part of the course, you went straight through it! Which did make logistics easier as that was the only official aid station.

So anyway, off we went and for my sins I was up near the front and James Elson and I chatted for the first 4 miles or so on and off, much about how fast the course was and how good the trail was, and how unlike Rocky Raccoon the trails were. (They're famously "rooty"). Really was in good shape and despite some rain the day before appeared to have drained excellently.

And then we hit the single track bit! Ho, ho, ho. I immediately went off trail and James saved me there as the line was thin at this stage, and whilst the trail was well marked, at first it was a bit tricky to actually see the trail per se, it took maybe till the third lap to be 100% sure, later on was absolutely fine, but the first couple of times I was paying 100% attention. James promptly left me behind as I pitter patted like a fairy through the trail, lots of little trip hazards and I of course immediately turned my ankle on a root and watched in envy as a whole train of runners flew past me. It really wasn't that bad and the fact that the winner of the 50 miler won in 5:55 tells you it wasn't slow, but I'm a bit paranoid about wiping out on this stuff, so I pitter patted! There were a few little bits which were a bit boggy, but we're talking 10 or 20 yards. And with a bit of care you could easily avoid getting muddy feet, or worse wet feet.

Then before you new it, lap one done!

The aid station had an ever evolving variety of stuff, some of it rather odd to me, lots of cheese, lots of chocolate (I ate a LOT of chocolate!) some weird meat stuff, bread things. It got better later when the hot stuff came out, McDonalds hamburgers and chips at 6pm, pizza at 10pm, waffles and cream in the morning (now that was brilliant!!) and some crisps, TUC biscuits, always seemed to have tea or coffee on the go, fruit, bananas and apples. Probably some other stuff too, water, coke, heed, ginger beer, some other drink too, but I was happy with water and coke. The only thing obviously lacking was cookies, luckily I had some in my drop bag, but unusual for ultras not to have those. Or cake, or maybe that's just me!

I'll mentioned here the "unofficial" aid stations. Around the course at different times there were maybe 6-8 unofficial ones that popped up from time to time! Chocolate, sweets, cake, biscuits and the best one of all about 2am, in the pouring rain, this old boy is handing out coffee, warm cinnamon rolls and lumps of chocolate, was like manna from heaven! I've no idea what half the people were saying or if in fact I was just stealing from a crews table sometimes perhaps, but everyone seemed very happy and didn't mind so that was good!

Language was a bit of an issue, not enough to cause problems, but it was all good, everyone seemed to speak a bit of English and the Swedes are friendlier than the Germans anyway so that was good!

Back to the race, laps 2 and 3 drifted by and all was good, running semi well, sun was out and was really pretty nice. The woods whilst a pain from a running stand point were lovely, all mossy, and rocky and ancient looking, like a set from Lothlorien for those who've seen Lord of the Rings.

Lap four I got the first of what was to be a feature for a while of wanting to go to loo, feeling like I really needed to, and not much happening. Perhaps it was the 2 kilos of chocolate fuel I had eaten! James lapped me coming out of the loos (these were a good 2 feet from the course, this race is set up by runners!) I almost caught up with him (which was curious that I would almost be gaining on him and later discovered he DNF'd so maybe having some issues already) and anyway I was through marathon distance in 4:30 so that was OK. I was running well on the good bits, running like a fairy in the woods and beginning to walk up the hills a bit.

My Garmin reckons that there is 9000' of up over the 100 miles which I find incredible, the RD thought it was about 6000' and I'd say it felt like about 3000'! There lots of tiny ups and downs, which when you're tired is great as you have endless excuses to walk and there were only maybe 50' each lap that you thought was mildy hilly. Compared to the SDW50 the week before it felt nowhere as hilly and yet according to the Garmin this was more so, however going by quad damage, SDW50 wins!

So marathon done, I intended to have 3 major "reassessments" at 25/50/75 miles where I'd grab stuff out of my drop bag, otherwise my aid station discipline was generally very good. In and out, eat on the move...

So restocked on cookies and peanut butter M&Ms and another lap done to get to 50k (how did I do 50k in 4:24 at Houston!) in 5:30 odd and I think that was the low point for distance thinking. 5 down, feeling pretty worn out by now, and 11 to go! But my plan had always been to get as much done in the light as possible. With the late start and rain forecast, miles done quickly now would save me much time later I figured!

Laps 5-8 blur into running, walking and loo stops.

Lap 8 and its getting a bit colder now so I put my Boston jacket on. It's looking like rain but don't want to get the night gear out just yet. I've not seen Rachel yet which is probably a good sign and the plan was that she would wait after she'd finished to see if I needed anything before going back to the hotel to sort herself out and get some sleep.

50 miles in 9:44 was good. I had hoped for better, about 9:00 was the A target but I'd say that's what I lost in the woods!

Comrades in 11:10, 9 laps down and time to get the night gear on, had a quick catch up with Rachel, stuck on my thick baselayer and waterproof jacket, head torch on.

