The Green Man Ultra

 

When I first decided to start running longer races my google searches kept coming back to The Green Man Ultra. From this initial research, it seemed to be a no-nonsense, fun and somewhat iconic race: ‘Distributed woodland of community forest path’, sounds idyllic… ‘anybody who completes the challenge is termed a Woodwose’. More reading revealed that a Woodwose is the name for wild men and woman who hunted in imaginary forests of medieval England; an image of a lovely jaunt through England’s green and pleasant land inhabited by pixies and imps flittered through my mind and I couldn’t wait to sign up. Unfortunately on my first attempt to enter, the race was full, on the second attempt I had a hurty hamstring. However, by year three, all was well, I got a place and started training.

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Slightly late in the day I found the Facebook page and discovered lots of chat about mud, more mud and shoes to cope with mud. What happen to the English idyll inhabited by mythical wood creatures, however, it did give me my first major race dilemma; use my rubbishy but reliable old trails shoes (my lovely Training Hoka’s were not going to cut it) or buy some new Mud Claws risking foot rubs and breaking the most fundamental rule of running; never race in new kit.

I decided to ignore the deafening calls of ‘make sure you wear Mud Claws everyone’ shouting out from the FB page and decided to wear my old faithful shoes which, if the truth be known, I bought in a rush ages ago and have never really liked. Alongside these I also went for my cold weather running kit. The weather forecast was ok but I was questioning the wisdom of the BBC weather service on the drive down to Bristol as my car was rocked by high winds and lashing rain on the M4 and I was forced to slow to 50mph due to poor visibility.

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So the day of the race dawned, cold but ok. I put behind me the thoughts that I had moved house three days earlier and hadn’t really slept in a week and parked up, glad to be back in the company of trail runners. After a good walk to the start and a pretty thorough race brief we were off, at quite a fast pace I must just say. I stuck to my plan of being in the following pack, got past the canine-cross runners and started to enjoy the trail. The only significant hill arrived pretty early on, I love going up so that was fine. But my troubles started soon after that.

Most Ultras are all about following the trail; hopefully a well marked trail backed up with a map and compass. I had a map, route directions and the route on my watch but still managed to end up in someone’s back garden before CP1. However I soon recovered (I think one guy did a river crossing at the end of said garden but he was clearly braver than me) and was soon into the CP. I had opted for the raw route so was only able to pick up water for my Tailwind which is a plan I was happy with. Frustratingly the water was in a container with the worlds slowest tap so I stood there watching fellow runners come in, grab a snack and run out again.

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CP 1-2 revealed just how hard the nav on this course is. I had met up with a fellow runner Jon after my first garden detour, had a chat before I scampered off only to see him overtake me in CP1 as I was struggled to fill my water container. My next few detours also resulted in me finding him in front of me every time I got back onto the route, I only found CP 2 due to a shout from Jon which made me turn around to see him pointing in the correct direction.

By CP 3 I was totally spent. The old faithful trail shoes were even more rubbish than I remembered, yup no blisters but that would have been preferable to the constant backwards slide I was getting with every footstep through the most hideous mud the South West has to offer. I could almost cope with the ankle deep stuff and the stuff which was more cow dung than mud because everyone found that hard. It was the constant slipping and sliding on the normal trails, especially the steep tree root infested downhills. The pixies and Woodmen of Bristols forests must have been wetting themselves with laughter at the sight of me. By this stage I had run most of the route by myself which was really bringing me down, in addition it was either bright hot sunshine which made me bake in my winter kit or freezing cold; my bottom lip was about to start wobbling. After a big dose of Man Up I tottered, rather pathetically out of the CP and onto another few hours of trying to figure out where the heck I was.

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After overshooting the route yet again, I found myself alone, on a track with a blank screen on my watch. A desire to stamp my feet and shout ‘it’s not fair’ was almost overwhelming but I managed to take a big deep breath and focus on the problem at hand. Out came the map and instructions and I attempted to figure out which motorways I had gone under by this stage and where I was. I decided to head onto what looked like a bigger track which turned out to be the correct route when out of a tree line Jon appeared, I could have hugged him. He told me that he was pretty spent and was doing a bit if a walk / run and that I would be better not sticking with him. I pointed out that, not only was I shattered but I didn’t have a clue where I was or where I was going and, that if it was ok with him I would rather not leave his side.

And from then on all was right with the world, I had someone to run with and the loneliness went, he knew the route and getting lost was not an option and most importantly, he was a brilliant bloke and we spent the next few hours chatting and actually enjoying the race. CP 4 arrived and I was greeted by Brilliant Bristol Mates who had bravely agreed to look after the kids (Supportive Husband was supporting from a ski slope somewhere in France). Enthusiastic Child 1 and 2 held my hands into the CP creating a moment which I could put in a box and treasure forever, capped off my EC 2 saying ‘come on Mummy, keep running…running’s good for you’ (what have we created!). However, Jon wasn’t hanging around and, as I saw my only means of reliable navigation bound up the hill and out of the CP, I had a quick hug with the kids and hurried after him.

