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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/