Laps 10, 11 & 12 were just grim. The rain started and fell steadily, never hard, but just steady light rain. it was pretty cold, but I was in shorts and was never that worried. iPod on loud (apologies to any Swedes who tried to talk to me and I ignored!) Hood up, head down and the demons come out to play.

The aid station was heaving at night, in fact to the point it was a pain to get to the aid station a couple of times. I assumed it was 50 milers finishing and hoovering up the goodies but I discovered that in fact the 100 had a 40% DNF rate so maybe some 100 guys to in there. Not to mention it was warm and dry in there.

I retired from 100 milers in the night. Again.

It was all OK aside from the single track really. There were some puddles and muddy bits, but zero worries. It the woods I struggled with, was a bit slippery the roots were wet and the ground was getting muddy in places. The fortunate part was there was only really one steepish downhill bit that was a bit slippy, the other bits all seemed to be up hill which was easier. But I was picking my steps and trying not to fall over. Pace slowed drastically but was able to maintain reasonable enough "speed" elsewhere so my average times weren't getting stupid.

Oddly lap 13 I seemed to have a bit of a perk up as ran strongly for a fair bit of this lap and over took maybe half a dozen guys. Several of whom looked like I must have looked in some night, dawdling along, just trying to keep moving.

The odd thing was to this point, I hadn't had the tiredness thing. Lap 14, about half way around. BANG! In the space of five minutes I start feeling really sick and sleepy, to the point I am thinking to myself, that's odd, why am I walking sideways! And I know you're not supposed to, but I sat down on a bench, got out the wind, bend over, shut my eyes and hoped I'd either throw up or fall asleep for 10 minutes. Fat chance. I reckon in 5 minutes I had 6 runners or their pacers check on me, to the point I thought it was just pointless sitting down so just got on with it! What was so odd was just how quickly it hit and the fact that the sun was on the way up and there was light in the sky now... weird. At Graveyard it hit about 8pm in contrast!

I think by the end of lap 14 I'd figured out that James must have DNF'd, and I knew Elliott had as I walked in with him just before he was about to having turned his ankle over. I'd never seriously considered DNFing, tempting as it was with a hotel 200 yards away with a room and warm bed waiting. This really actually rather steeled my resolve if anything, perhaps the first two British guys to ever come over and do the race and no way could we both DNF.

I lose track of what happened on what lap in the night I guess. A blood curdling scream in the woods behind me and I go back to find this girl "trapped" by a big toad on the path! (There were a few toads about,) I just nudged him out of the way and she was saved, no idea what she said but she seemed grateful! Oh and then in the farm there was this giant bloody hare thing ran past me and gave me a heart attack. I swear they are "Rhosgobel Rabbits" from the Hobbit film. Luckily we'd seen one the evening before, they're the size of corgi dogs I reckon! Another girl asked me if I was cold (as I think I was the only person in the night wearing shorts) and before I could even answer she said "oh, you're British aren't you" as if that explained it!

But by lap 15 it was just a case of if I could get sub 24 or not, and the answer was not. Rachel came to meet me maybe a mile or so from the finish to walk back with me, then again on the last one. I maybe could have pushed a bit harder, on the final lap I chopped off maybe 15 minutes compared to lap 15 but actually pushing it a bit more. But was feeling fairly sick and the usual attack of the "who cares" and 24:38 it was in the end.

In retrospect I'm really pretty pleased with that, the race had a 40% DNF rate and even the 50 miler had a 33% DNF rate. Which is high on both counts on a course that could have been worse and a night that could have been worse too, I really didn't think it was that bad if you were prepared, if you were caught out by the rain, you'd freeze, but with two baselayers and a thick jacket I was OK, oddly colder at 7am than when wet at 3am. You've got to be really mentally tough at these types of events as quitting is so easy and facing 10k in the night when its cold and wet is hard when your in a nice warm tent, your car is a few feet away or your hotel is right there across the road.

Was my quickest 100 for an event that had a decent proportion of trail, although I have three quicker times, they're all on better surfaces than this. I suspect the single track loops, especially at night cost me maybe 2, 3, 4, 5 minutes a mile? Times that by the two single track parts and the 16 loops and suddenly that's maybe 2 or 3 hours.

My feet survived pretty well, they felt like they were blistering very early on the big toes, but for the amount of pain they inflicted the blisters are actually pathetic! I wore Hoka Stinsons, which actually disintegrated down one side which I think caused friction pain rather than blister pain, but they're in the bin. Should have switched to the GTX Salomans I had with me for the night as the Hokas were as slippy as ice, but Saloman's were in the hotel and in any case wouldn't have been bothered to change I think at 2am or once the rain had stopped.

Very nice event really, not sure I'd do it again unless (like this one) it fits in nicely with the schedule. I'm not sure I like 16 loops, or that kind of number, small loops are easier in the sense you're never far away, 10k enough you have to have some bits with you I felt. No sense of journey either as you have with the big loop ultras, or point to point of course. I'm in for another Swedish 100 in September, like the country, was all very straightforward and the people nice. Rachel received a glass paperweight type thing for the 50, I got a buckle, quite small, but treasured all the same!

Things I Learnt

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