So what is the Green Man Challenge?
For those of you not familiar with it, here’s an extract below from https://gaveller.wordpress.com/about/the-green-man-challenge/
Back in 2014 I completed my first Green Man circuit as part of the organised Green Man Ultra event (http://www.ultrarunningltd.co.uk/green-man-ultra.html ). I discovered then that the Gaveller was actually a real person (Chris Bloor) and not a mythical character. I remember saying afterwards that it was fun and wondered if it would be possible to do a double Green Man circuit ( 2 loops) in 24 hours. At the time I think people thought I was just joking.. but I wasn’t. I thought about it and realised the easiest way to do it would be to do it as part of an organised event so that there would be checkpoints with water/snacks every 10-15 miles or so to make it logistically easier. I think I even got as far as suggesting it to Steven Worrallo at the time but back in 2014, Green Man Ultra only had 120 entrants and the midnight summer version of the event had barely I dozen I think. 2015 saw the GM double in size. I entered again in the March daylight edition and cut nearly 90 minutes off my time finishing 7th lady in 9 hours 10 mins. I’d contemplated ‘doing a double’ then but had just started seeing Stu Wilkie (who won the Green Man Ultra in 2014) and we’d got a date booked for after the race (in Green Man pub in Kingsdown) and that seemed way better idea than twonking out a 2nd loop on my own…
I semi regretted not doing the double then though as conditions were great and I was a bit fitter back then. So shoot forward a year (ignoring the dozen or so Ultras in between) and Green Man Ultra 2016 was again in the calendar for me…. I’d again contemplated doing a ‘cool down’ lap (or warm up lap) after or before the race on 5 March, but with Viking Way Ultra in the calendar for 2 April, I decided against it. I’d raced far too much in 2015 (completing 13 Ultras, 7 over 100 miles in length, and finishing with DNF at the Hill at no. 14), and this had taken its toll on my body.
‘idiot chip’ is the thing I usually install in my brain on morning of race day of an ultra (or day or two before), Idiot Chip keeps me awake and makes me do things I can’t normally do… unfortunately at Green Man Ultra race in March 2016, I didn’t bother installing it and I did pretty badly in the race – I felt ill from the start and keep having really bad dizzy spells and almost quit and finished in my worse time ever of 10 hrs 48. In retrospect I think that had I been doing a double that day, Idiot Chip would have done it’s job in keeping me focused and engaged and ignoring the fact that I felt ill and I would have had a better race and managed the double. Unfortunately just doing a single loop was sensible so I’d not bothered engaging ‘idiot chip’ as didn’t think it was needed. After the GM, I felt a bit down and looked again at my calendar.
So why do Double Green Man 4 weeks later?
Basically I decided to drop out of Viking Way Ultra. It was a long way to travel (about 10 hours each way when I factor in childcare too) and although I felt I probably could finish it (if I didn’t get lost), there was a 99.999% chance that I would get completely lost and have no idea of where I was going. My eyesight is rubbish in daylight and completely useless at night. The rules of the Viking Way Ultra are strict in that you aren’t allowed to use any GPS / electronic mapping so I would have to be following the route by using maps and following signs along the way. Problem is I can barely see signs in daylight and at night I have no chance – without using my Garmin 650, I’d really need to rely on following someone else (which isn’t really advisable with such a small field of entrants). So doing Double Green Man would be my consolation prize. It would ‘tick it off the list’ and otherwise I know I’d be tempted to do it in Summer (when I should be prepping for Tooting 24 hour track race. Also I thought all the original Woodwoses didn’t do Green Man as part of a race, they just went out and did it. It therefore felt more fitting to do it myself and not part of an organised race.
I’ve also been inspired by a range of ultra running friends / (non-ultra) running friends in their commitment and determination to push themselves to be as good as they can be. I’ve seen Stu fight his way back to fitness relentlessly time and time again setting himself incredible goals and pushing himself to achieve them.
