Green Man Ultramarathon by blindcider

For some reason I thought signing up for an Ultramarathon would be a good idea. The Green Man Ultra is something I’d been tempted to enter for a few years but had never been brave enough to do. After completing the Outlaw though I was up for another challenge.

The Green Man Ultra is a 45 mile race circumnavigating Bristol based mostly on the Community Forest Path. This is mostly on of road trails and quieter country roads. Anyone completing a circumavigation within 24 hours as part of the Green Man challenge is entitled to call themselves a woodwose

I’d not managed anywhere near enough preparation runs and was concerned that my body and particularly my troublesome calf muscles wouldn’t stay the distance. Only 4 weeks before I had written the email to defer and was about to send it but didn’t for some unknown reason after yet another twinge.  As such I was putting no pressure on myself and my run strategy was just to listen to my body and not worry too much about time. Keep moving forward and not stopping.

As it had worked so well during last years Iron distance triathlon I was going to follow the same nutrition strategy of an energy gel every 45 minutes and other food whenever I could get it. I’d started the day with a bowl of porridge and a couple of bananas

Section 1 – Ashton Court to Norton Malreward

The first section of the race is probably the most physically demanding – it is mostly offroad and contains the ascent of Dundry Hill. The start is a very strange experience, a few people dash off into the distance but the majority just plod along at a slow jog unwilling to push their bodies early on. The course helps with the slow pace start with some bottle necks at stiles/gateways and single file paths which take a while for the 300 runners to filter through. There is one quick descent through some woods where the ground is quite slippery


Some of the Emerson’s Green Running Club victims (and Angus)

As the course weaves through Long Ashton it starts to widen out before narrowing again on a narrow muddy path along the Monarchs Way. This swiftly rises to a very muddy slippery set of fields that go mostly uphill. The field of runners spreads over quite a wide area trying to find grip. At this stage runners are still dodging puddles and the muddier patches trying to keep their feet as dry as possible.

The route drops down a horrible set of stairs to go under the A370 and I nearly end up in a heap at the bottom where the number of runners in front of me have churned the corner up into a muddy mess a short jog and we cross the A38 and ready ourselves for the monster climb. This is uphill over a couple of fields and then up a stony path, my calves and quads are burning by the time I reach the top and despite walking the ascent I am breathing quite hard.

My friend from EGRC Pav, catches me on the ascent having started slightly further back than I did and its good to have someone to natter to as we go. This first part of the race has been difficult to get into any sort of rhythm, however from the top of Dundry the next part is much easier to get into a decent rhythm. We see Meryl Grimshaw at the top, she’s there primarily supporting for Anne and Steve from EGRC  but she has some stuff in her car for me if I need it later.

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Wrist Malfunction but smiling near CP1

The fields here are much drier underfoot and there are some road sections so the pace improves – This feels like a long section and I am immensely relieved to have reached the first Checkpoint in decent shape. It is also much quicker than I had run on my recce of this section as I hadn’t needed to stop to do any navigation. I don’t hang around for long here and start out on the next phase

Section 2 – Norton Malreward to Keynsham

On my recce run I had found this section quite hard and the race was no exception, it starts with a slog across some exposed fields and a grass runway before a long and tricky descent down a very rocky and muddy path.


Still smiling (Pav’s photo)

The major thing in this section is that the route at Woollard is diverted up and over a hill rather than the ‘normal’ route – having recce’d the normal route I am very happy at this as it is a very nasty section with a treachorous sheep path up a steep hill followed by a breakneck descent through some woods.

I nearly go the wrong way here but another kind gentleman of a runner calls me back and we go the right way. This is another monster climb that is walked up but when you reach the top its about a mile of descent on roads which is quite quick.

The route then turns North along the Chew river, this was flooded on my recce run only 3 weeks earlier and the fields are still hard going. The muddier patches are walked through and I catch up with Pav again. We are both finding it tough going at this point and are relieved to go into Keynsham, The route as it leaves the fields goes through the centre of an old mill that’s been converted to posh apartments. By the time we had got there the nice brick driveways were covered in a nice splattering of mud.

Running through Keynsham park is odd having to avoid a number of pushchairs and bemused onlookers confused as to why a bunch of muddy people wearing race numbers are slowly thundering through the park. Then we have made it to CP2.

I refill my bottle and am horrified to find my electrolyte tabs aren’t where I left them, fortunately Pav lends me a couple to see me round. I grab a slice of cake and a handful of sweets and waste no time in starting the next section.

Section 3 – Keynsham to Hambrook

Leaving the Brassmill pub without partaking in a nice cold beverage was tough but that’s just one of the hardships us endurance types experience. This section starts off flat alongside the river Avon along some fields, again this was flooded fairly recently but the footing isn’t too bad and as it diverts temporarily along the dramway the footing is good. As you reach Wilsbridge Mill the path is mostly uphill until you meet the Bristol-Bath railway path, this is good for a breather.

The railway path is a hard section as its not so interesting and fairly straight and people are starting to walk parts of the sections as well as the hills. As I reach the end of the path I see my lovely wife and son with a big bowl of sweets and some hand made signs cheering on Daddy and the other runners. I have been starting to feel some blisters and my one sock is starting to bunch up under my sole so I take some time here to sort this out.


Family impromptu aid station

I had been dreading this point as mentally it would be so easy to quit and wander the short distance home but surprisingly no such thoughts surface and I start off again. I know this next section very well and know that if I can make it to the top of Shortwood Hill its mostly downhill from there for a while.

