#334 Black River Run 100 - Race Report

Black River Run 100, buckle #22 earnt! Very pleased with 23:39 in the end as you only get buckles here for sub 24 and I've seen the medals! (Make the 77p Running Imp ones look impressive!) One of my better runs as really my first sub 24 on a proper trail marathon, my previous vaguely reasonable times have all been on flat tracks and whilst this only had maybe 5000 or 6000' feet of climb there were some horrible rocky sections that had more trip hazards than an Argentinean defensive line. As it was 10 miles loops didn't bother carrying anything aside from my bottle, ipod and electrolytes and started off bang on plan, knocked out marathon distance in 4:30, 50 miles in 9:45 and 60 miles in about 12 hours and I am thinking a really good time was on... but as is often the way, these things come and bite you. By 70 miles I all sorts of worries, sick, nauseous, was foggy and basically couldn't see a thing... which was bad enough but as I have the night vision of a mole it was problematic through the rocky bits. Ah, but that was luxury as one of us made a rookie mistake about mile 81 the red light comes on the head torch. Swedish forests at 4am are DARK, so had to put the headlight on dim... and made progress like a complete snail, to the point I thought a sub 24 had gone as I was going slower than slow treacle, just could not see a thing. But choose your cliche, blah, blah, got on with it when the light began to come up, abandoned the headtorch just couldn't see a thing anyway, managed to stay upright and got it done. Am retiring from 100 milers again! lol


We'd actually booked this trip before we'd done TEC100 as was looking for a September 100 and knew by that stage that a US trip wasn't happening and nothing in the UK that we fancied. The race did have a page in English which is always reassuring and the correspondence with the RD was all very fluent which was helpful too! It's located in the Swedish city of Vasteras which is about 100k west of Stockholm and this time we arranged to go out a day earlier so that we could spend a day and a half or so in Stockholm experiencing the city (all positive, can recommend the Muffin Bakery(s), ABBA museum and the Vasta Museum and the waffle shops in the "old town" but on Friday evening the hire car was picked up from the airport and off we toddled to Vasteras.

We stayed at the "recommended" hotel which is the Ibis, about 400m from the race HQ which makes it walkable (we drove) but it was pretty basic shall we say, think Travelodge but with a decent free breakfast chucked in and the internet access was decent so a couple of plusses!

The RD had gone to the trouble of translating the "pre-race document" in to English for us which was very thoughtful and also meant we had a very good idea of what was going on. No daft pre-race briefings or anything and we were able to pick up race numbers on the morning and even had our own little pre-race briefing in English about half an hour before the start. Handily there is a disused supermarket across the road from the race HQ so there was a ton of parking within a 100 yards or so. We turned up about 0845 for the 1000 start and were good to go! Rachel and Heather for the 50 and myself for the 100.

There was a fairly comprehensive description of the course, which is 10 mile loops, but as with ever with these things nothing ever really prepares you for the reality until you discover it for yourself!

But basically I'd estimate that the course was

15% rocky rooty winding single track where you're looking to carefully place every step.
15% decent single track where you need to watch out for the occasional trip hazard, stone or root but basically very good.
20% lovely tarmac paths/cycle paths
25% gravel/dirt high quality road
25% high quality cycle paths/double track paths

All the tricky stuff is in the first 3 miles or so in four different sections (the longest and toughest bit was 0.58 miles) and about a mile from the base camp (under a road) are 32 steps (yes, I counted them!) The course was maybe a third through woodland, then open fields, a few miles along the Black River (though looked normal colour to me!) through some allotments with very pretty summer house type things, a park/graveyard, a loop by the river again in a park before back in to the woods for the last mile or so.

It's described as having 150m of climb on each lap which sounded about right, so maybe 5000'/6000' for the 100 overall. There was one horrible steep bit after the steps, which was about 10m long on the first lap, and 4.8km on the final one (there was actually a rail to pull yourself up if needs be but I'm joking, not that bad.) Some little climbs in the last mile which I walked every time but that's just because I was looking for an excuse to walk, I suspect that aside from the steps and the tiny steep bit its all runnable for decent runners and there are some lovely slight downhills too. The tarmac bit past the graveyard and the 200 yards to the first check point were lovely!

