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  • Writer's pictureChris Toepker

Sormlands 100: After Action Report

The Short of It

I showed up, to start with!

In the spirit of Bernard Roth, let’s not start with all the “gooood reasons.”

Here’s a few bare faced facts to get started..

What didn’t I do?

  • Didn’t focus on training

  • Didn’t finish, so, missing the “post-season” event

  • Didn’t get a marathon distance

  • Didn’t pack correctly (too much weight!)

  • Didn’t wear the right shoes (too heavy!)

  • Didn’t understand the weather (rain? Too much? none?)

  • Didn’t get good at night running

  • Didn’t get good at technical terrain

  • Didn’t face the cut off timing

  • Didn’t practice enough up & down, mentally.

Am I beating myself up? Nope. Just facing facts. How else can I test the hypothesis and learn? What should I try next? If I’m busy explaining what happened, I’ll overlook what actually happened!

What did I do?

  • Faced the challenge

  • Ranged across a strange, foreign forest

  • Felt confident on the sections I reccee’d

  • Faced fears (obvious ones like wolves, unobvious ones like B12 & iron)

  • Turned to miles per hour instead of mins per mile

  • Faced temptations

  • Learned about drop bags

  • Electronics worked as hoped

  • Examined really real goals

  • Had moments of breathtaking beauty

What’s next? What lessons learned?

Spend the post-season recovering, getting treatment and strengthening for next year. Like always, I suppose.

You see, I had hoped that finishing the Sormlands100 (in time) would be the playoffs. That it would qualify me for the post-season: Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge (HK4TUC). That’s off the table, and maybe it’s for the best. Still, that doesn’t put an end to the quest. I just got clearer about the boundaries of the current impossibilities.

"Boy, is my watch going to be surprised!"

About gear: I have to admit, the joke is on me. I leaned far away from purpose-made stuff like running packs. “Too expensive,” I said. Then, spent a small fortune on alternatives. After this fail, I had to really take a look at that and now spent the dough I probably should have originally. Indeed, the vest I had run with, all by itself, with nothing in it, weighs as much as the new one full of food and gear. It’s only a couple pounds, but it might as well have been a ton.

Indeed, my recent training felt pretty good. I was able to keep a good pace at only 135 beats per minute. On the Sormlands 100 though? As soon as I started, at a reasonable pace, I was already at 145 ~ 150. It dawned on me real quick that I hadn’t properly trained with the pack! Let’s count this as “lesson learned,” shall we? Everyone now point and laugh - I know I am! It’s too funny. Sisyphus, just give up your stone!

Likewise, I think I need to re-think shoes and weather. Afraid of the week of rain, plus the clouds, I wore my Keens. Don’t get me wrong - I love them. They’re great! Just not for long running. Sure, my feet were dry. But they were also unnecessarily weighed down. I also wonder about the usefulness on the technical terrain. The soles are stiff, providing some stability, but at the same time, they became teeter-totters on the roots and rocks. That really did a number on my heel and knee, a constant issue for me. Maybe it would be better to have something that formed and morphed? Do I smell shoe research? I must - so sweet!

One thing I was very happy about is the tech worked. I used Gaia GPS on my phone, with downloaded maps and in airplane mode. I used only 25% of the battery, and took quite a few pictures along the way. Meanwhile, the Garmin Enduro…endured. I saw other runners charging their watches along the way and felt pretty happily smug about my little investment. Additionally, the inReach worked well. In fact, my official tracker worked in the “backend” but was not being broadcast. So, good thing I had it - both for fun and safety!

What about fun? Wasn’t there any?

There was! Among the most fun was facing the challenge and the fears. After dark, at the super hospitable aid station outside Skalla Bord, the hosts had darling children who were a real boost of energy. Then, there were the cookies. Sure, bananas are great, but they don’t warm the heart like a cookie. Doesn’t sound like a challenge, I’m sure. But let me tell you, when my hosts reminded me that there was also a warm toilet…with paper…right there. Just waiting. Well! It was a challenge to thank them, and move along. Into the dark. “From here on, there’s no street lamps or anything,” they warned me. “I hope you have something….” Of course I did. But what I didn’t have was warm cookies, toilets (with or without paper)!

