I wanted to run a 100-ish mile race around Easter time as preparation for the Thames Ring 250 in June. But I couldn’t find anything suitable in the UK. Which was a good excuse for a trip to my favourite place (Stockholm) for the Taby Extreme Challenge 100. An (aypically Swedish) over-hyped name. The route would turn out to be harder than I anticipated, but definitely not Extreme in anyway.
Jonas Budd ran a trail 100 world best of 12.32 at the race a few years ago. The route has changed since then, but is still in the same forest, so I was hoping to run a ‘decent for me’ time: somewhere around (hopefully inside) 24 hours. And secretly I was hoping to do some damage to my PB (22:52, as a split in a 24 hour track race where I walked all of the last 20 miles).
The race takes place on a looped course (14 times ~7 miles) in Taby just North of Stockholm. It reminded me a lot of GUCR: friendly and extremely well organised, but no OTT razzmattaz. Apart from the slightly random race memento: a very high quality fleece blanket.
It was a gorgeous Sunny day. The sort of day where in the UK everyone else would be wearing shorts and vests. But the Swedes, like me, mostly wore tights, long-sleeved tops and hat & gloves. The first part of the loop climbed steeply, and then undulated, on wide gravel tracks. Not ideal for running fast, but a good opportunity to eat after the one aid-station/drop-bag access point. The next mile or so was on concrete or good flat track. I looked over my shoulder and was surprised to see dozens of runners behind me. Normally at this point I’m more or less last.
The route then undulated along a lake side, with a few short, sharp climbs which would need walking later on, before turning into a road where the residents had set up impromptu aid-stations. Then we were back into the forest. A short section of single track, and then back onto a gravel path, phew. But no, somebody shouted me and the guys in front back. We’d missed a marker and in fact the route headed on a barely visible trod into the thick of the forest, and over roots and fallen trees. Hmm, maybe sub-24 hours was going to be a bit ambitious. The next few miles looped back and forth through the forest, alternating between gravel paths and narrow, gnarly single track. It would have been really easy to cut the course. But (this being Sweden) I guess the thought never crossed anyone else’s mind. There was a mile or so of cycle/foot path, before the route cut back into the forest and round to the start finish.
I’d initially planned to try and get to half-way within 10.5 hours to give me a chance of a PB. And for the first couple of loops I ran at the sort of pace needed to do this. But I was working far too hard. I told myself I had to run at the speed my body wanted to go at, not the speed me head thought I should be going at. So I eased off, and a stream of runners passed me. Not something I’m used to at this stage in a race, usually I’m beginning to start working my way forwards. And my kit was annoying me. The ankles zips on my usually trusty tights were flapping around and I’d attached the timing chip to my shoes too tightly (with cable ties, so no return). Another minor frustration was constantly having to stop and step off the narrow paths to let faster runners past. I felt miserable, and it was mainly the fact I didn’t have anywhere to stay that night which kept me going.
I kept grinding out the laps as best I could. I spent most of one lap running with the world’s perkiest, and most talkative Swede. He told me all about his Maffetone heart rate training and I told him about the Thames Ring 250. The locals also perked me up with their enthusiasm. Several groups set up parties on the route, and I even managed some short conversations in my very basic Swedish: “Du ser stark ut” (you look strong) “tack sa mycket” (thank you very much). At the top of one small hill a bloke and a small boy jumped up and down enthusiastically waving glow-sticks. I spent most of a lap with another talkative Swede, who’d evidently been talking to talkative Swede number 1. A couple of minutes into our conversation he said ‘So you must be the English woman who’s doing this as training for a 250 mile race”.
Eventually dawn came, and I had a handful of laps left to do. I sat down by my drop-bag, to rearrange my kit and restock my snacks for the last time. One of the helpers came and gave me a pep talk, telling me I should aim to do the next lap in less than 2 hours. Normally this would have really irritated me, but he was so nice about it I agreed to try. And I did get my lap times back under 2 hours, overtook/lapped a handful of people and eventually finished in 24:41. Somewhat slower than I’d hoped, but not too bad given that the route was more technical than I’d expected, and I did at least kept running the runnable bits the whole way.