Aside from the base camp area there were two check points on the course both had water/electrolytes one at about 3.8 miles the other about 7.8 miles (the latter had coke and some red sweet things late on) both check points and the base camp (in and out) had dibbers to mark your progress. Never seen "finger" ones before (I put mine on my Garmin) but you dibbed in 4 times a loop so that they always knew where you were and progress could be checked online. Aside from the 100 there was a 50 mile event and a 20 mile morning race and a 20 mile midnight race too.

As it was loops I decided to go minimalist gear wise, I had a drop bag at the base camp (mental note - set up early for Swedish events, they seem to claim their "space" early!) but was carrying my water bottle and a running belt with electrolytes and my iPod shuffles in. Lots of folk had backpacks on, not me! There was no compulsory gear and had pockets for M&Ms in my shorts! lol


The forecast was really as good as we could have hoped for for, up to 22C in the afternoon but only down to about10C at night (48 hours later was forecast to be 2C) was a bit foggy first thing, as it had been since we arrived in Sweden but assumed that would clear (in fact it never really did get sunny in the end which was good) and at 10:00 we're led off to the start (it's just 100 yards from base camp so as to avoid a straight pile up in to single track) and we we're off! I was probably a bit further back than I'd normally be as was a very low key "off you go" kind of thing and everyone looked awful fit! But worked out just fine (the 20m race started 30 minutes earlier so the super quick guys had gone) as we soon discovered the gnarly stuff was all early and I have the speed of a wounded duck on such stuff so worked out I was in about the right place anyway.

I did run through the rocks and roots for the first few laps but already had been making notes of the tricky stuff for the night time and knew that there was no way I was running any of that at night. The course markings were very clear, tape, "BRR" posts (with distance and direction) and signs not to mention generally was just plain obvious. But once out of the gnarly stuff was basically all runnable at more or less maximum comfortable pace and just iPod on and settled in to things. Whilst I had the route on my Garmin I never once felt the need to refer to it.

The dibber thing was a mild pain as meant you always had to carefully place it in the correct slot of the dibber receiver 4 times a lap as there were a bunch of times I didn't otherwise need to stop and of course always a bit paranoid that it won't register! But worked flawlessly and there are now very comprehensive timings available! There were two road crossings on the course, one quite fast, but right by the checkpoint so you had stopped anyway (and the road was very open so you could see way off if cars were coming) and the second one (right before the steps of doom) had a marshall on the zebra crossing to help with traffic, not that it was busy on either road and I can't recall ever stopping.

The marshalls were all super friendly, as in fact were most of the runners, I have no idea what they were saying 90% of the time (Swedish is an odd language!) but just about everybody spoke some English. Oddly at no point did the marshalls ever offer to fill up bottles or anything like that, as if they were given instructions not to (and in fact Heather said that one had said that they weren't supposed to) which was kind of odd, but hey ho (incidentally no crew were allowed either, not that you'd really need crew mind you but again a little unusual, pacers fine from 60 miles in)

If I'm honest the base station wasn't the best, but did get better as the event went along, seemed to be something new each lap! Rachel for example mentioned that she never saw chocolate on the 50, as that came out after maybe 12 hours, there was some hot food in the night and the usual ultra fare of crisps, cheese on bread, dextrose tablets, oranges, little red sweets, potatoes (with salt), pickles, soup, rice, pasta, sausages and for drinks they had water, electrolytes (Tailwind), Perpetuum, coke think that was about it, am sure there were a couple more bits but not on my "I fancy that list" so was glad that I had my usual "100 mile goody box"

Now with this event, although there is a 30 hour time limit, you only get a buckle for sub 24. So basically sub 24 or bust! So my plan was pretty simple, get to 50 as soon as possible, preferably as close to nine hours as possible, struggle through the night and then finish up in the morning with whatever needed finishing up with!

Can't say I'm really keen on 1000 starts as it means that dark comes early, sunset was 1853 so dark at 1930 or so my plan is 50 miles before dark.

I wasn't going quite as quickly as I wished, the gnarly stuff had slowed me down of course but the rest of the course was fine and runnable (aside from the steps/rises in the last mile or so) and I was fuelling well on M&Ms.

Lap one done, lap two done. Stop to pick up another bag of M&Ms and go through marathon distance in about 4:30, I'd have been happier had that been 20 minutes quicker but all was well. The weather was kind of damp, mizzling, grey dreary. If you were a tourist it was grim, a runner it was perfect!

