Written by Daryl Carter – http://www.ultrarunningltd.co.uk
The Green Man Ultra is a 47mile race organised by UltraRunningUK. Its course closely follows the Green Man Challenge route around Bristol’s Community Forest Path (CFP).
More details at www.ultrarunning.uk.com/green-man-ultra.html
I had been keen to do the Green Man Ultra ever since I saw its inception on the UltraRunning website. It is quite an interesting course that loops around Bristol and has some fantastic views. My only concerns were a) fitness and b) navigation. I had spent most of February in Lanzarote working and getting in a lot of off-road (lava) running and scrambling. As well as sea swims and the occasional bike ride I managed 50/110/70miles running over the three weeks. My legs were completely shot when I returned home and I suffered a little ‘over-reaching’. I spent most of race week resting and fortunately by Thursday I felt a lot better and ready to race.
At 3:45am on Saturday morning the alarm went off! I wasn’t looking forward to a 2hr+ drive from Teddington (Middlesex), but at least it meant I could have a decent breakfast in advance of the race. Once at the race venue (The Redwood Lodge Hotel & Country Club) I had just enough time to sort myself out, meet the organisers and the Gaveller, some fellow competitors, and check out the OMM stand (I’m always looking for an upgrade!).
It was interesting to see a number of canicross competitors and their dogs for this race. At the start of the race one dog got a little excited, broke free from its owner and gave the leading runner a fright. Only a few hundred metres into the race a group of four formed at the front – Martin Indge, Alex Foster, Liz Wiggins and myself. I’d never met any of them before, but they all seemed quite comfortable with up to 7:15/M pace. After just over a mile we joined the Green Man Challenge Route, heading south along the CFP.
Despite the cold and intermittent showers we were all in good spirits and Alex was doing a fine job of directing us along the route having recced it in advance. I had also done a recce of the first 27miles of the route with a friend in January. We were hoping to recce the whole route but ran out of time thanks to a number of small navigational errors. It didn’t fill me with much confidence on the day, although I had a decent map and a garmin watch, so at least I wouldn’t get completely lost.
Miles 2-6 went over rolling fields of grass and mud, climbing over stiles and gates, and dodging the occasional cow and horse. At the start of the race I was contemplating how quickly we were running and what it translated to in terms of an overall time. It wasn’t until 6 miles into the race with shoes full of mud that I appreciated just how tough the 47mile course was going to be. I was already getting quite sore and stiff, particularly in the hamstrings and gluts. I never expect to get through an Ultra run without some amount of pain but this was a lot earlier than expected , and I put it down to the training block in Lanzarote the weeks before. It certainly left me somewhat concerned and uncomfortable. In contrast Martin was running very comfortably beside me and seemingly enjoying himself. He had a quick leg turnover and if he dropped back to do something he would sprint back beside me in seconds. This could be a long hard day.
I considered the first significant climb to be at Dundry Quarry and thought I’d seize the opportunity to test my fellow competitors out by running all the way up. I didn’t consider it to be a risk as I’d run much longer and steeper climbs in the Brecon Ultra. At the top of the hill, where the course starts to head east, I glanced back and didn’t see anyone. I eased off on the run into Dundry but just as I reached the main gate I could hear the fast turnover of feet from behind and Martin was there once again, only probably in better shape from a more balanced effort! There were a number of ladies with huge dogs in Dundry and for a moment I thought the canicross runners had taken a different route.
From Dundry the route continued east towards Norton Malreward and Checkpoint1. Martin and I continued at quite a strong pace, but due to a few small navigational errors would find ourselves picked up again by Alex and Liz. This was particularly the case at East Dundry where just like in my recce we took the wrong route down another path and had to backtrack. This would happen many more times during the race, but thankfully I would become aware of my errors within about 10-15 seconds thanks to the Garmin watch and could either backtrack or divert. The four of us made it to Checkpoint1 at the Norton Malreward town hall within 1 minute of each other.
The weather had improved over the first 2hrs of the race and it was now getting quite warm. Martin and I kept up a strong pace through Pensford, Woolard, Compton Dando and Checkpoint2 in Kenysham at 16 miles. I was struggling with a lot of stiffness at this point and decided that after the aid station I would take a short break to shed some clothes, drink plenty of electrolytes, stretch and take a toilet stop (not all at once of course!). I didn’t mind giving Martin a couple of minutes lead as I was hoping I’d feel a lot more invigorated after the break and then entertain myself by trying to gradually bridge the gap. However, it wasn’t until I turned the next corner near Londonderry Farm and the start of the Dramway that I noticed he had disappeared. I didn’t know whether he had taken a wrong turn or simply speeded up, so I increased my effort past the Mill and along the Dramway before continuing along the CFP into the countryside once again.