A little bit of help from friends
I realised I needed help. I knew I could park somewhere on the course so would only need enough supplies for one loop but 45 miles (or 46 as I almost do a little bit of ‘bonus getting distracted and going the wrong way’ mileage) is too far for me to carry enough water. I knew of some points on route that I might be able to get water, as Brian Robb (the Green Man Midnight Express winner) had given me a 32 mile guided tour trot (well hike actually as I’d a torn hamstring at the time and my legs refused to run after 5 miles), and had shown me a water hose at a church in Pensford and tap at Kendleshire Golf Course, and he’d kindly offered to leave a bottle of cola by a gate on B4465, and I knew a couple of points where shops might be open in daytime, but to rely on those sources of water/drink being there all through the night was risky. I also knew that I needed Stu involved. He’s the Green Man champ from 2014 and our first date (on Valentines day) started at the Green Man’s head in Ashton Court. I also knew I’d not be able to sleep if he was out running on his own all night and he’d feel the same if I was out all night on my own, so although I knew it would mean him missing a nights’ sleep, I wanted him involved too. I needed him there along the course especially on the night section, keeping me fuelled with coffee and Wilkie hugs. I also knew Strava bike mileage was very kudos’able so it didn’t take much persuasion for him to agree to join me on his bike with huge flask of coffee from around 9pm onwards. I was a bit anxious he might forget though. I also thought that running 92 miles on my own (especially at night) might be a bit hard going – I was comfortable doing the daytime loop on my own -and have often run long sections of ultras at races alone and not seeing anyone between checkpoints – but thought just having someone join me for a section on the early part of the night might give my brain an well needed rest from ‘having to see’ to navigate and I could just relax and trot along for a bit. So I posted a quick message on Green Man challenge facebook group (slightly cryptically) as wasn’t sure whether to mention openly I was going to attempt the double or not…
A few friends (whom I could have shared my plans with) said they would have joined for a section but it wasn’t the best day etc. but as always I was again blown away by the generosity of strangers in the running community and two Woodwoses (Ray Betterton and Vanessa Hawkins) agreed to join me for a section on lap 2 from Long Ashton to Warmley. Brian Robb also said he’d help out in some way too and he agreed to join me for the first bit from Henbury where I was going to start (having run to mine first from Mangotsfield.. and then he’d get to a point somewhere and veer off through town and run back to Mangotsfield.. and then of course he’d still be ok for his running training in the evening… – this of course being his taper time for Manchester Marathon 🙂 – gulp! Now that’s the type of endurance I’d like to have).
Geoff Partridge also said he might be able to pop up with any needed supplies / water if needed en route and was a very welcome face at Hambrook on lap 1 when he appeared with some water which was ace as it was a hot day and I’d have run out by the time I got to my van otherwise.
Ideally I’d have started (and finished) at Ashton Court. It would have felt symbolic with the Green Man’s head being there and GM Ultra starting/finishing there in the March edition of the race but there just wasn’t anywhere I could find there where I could park my campervan (my only transport) for more than a few hours, so I decided to start at Henbury where I knew I could park on route. My youngest son goes to school up there (as they have a deaf unit) so I was familiar with how to get there and where I could park for free. I decided to do 2 laps both in the anti-clockwise direction as I was far more familiar with the course that way around. So a plan was forming. Start at 7am from Henbury (with Brian Robb for company for first section to Ashton Court) and then carry on solo (meeting my mum for lunch at Warmley with more water, topping up at Pensford Church if needed) and then carrying on to Henbury to end of lap 1 where I could take a short refuelling stop and kit for 2nd lap overnight (so warm coats, more food and drink and head torches / batteries / USB charger for phone etc). I’d then carry on to Long Ashton where I’d meet Ray and Vanessa who would run with me until Warmley. Stu would cycle on his bike after work and meet us at Norton Malreward (with coffee #TrueStart! and Wilkie hugs) and would then meet at other points for lap 2. Brian had said he’d keep an eye out too (as I had a tracker) and might join for a later bit if needed – but he could see from Stu’s update that all was fine so wisely he didn’t come back out but had left some welcome cola at a gate too.
On lap 1 I decided to take the Woollard diversion from the March edition of the race as I couldn’t recall the reason for the diversion and worried it was something to do with a bull in a field. But at Kendleshire golf course I thought I’d go through the golf course which is a public footpath and the official route even thought we took diversion on race day this year probably because they didn’t want 300+ runners stomping over the greens. I needed to go through there as knew I could stock up with water there. On 2nd lap I didn’t take the Woollard diversion as had met up with Ray and Vanessa by then and let Ray do the navigating and he was sure there wouldn’t be a Bull. And at the golf course on lap 2 I took the race route diversion on basis that it was 2am in the morning and my garmin gpx had the race route on it which went around the golf course – slightly further along the road- and I didn’t fancy trying to navigate the the correct line on the green within my little pink gpx line.. Also as that bit was by a road, Stu was cycling alongside me on his bike and by going on the road around the golf course he could stay with me for that small section which was nice.