50k was 5:30 and 40 miles was 7:20 or so and things were going well. Had to take a head torch with you if you left after 17:30, I was inside that so didn't need to take it but decided to anyway as would have been stupid to get stuck in the woods in the pitch dark for the sake of carrying it, so just stuck it on (in the end didn't need it but only just!)

A rather pleasant surprise at the end of lap 5 and the beginning of lap 6 was that the wide track through the wood was lit! So that made that far more runnable, it went off about midnight, but a couple of laps with more light in these bits was good.

So 50 miles in 9:45, stuck on a long sleeve t-shirt as was getting cold, dark and knew I'd start slowing down now and left Rachel a note in her drop bag to say all was good and go back to the hotel to go sleep (we'd kind of planned that she was going to wait for me at the finish after her race in case I needed anything).

Lap 6 was good at a fraction over 12 hours so I'm thinking 40 miles, under 12 hours, I can walk this and get a buckle! Found Rachel at the finish as she hadn't finished that much in front of me, 2 minute catch up and off I go again.

And this is where things basically all started going a bit wrong! lol

I don't think I'd quite been eating enough, I didn't bother to carry much with me, so often I'd eaten what I was going to eat by three miles in (I was going slowly through the tricky stuff anyway so tended to eat then) so often didn't take on a calorie after maybe the first check point, mainly as by this stage was off M&Ms (my usual drip drip drip food) and I was feeling sleep tired from early so had been taking on board the caffeine laced electrolytes earlier than usual rather than S!Caps.

I don't think I was hydrated enough either, I went for a wee maybe twice in the first 50 miles and then wanted to go every 5 minutes! A sure sign that electrolytes were out.

And then I started feeling sick. I'd had a quick throw up at mile 21, but that was just a five minute type thing, of, don't feel great, hang on I'm going to be sick, let it happen, feel fine.But this was a nasty deep feeling, walking felt fine, but as soon as I started running, it was horrible, took more electrolytes, went for a few wees, just felt bad.

So lap 6 drifted by, navigation in the daylight seemed super simple, in the dark the woods were trickier which slowed me down, I wasn't feeling great and was feeling sleepy which slowed me down. Had a (rather too long) sit down on the loo, with nothing happening, put on my jacket, but hey, 70 miles in, I can get this done.

Lap 7, I just meandered around in a sleepy haze I think, made a couple of very small navigational errors which were just not paying attention (only by 10 yards kind of thing) and nearly walked in to the river! But what was worse was that the fog was back, reflecting off the head torch in places made visibility dreadful and meandered in to a few trees and that sort of thing as the markers (or trees) would just suddenly loom in to sight. Just awful, didn't want to eat anything and whilst I forced some food in the only thing that sat well were the dextrose tablets. Oh and the lights went off in the woods that had been there on the wide bits, hardly a huge thing, but you're 79 miles in, come on guys, leave the bloody lights on for me! lol

Lap 8, by now I had slowed to snails pace, but was only 4am, 6 hours, 20 miles. 3 hours a lap, 17/18 minute pace and only a mile and a bit perhaps of gnarly trail each lap, the second time of which would be in the light. Was sleepy, sick and cold, so gloves on, hat on, I had an extra layer but didn't worry about it as decided that I wasn't that cold to waste five minutes sorting myself out. More caffeine more dextrose tablets, about 2 crisps and a litre of coke! Off I toddle in to the night.

Now the downside of having a minimalistic set up was I didn't have anything with me. Like spare batteries that often I'd be carrying. Maybe half a mile in to the 9th lap I see a red light in my line of sight? Huh?! Now my headtorch had never failed to go through the night before on fresh batteries, and I had fresh batteries in at the start. Ugghhh, now I was close enough to the base camp that I could have gone back, but maybe that's a 20 minute trip from where I am and I'm worried about missing that 24 hour cut off. So head torch is now on "dim" and it's a major issue, if the batteries fail, I'm stuck till dawn as it is DARK!

Dim head torch, rocky, rooty trail. It's foggy, I can see nothing! I am one sorry pilgrim wandering around some bloody Swedish forest! A runner and their pacer come up behind me lit up like Blackpool illuminations, probably not but compared to my 2 lumen light it feels like it so decide to follow them. Which lasts all of 10 yards as they leave me for dead! I am truly hopeless at night!