At 26 miles the course ran through the Kendleshire golf course and on exiting the grounds I heard a shout from a roadside (refreshments) van “you’re the first one!”. It dawned on me now that Martin had indeed taken a wrong turn, and this encouraged me to work even harder. At Damsons Bridge I thought I had reached Checkpoint3 when I spotted what looked like a pub across a stream to my left and a man in a bright yellow jacket bending over a crate of beer. If only! Although I did hang around for a couple of minutes double checking the map while salivating. I weighed up the map against the Garmin and it seemed I was a little short, so continued. At around 28 miles I finally reached Checkpoint3. I was tired, sore and stiff but it was good to know I now had less than 20 miles to go to the finish. Checkpoint3 and 4 were slow transitions. It could be I was glad of the brief chat and something other than energy gel!
The next 10 miles to Checkpoint4 involved a lot of running on roads and paths through residential estates and traversing the M4, M32 and M5 motorways. Personally I don’t mind a few miles on tarmac in XC shoes. The increase in muscle fatigue/soreness is off-set by the increase in pace – it’s nice to see those miles tick by a little quicker! I vividly remember mile 32 at Bradley Stoke being a bad patch. I really didn’t want to walk so I took another toilet break, drank a good 300-400ml and within 5mins I felt much better again. Strangely enough I went through a bit of a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs for the next couple of miles. The ascent of Spaniorum Hill at 36-37 miles was tough. But despite a lot of pain in the gluts I didn’t want to break into a continuous walk so ‘ran’ as much as possible. I started glancing back occasionally to see if I could spot anyone, but no-one was in sight. I told myself that as long as I kept the pace up to the other side of the Clifton suspension then I would be safe. After 38 miles I entered Henbury and once again I ran with map in hand to make sure I didn’t take any wrong turns before Checkpoint4.
The reception from the volunteers at Checkpoint4 was fantastic. My only complaint (if it is one) is that they are ‘too friendly’ and you can get suckered into a conversation with cup of tea and slice of cake in hand! I have to find a way of extracting myself from race checkpoints much quicker in the future.
The Green Man route continues through the Henbury playing fields on towards the river Avon. There was another athletics XC event taking place, which may have caused some confusion to the marshals present, but as the last of the runners were finishing I nipped in and out without issue. I was starting to get a little ‘lazy’ at this point. I would find the excuse of checking the map, readjusting my backpack and/or taking nutrition to justify short walking breaks. I’d been keeping an eye on my pacing and total distance at this point. I thought I would be easily inside the green man course record and even break 7hrs. However, I didn’t realise there was a lot of climbing still to come. Miles 42-46 from Sea Mills through Sneyd Park estate and on to Clifton suspension bridge were generally uphill and ate into the clock. It was hard not to stop and appreciate the views high up over the bridge and the river Avon but I was leading a race, so immediately turned away and headed down to the bridge itself.
The final two miles over the bridge and back into Ashton Court were tough, going uphill into a headwind. I would occasionally glance over my shoulder and take a few short strides to break it up. I could now finally appreciate what I had done and enjoy the finish. I’d taken part in a terrific race and enjoyed some wonderful views around Bristol. The Gaveller was on hand at the finish to provide me with my Woodwose (‘wild medieval man of the forrest’) certificate.
My final time was 7hr8min, which was 11min quicker than the old record. I made a number of navigational errors and perhaps wasn’t completely rested so I would like to come back later in the year when the weather is good, have less weight to carry and I’m more familiar with the course.
Darryl Carter (Woodwose LIV)
Gear : 2XU compression calf guards and shorts, Ironman shorts, Helly Hansen LS top, Bjoern Dhaelie gillet, inov8 roclite 295 shoes. I had a OMM race smock packed in my Olmo5 backpack along with compulsory race equipment and a couple of protein bars. I started with 2 x 750ml bottles of electrolytes and added tablets to water at Checkpoints.
Official Race Results : http://www.ultrarunningltd.co.uk/results/green-man-ultra-2012
UltraRunningUK : http://www.ultrarunningltd.co.uk/