I did ‘strava’ it on my 2 Garmins (changing after 68 miles as first one went flat) and the run can be seen at https://www.strava.com/activities/534874459
As I was going to be out there ‘on my tod’ for a lot of the run, I wanted to have some means of people tracking me for safety’s sake. I asked the specialist in this ares (Rich Cranswick) what he’d use and he recommended View Ranger Buddy Beacon. The Trouble was that I just couldn’t get it to work, I’d tried testing it with Stu a few times beforehand and I’m normally quick techie but rather than waste more time on it, I just managed to hire a portable tracker at a special rate as only needed it for a couple of days. My link was http://maps.opentracking.co.uk/rozglover.cfm?n=1&smart=1 so people could see where I was alone the course. There was a few glitches with the tracker initially – one website glitch to start with and then further glitches at times where it lost satellite signal. Ideally the tracker should be strapped to the outside of a pack so it’s in clear view of satellites but unfortunately it was delivered without it’s waterproof casing and it was vital not to get it wet (or it would break and it was worth £600) so I’d felt I needed to keep it inside my bag in the end. I did waste a bit of time on the day fiddling with it to try to get it to reboot to pick up a signal again and emailing the company to get the website glitch sorted, but I tried not to get too stressed about it. It worked by and large ok with a few bits of turning it off and on (and checking and rechecking on my phone). It gave me a feeling of safety that I wouldn’t have had without it and made it easier for Stu to see where I was on the course (and others too who were following my progress)
All I wanted to do on this one was to try to get both laps done within the 24 hour official Green Man challenge time. I always think of Green Man loop (with it’s varying terrain and mud) as feeling the same as a 50 mile flat race and my pb for GM loop is 9hrs 10 (compared to 8hrs 48 along 50 miles of TP. So in my head 2 loops of GM would ‘feel’ a bit like a 100 miler of a flatter course. Generally I’d say to get a 100 miler done in 24 hours (starting early in morning), I’d want the first half done in 10 hrs (as generally I’d multiply my 50 miler time by 2 and add on my marathon pb).. So I knew this would be tough as I’d only managed 10 hrs 48 in the race a few weeks previous so I knew I’d have to be keep up running where I could as long as possible and not slip into ‘death march’ mode too early on. I knew I’d not stop and drop even if I realised I wouldn’t make sub 24 (I’m the queen of gutting it out to the finish even when wrecked…), but that I’d probably want another crack at it soon if I didn’t get sub 24 (which would mess up my training for Tooting) so the best thing to do would be to keep pressing on as much as possible until I was then safely going to get sub 24 and then ease off a bit to make sure I limited the inevitable damage that that distance can do to feet/body. Lap 1 was ticked off in 10 hrs 10 mins. It took me about 15-20 mins to kit up (battery changes, USB charger for phone, coat change, head torchs, multiple spare batteries for torch) eating, refilling bottles, a fb update etc. before I set off for lap 2. This would have been easier at a race where cp volunteers could have helped but I needed to take the time to ensure I had everything I needed as I didn’t want a missing bit of kit (like a head torch battery) to jeopardise completion.