I'm not 100% sure what the problem is, my night vision is hopeless, I can't seem to figure out what is up and what is down (unless its obvious) and I am so, so tired and feeling sick as a dog. About mile 82 I get a sudden "I'm going to be sick moment at last" which transforms in to a, nope it's not vomit coming out. I suspect ultra runners know how you can go in two minutes from feeling kind of OK to "stuff is coming out one way or another" so wander off in to the woods to check on the bears.

The graveyard bit looks surreal in the dark and mist, bit creepy, but even that doesn't induce the hallucinations that others seem to get, still never had them! I know a bridge is 5 miles from the base camp so got to mile 85 and decide to have a sit down. On a bench looking over the river, why? Not that sure but seemed a good idea at the time, decided that it wasn't very comfortable and went on another 500 yards maybe to the "allotment" area where there was another bench and decided to have another sit down and a ten minute sleep! The mind is a funny thing as you're just looking for an excuse to stop, who cares about some buckle? I'll finish in 26 hours, I don't care. I just want to stop, I just want to sleep. Who cares, I don't. Nobody cares, least of all me. I'm retiring from this rubbish. I'm sitting on a bench, in a Swedish allotment, who knows where, at 0600, in the dark, in the fog, tired, miserable, cold, damp, where did it all go wrong Traviss?

Again, sitting here now a day afterwards it's like what was I thinking? Another dose of caffeine and sitting there in the gloom I notice that there is some vague light in the sky and I set off again. Interestingly no head torch in the almost pitch dark gloom is better than the headtorch! It's decent under foot so I trust to not falling over anything and progress is suddenly much quicker!

Doesn't take too long till it's light enough to see properly and progress gets much quicker, I can see downhills again, so fall down those at a "decent clip", (saw a beaver in the river and some frogs too) and before you know it I am back at base camp. It's a fraction past 0700, three hours for the last lap, Rachel is there and walks with me for a mile or more, force feeding me dextrose tablets and can't even manage a chunk of chocolate, yes, I was that sick!

In the daylight the rocky, rooty gnarly stuff is so much more straightforward and I actually discovered half the reason it was so tough in the night as once or twice I think I'd basically seen a reflector and taken a "direct line" to it rather than the "indian line" which in the day light you could see in the dark I'd just been bush whacking! Maybe only been off course by a metre but its so much simpler when you're on the correct line! I was flying by now, I even saw a 10:xx on the Garmin as I clocked 13 minute miles, which of course is so slow in reality but with 94 miles on the legs feels like you're flying. Rachel showed up in the "Graveyard Section" which was nice, kept me company for a little way before I sprinted off (ho, ho, ho) and then just needed to make sure I got to the zebra crossing by 0630 as wanted to allow myself 30 minutes for the last mile in case my legs wouldn't cart me up the steps and little steep bit!

As it was had tons of time and did get lazy the last couple of miles as knew I could stroll in by now, so did, but a final 50 yard effort to crash through the 23:40 barrier to finish in 23:39:48 in 34th place of the 39 finishers (12 DNFs) for the men, women there were 7 finishers (No DNFs) so overall then that makes that 46 finishers out of 58. 79% finish rate, probably the highest finisher rate of a 100 I've been at. The weather was kind which helped and although was chilly in the night, wasn't cold.

Overall though was pretty pleased with getting it done. I own a few 24:xx and 25:xx 100 mile finishes and without the incentive to get under 24:00 then I suspect this would have drifted to another. Aid station discipline was good, helped by the fact for a lot of the time there wasn't anything much I fancied eating there and kept drop bag fiddling to a minimum, I don't think I stopped at all after laps one and three, Rachel grabbed my jacket on lap six and lap nine didn't bother either so that all saves time.

Had I been a fraction quicker and not had the headtorch blunder and been able to get in to the tricky stuff twice more either in the light, or being able to see anything much then suspect I'd have been easily another 30 minutes quicker just from that and probably should have been in the 22:xx area and could have been 21:xx as although it does have some tricky bits, the vast majority of the course is very runnable. But, and always the big but, had a plan, stuck to it (vaguely!) and basically got the buckle!

Things I Learnt

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