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Before The Downs I finally knew where I was and we both noticed that we had recovered a bit and were doing a decent pace with a bit of a spring to our step (a very little spring). By the Suspension Bridge we knew that the finish was nearby and were able to saviour the view for a few seconds before heading back into Ashton Court and finally finding the finish line, third female for me and a PB for Jon.

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So what can I pass on about this race. It’s certainly not a lovely jaunt on a well marked trail with imps and pixies cheering you along. It is a brutally muddy trail with a few trail markings along the way. I’m ok at map reading but the detail required to get around the trails, roads and woods is something else. However these are just the things which make this race so brilliant; it’s old school ‘do a recce’ trail running, it’s mud which makes you crave summer (and better shoes) and it’s full of the wonderful people who thrive on such challenges as well as a bunch of crazy volunteers who give up their weekends to brilliantly look after runners and support us all in our individual endeavours. So, if your google searches turns up this race, go for it. Just don’t move house the week before it, do a recce or find an experienced Bristolian to run with and listen to all cries of Mud, Mud, Mud.

Photos largely from the Green Man FB page and https://www.flickr.com/photos/115471567@N03/albums/

http://www.greenmanultra.co.uk/the-green-man-ultra/

Bristol CHSW Rainbow Run

People think that running is just running; on foot in front of the other repeat, but I disagree. I believe that it is a diverse and exciting sport with something for everyone. Which is why, last week I found myself, standing with 1,200 other people wearing a white t-shirt, a rainbow bobble hair band (bravely lent to me by a five year old) and none of my much treasured running kit, reflecting on how a week earlier I had been running 100 miles. I was at The Children’s Hospice South West Rainbow Run in Bristol, an annual fund raiser which sees all sorts of fantastically dressed people running around The Downs while someone lobs paint at them.

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The sun was beating down, the kids were turbo excited and I suddenly realised that my hamstrings resembled bow strings and my quads still felt like they were on fire, I had also done absolutely no stretching at all. When I signed up for this I had nonchalantly reasoned that it was 5km at the pace of my smallest Enthusiastic Child, on the start line I reflected that it was a perfect opportunity for an injury so quickly ran through my most basic stretch routine; a runners lunge by me in slightly inappropriately short shorts was probably not what everyone wanted to see.
In no time at all we were off to the shouts of ‘the first colour is green’ from all the kids we were with as they sprinted off into the distance; my hamstrings had not signed up for this! But after being pelted by green we moved on; kids covered in paint and even more excited about what was coming up.

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All the colours of the rainbow followed alongside an emotional fall by smallest Enthusiastic child, a bit of shoulder carrying and lots of laughter before the finish line appeared.
What a brilliant race, we didn’t cut any corners largely due to the conscientious conformity of one Enthusiastic Child and the kids, aged 5-8 largely ran the whole thing. But what struck me most is what races like this achieve, beyond all the wonderful fund raising. This fun packed event saw people of all shapes and sizes out running, got families out running together and put on a fab opportunity to enthuse kids to run and be sporty. How many times were we made to run around our school playing fields in the depth of winter in a t-shirt, shorts and hockey boots, no wonder lots of people are scared of running. Yet, create a run involving powder paint, brilliant volunteers handing out water to drink (which clearly the kids used to spray each other) and a collection of fantastic Bristolians and you have an event which is fun as well as inclusive and we all loved it.

Most importantly for us it was a time to create memories and eventually eat ice cream with some important people in our lives and for Enthusiastic Kids to earn another medal for their collections.

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https://www.chsw.org.uk/events/rainbow-run/bristol

Second photo by Colin Rayner Photography

 

South Downs Way 100

IMG_5519On the bus to the start line of the Millennium Way Ultra, my first long long race, I sat next to a guy who was telling me about how he had recently done a 100 miler.  What a ridiculous idea, who in their right minds would run 100 miles.  But a little thought had entered my mind and I just couldn’t shake it off.  That ultra and the subsequent 50 miler and couple of 100 k’ers seemed like the hardest things in the world but the thought just wouldn’t leave me.  Do I have a 100 miles in me, can I do it?

Last year saw hamstring tendonopathy enter my life along side a patronising physio who told me that I was always going to get injured if I ran ultras, rapidly replaced by a physio who misdiagnosed and wouldn’t listen.  A self designed rehab program followed, linked in with a feeling that I had missed a summer despite managing a team 100km race at the end.