Up to that point, I had more or less run the race I had hoped to. I didn’t really care about being last. I knew I would be. Instead, I just wanted to keep a reasonable 32-hour pace, finishing in max time allowed. Of course, that turned out to be a bad idea, because since studying up on the race last, cut off times were introduced. I hadn’t realized until we were on the bus to the start that I had to basically finish 50 miles in just 13 hours. That would be about 3.5 hours faster than my best 50M time! Still, I was sorta’ on track at Skalla Bord station.

Wet, slippery, uphill teeter-totters thanks to my shoes

I also knew that I’d slow down on the single-rack trail through the woods. Worse, as I was approaching it along the country road, I could feel portions of my calf seizing up. Very localized charlie horses, if you will. I upped the water, with a little salt. That seemed to help.

Still, I underappreciated the terrain. Stumbling around in the day doing reconnaissance is one thing. In the dark, on wet roots and rocks? It was nerve and knee wrecking. And as much as I like visiting a fornborg, I really thought I was going to break something at that point!

Did I mention that a few of the runners mentioned that wolves were known to be roaming these woods? That one had recently been shot for eating neighborhood cats? And that, “if we’re lucky, we’ll hear them” while out running? Yeah. Thanks, but no thanks. If I break something out there, I’d really prefer not to be wolf food!

So what about the fun - right? It was about this point that I realized how beautiful things were. Perhaps it was the math that settled my mind. I mean, I’d slowed from around 4.5 ~ 5 miles an hour to only 2. At that pace, which wasn’t likely to improve over this section, I realized I couldn’t make the 5:00AM cut off. For a bit this played havoc on my thinking. Lots of the “why am I even out here” questions. Chased around because “well, I’m this kind of person now” answers. In loops and loops. It quieted coming down off the fornborg, though. And on the next stony bluff? I saw the clouds had blown easterly, so the stars were out. The moon was low, and behind those clouds, so they were bright and clear! As I went along, the moon broke through and it was stately among the pine crests. Anyway, I had no where else to be, and had to get to wherever was next. Sure, there were thoughts of “I have a survival sleeping bag, I should just call it off and sleep here and finish…whenever.” But, that was pretty silly, even to myself, on the face of it.

So, I marched on. Enjoying the moon and stars and seeing how much I could recognize in the dark.

Before too long, I came across the next aid station. To be honest, I had thought it would be unattended. It was a surprise to hear “Chris…I presume?” and be offered a seat and bananas.

Nicolas asked what I wanted to do, how I was feeling. Yes. The knee was hurting. But even more clear was the math. I now had just 5 hours to go 25 miles. I wasn’t going to get much better than 2~3 miles per hour. It just didn’t add up.

So, I took Nicolas up on his offer. He folded up the station and we drove to the mid-way aid station, where the drop bags were. Thoughtfully, there were tents and sleeping bags set up and after changing clothes (I was soaked and shivering when arriving), plus some soup, I wrapped my knee and laid down. Of course, I let folks know I was safe and turned off the tracking. Then, fitful sleep as my legs seized off and on, then of course wound up stiff as a plank. Yikes! Still, better that than having them completely seized up far from anywhere, in the middle of the forest!

To be sure, my hat is off, all the way off, sweeping the ground as I bow to the runners I saw. Especially my co-worker Cameron. I know he has a full-time job, and yet still got 91K (51 miles). It’s humbling and inspiring. I can see it being done in front of me. So, here’s to “keep moving forward.”

At the same time, I cannot help but hear my friend James’s voice: “Sure, I want to do hard things. But I want to have fun doing them.” And it was echoed by one of the runners overheard at the start, talking about a different race, in the north of Sweden in the winter. “That sounds just plain uncomfortable. I’m OK with difficult. But I’d prefer it be difficult and comfortable.”

So, right now, as I wallow a bit in the recovery pain and DNF dissatisfaction, I am considering the ultimate goal. Yes - I want to run the Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge. However, I’m currently, I’m not certain I’ll ever be able to do it by the cut offs. So, I’m examining some of those goals. Thankfully, I have Andre’s (the HK4TUC organizer) words too: “you just have to work on speed now.”

Speed. And fun, to be sure.

Let's see how we can square this circle!

Here's what we thought...beforehand!

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