Warmley forest is the same bog as it has been all year round and then you have to deal with the enormous stiles that wouldn’t look out of place in a tough mudder event, I’m sure the last one was about 8 foot tall. Hamstrings are starting to cramp with the effort on these stiles. The sun comes out at this point but paired with a cold wind so I am sweating and shivering at the same time. I see Adrian Grimshaw going the other way to meet some of the other EGRC runners just as I start the descent towards the landfill site.

I’m now feeling surprisingly good and I run for large parts of this section making decent progress whilst the going is good. The next bit from the golf course until just after CP3 is the only part of the route I haven’t recced so I am slightly worried about getting lost. Just before the golf course I pass Ira’s walking tour – He’s the 10 hour time lord so I am very surprised to be this far up the field. Neil Newman is cheering on here and I grab an extra energy gel off him.

I carry on making decent progress until it gets to Park lane – this is only 100m or so but it is such a nasty climb I feel I need climbing equipment and supplementary oxygen. This path then follows a stream on a very muddy and slippery path, I keep going hoping to stay ahead of Ira’s group until at least the next checkpoint, I am very relieved to reach CP3 as my feet are hurting.

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Taking it easy near CP3

Unfortunately Meryl hasn’t reached CP3 yet so after a quick phonecall to ascertain that she isn’t far away I decide to wait for her to change my shoes and socks and fix some blisters. The amount off offroad running from CP3 onwards is far lower than the first sections so I want to change into road shoes to save my feet a little bit. Ira’s group leaves about 5-10 mins before I do and I don’t see them again.

There are a few EGRC folks around here and its nice to speak to Ed, Andy and Pete as well as guzzle some rocket fuel cola. This is now the furthest I have ever run and will be breaking new ground with every step.

Section 4 – Hambrook to Blaise

My first thoughts on this section are “Oh crap what have I done” as I nearly fall into a stream several times on a very narrow path, maybe changing my shoes wasn’t such a good idea. Soon though the course goes into Stoke Gifford and Bradley Stoke and I am thankful for the additional cushioning. I struggle through Bradley Stoke walking most of the way as I try to refuel and dog my way through a bad patch. The bad patch continues until the bridge over the M5 and a hilariously fast slippery descent gets my body working, I am now mostly seeing the same faces now, Tash and Rich who I’ve been helping with directions through Bradley Stoke and Wayne are the names I remember although there are a number of people I remember chatting too along the way but have forgot their names.

I have a disaster in Bradley Stoke as I look at my Garmin only to find its turned off. A bit of panic later and I turn it back on to find the battery has plenty of life left so it must have switched itself off. I’d been using the map function only and deliberately not looked at time, pace or distance so I now reckon I must have forgot to press start and it turned itself off after a set amount of time. I have no garmin record of the first 50km which is a little bit frustrating but at least I could set the map going again although I do know the route from here its nice to have confirmation.

A few mental calculations suggest I could walk the rest of the way and still make the cut-off which is both demoralising and cheering, as it encourages me to walk but I know that barring physical failure I am going to make it. The question is how long will it take?

Once over the M5 and down the hill there are a number of fields to contend with where the gateways are pure bogs and tough going, My trail shoes wouldn’t have helped much but my road shoes are sliding everywhere. The path goes through Easter Compton and past an impromptu aid station where I eagerly have some cola before the climb of Spanorium hill. This is both steep and slippery and its tough to appreciate the view when you’ve been out for so long.

I reach the top and decide to run as much as possible – each step forward is one step less. My feet are hurting and now every time I bend either leg more than necessary to move forwards my hamstrings are cramping. One last big field and then its tarmac until CP4. Approximately 10km left, about an hour at normal pace – probably 90 minutes or so at the pace I’ve been managing.

A quick stop is all I take at CP4, a bottle refill and a can of red bull before starting again not wanting to stand around and risk bits seizing up

Section 5 – Blaise to Ashton Court

I start the slog and soon get caught by Rich and Tash who want to stick with me for my knowledge of the route. A series of forest steps at Blaise are utter agony before the long slog along the plateau.

Descending Shirehampton golf course is okay as the descent across the nice golf grass takes the pressure off the feet a little bit but soon its time to climb from seas mills to the downs. At this stage of the race this is pure evil. The hill goes on climbing for ages and the surface is rocky and harsh on tired bodies.

Pushing as hard a walk as I can I finally make it to the top and see the downs, Rich clearly has more left than us and runs into the distance. As we make it to the far side of the downs Rich has caught up with another runner who is struggling badly but then has waited for us.

There is a final climb up to the observatory where there is a lovely view of the suspension bridge all lit up. It is starting to get dark but if we push on we can get to the end without needing head torches. On the bridge I pass another EGRC member Stewart and keep going.

Finally there is the gate to Ashton Court we turn left and go past the Green man  statue and there’s only about 500m left. I take this part fairly easily not wanting to slip and fall at this late stage and my two companions push on ahead. There are some people watching and applauding as I cross the line and I am utterly surprised to be given a blue medal for being one of the top 150 finishers.


Dinner Plate

I collect my woodwose certificate and finisher t-shirt before gleefully taking my shoes and socks off and devouring a nice spicy plate of Chilli-con-carne. Vicky and Patrick then turn up missing my moment of glory by about 5 minutes as seems to becoming a habit.

Its then time to go home and dump myself in a nice hot bath

The butchers bill from the run isn’t too bad, I have a few blisters and one particularly manky toe. I have also battered my immune system and have developed a nasty cold. Given I didn’t think I would make it round I’ll take it thanks.

As an event it is without any doubt the hardest thing I have ever done. Training for an Ironman may be harder but the event is easier as you use different bits of your body for the different sections.

Final position 109th Male in 10:26

I owe thanks to lots of people for helping complete the GMU, all the marshalls, supporters, impromptu aid stations, and of course all the other runners. Please  accept my thanks even if you aren’t mentioned above