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This year would be different. Which is why I found myself on the start line of the SDW100 with the Green Man and a fair few miles under my belt. At that point, it was already feeling like I had found something special.  Centurion had organised a kids 1 miler the night before which had set our weekend off to a great start watching the next generation of runners bound around the field.  One medal already gained, could mummy bring home a buckle.

I stuck to my race plan from the start.  Amazingly for me, I didn’t try to keep up with the racing snakes who legged it up the first hill and, as I found myself chatting to someone who remarked that this was probably a 15 hour pace, I suggested he ran on as that was certainly not on the cards for me. I wanted to try to crack 80 miles by sundown and accept that the last 20 would be a case of survival but didn’t want to burn myself out; I walked up hills I could have run up and tried to relax going down.

The first two check points flew past, I was well within a manageable pace and knew that I could easily run 60-70 miles doing what I was doing and chose to forget that I needed to run a few more than that.  Supportive Husband and Enthusiastic Son were waiting for me at QE park which was a great boost, quick hug from the small boy then up through the woods on a familiar route.

The next few check points were a bit of a blur, I knew I could cope with what I was doing at the time but was questioning whether I had gone out too fast when I met up with Annabel who was clearly having a great time and was up for a bit of a chat, even though we were both clearly running our own races.  By Washington, I knew that a crash was not far off, I hadn’t run out too fast, I was just running in a totally new type of race, but no time to think about it, head torches stowed and I was off.  The nausea was kicking in pretty badly at this point, I think a mixture of too many calories too early on and the hot sun were playing havoc with me but I reached the piggies feeling ok. For the record, putting a dog leg of down a massive hill into Washington and then up another massive hill out of it seemed pretty damn mean at the time but gave myself and another runner something to laugh about.

By Saddlescombe Farm I was pretty spent, nausea was almost overwhelming and the downhill version of my legs were not working.  But the ladies at that aid station were just what I needed; I was told to drink some water, told I had 10 miles until the next aid station and that, if I couldn’t eat then I would just need to take stuff with me.  Which is why I carried a plastic bag of watermelon for the next 10 miles!

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Left foot, right foot, repeat kept me going from there. By the last two check points, I was conscious that I was not necessarily running in a straight line and I don’t think anything I said made sense but, yet again, amazing CP staff seemed to know what to say and what to do to help me out.  I had convinced myself that I would be running with someone by the dark hours, but I wasn’t which wasn’t as scary as I imagined.  The last time I saw Supportive Husband he told me that this was supposed to be a running race and perhaps I should get running which not only got me running but made me smile.

And then, almost suddenly, the most beautiful trig point in Britain was in front of me along side a couple of very cheery guys showing me the cheeky, ankle twisting route off.  After getting lost at the end of that long path (I know, what was I thinking) I got back onto the route marked by massive reflective tape and chalk on the ground which only a total fool could have missed.  Then onto the track and through the finish line to a massive hug from Supportive Husband and the distant snores of Enthusiastic Child.

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When people ask me about running ultras, they focus on the distance but its not so much about that I don’t think.  Its about Mari holding a gate open for myself and another guy and telling us to go through first, its about Matibini patting my back as he ran past whilst giving me a massive smile, its the guy who asked if I needed him to walk with me for a bit when I was struggling, its getting a big well done from Annabel at the end and about every single runner who ran past me asking me if I was okay.  The distance part of it allows me to compete against my fears and push to see what I can do but within the amazing community which is Ultra running and, for this race the very special community which is Centurion.

This race was easily the hardest thing I have ever done, and i’ve done quite a lot of hard things. But it was a brilliantly organised event with fabulous volunteers at every check point, helping to turn a brutally hard event into a magical one.  It has highlighted many weaknesses, these races always do, and has given me a project of sorting out my weak downhill legs before my next 100.  Sorry, did I just hear myself say, next 100………..

IMG_5523First photo by Stuart March Photography

Why blog

I thought about writing a blog when i embarked on my first Ultra,  thinking it would be a great way to log my journey to the crazy distance i was contemplating.  But life, inevitably got in the way as it has on so many other occasions.

The day before that first Ultra, one of the mums at school, a regular half marathoner, turned to me and said “38 miles mate, that’s an awfully long way”.  As I stood on the start line, her words kept going through my mind and panic set in.  Throughout the race I hardly said a word to another runner or volunteer, I was so overwhelmed by the whole thing.  But I was first female that day, and 4th overall and now, looking back I wish that I had noted down how the training had gone and how the race had felt.  I also realised that I had joined a very special community and, if i carried on being the mute runner then I was going to miss out on the best bits.

Training miles have now started to mount up and i’ve got a few races under my belt.  I wish I had started noting it all down.  Then the SD100 happened, a magic weekend full of magical people, many of whom have posted their blog write ups which i have devoured and thoroughly enjoyed.  So the time has come to overcome the technical Everest which is the interweb and get writing……