I knew that as soon as it got dark, that’s where I’d be going slower as would need to check and recheck that I was going the right way. Everything looks unfamiliar to me in the dark and trying to remember the route when I couldn’t see whether something looked familiar or not would be hard. I didn’t really want to realise I’d taken a mile detour or something. I was so so grateful that Ray and Vanessa were joining me at Long Ashton. It was still light when I met them but I knew it would get dark soon after. I had to stop at Long Ashton to buy some cheap caffeine energy drink as I was getting a bit tired and needed a boost. I then felt very sorry for Vanessa as my first caffeine jolt for 14 hours kicked in big time and I gabbled on non stop for hours. She was very patient. Ray initially he’d be led by me and they’d just trot along side but then I realised that ideally I’d want to just rest my brain from navigating (and seeing) for a bit and to relax and follow them so Ray trotted on ahead – making sure he didn’t get too far away – while I just followed behind with Vanessa alongside. It was ace to relax and just know that I could travel with this entourage until Warmley. It really kept my spirits up. They both were very good at putting up with my swearing at the hills; non stop caffeinated chatting as I ‘overshared’ my life story with Vanessa; coughing and wheezing from bad asthma when it got a bit damp and cold in the air; moaning about blisters; constant wanting reassurance that we were going the right way; and then hours of me wretching (luckily dry wretching and not actually being sick) from half way along the Chew ‘oh this is normal’ I said … Hopefully I didn’t put Vanessa off the longer races too much as I reckon she’d rock at the 100 milers (or more). Without Vanessa and Ray, achieving sub 24 would have been much more of a struggle later on. In fact when they left at Warmley, I think I said I didn’t think I’d make sub 24 anyway but that if I did it would be down to them getting me to that point so smoothly as I knew then it was only about 19 miles to go. Geoff Partridge also joined for a little section just before Keynsham and onto Warmley. Ray also magically opened lots of gates too so I wasn’t having to clamber over them as they’d just magically open when I got there and then he’d close them behind me.. I really missed that later on when trying to heave myself over frozen gate after frozen gate or slippery style after slippery style as the frost set in and the frozen fog.
Ray, Vanessa and I at Norton Malreward
When Ray and Vanessa left it was just Stu and I left. Originally he was just going to cycle to each main ‘race cp’ location to meet me with coffee and hugs at the ready but we both realised that seemed a long way apart so instead Stu met me at all possible road locations. After Parkway, there’s quite a bit of road location that we could travel together which was nice. We had our usual bicker at one point as we were both tired and cold.. I made the mistake of asking ‘is this the right way?’… what I really meant was ‘I’m tired and need reassurance that I’m going to make it on time’ but Stu’s tired ‘of course it’s the right way, I did win the race in 2014 you know..’ showed me we were both a little bit tired. It wasn’t much fun for either of us really between 2am and 5am as I was freezing (as was Stu) and my constant wretching can’t have been that appealing. But we know each other well enough to not let it get to either of us and just to keep it together mentally and keep moving. The flask of coffee Stu brought with him was amazing. Last year I suffered a lot on a few races from bouts of falling asleep on my feet and hallucinations during races overnight but I think this time, having both the coffee and knowing that I needed to keep focused and pushing to meet sub 24 and the ‘slight stress’ of navigating in dark through fields, woods and hills in mud on my own kept me awake. Stu was amazing at being there when I needed him and I was so glad he’d come along as it would have felt a bit flat without him there. My main worry was my asthma as the thick freezing fog was making breathing really hard going and I was getting through shed loads of ventolin.
At some point – just after Hambrook I think – I looked at Stu and said ‘I know nothing’s guaranteed, but I’m actually going to make this aren’t I?’ And yes, all I needed to do was to ‘not cock up big time’ and I’d comfortably make it. I relaxed a bit on the pace and just kept moving. Frome Valley was difficult as there was deep mud up to my knees in places and bits that tried to suck my shoes off and losing a shoe with less than 15 miles to go would have been a tad annoying. There was the odd couple out in strange places in cars as well.. Fields of livestock were hard too. Trying to make myself invisible when going through a field of cattle (whilst still wearing the brightest head torch around) was not much fun and somehow every single horse out there would follow me and nudge me or just lie against the gates that were the exits to the field so I’d literally have to clamber over them.
It was an ace feeling when I got past spinorium hill (partly because I knew that was the last hill) and partly because I knew there was not far to go at all. I went through the last few fields and could see a headlamp (Stu’s head torch) in the distance at the other on and looked down at my phone and saw Stu’s text at 5:56 ‘Go go go!!’
I knew it was just the home stretch down into Henbury now to the Van and the finish. I did try trotting a bit on the last bit but though ‘nah’ just walk fast until the end
Final motorway crossing before henbury
Done. 23 hours 16 mins..
Damage assessment the next day (Saturday) parkrun volunteering as tailrunner.
Not too bad. Have a bit of a tight chest still but managed 9.5 min mile pacing for couple of miles warm up and the beauty of tailrunning is that you just go at the speed of the slowest runner so I was able to just walk fast with occasional trot for the 5K. A then quick (very gentle) leg massage from Stu later (ps highly recommend his sports massage.. though glad I got just a light touch today -https://www.themedical.co.uk/practitioners/stuart-wilkie ) and considering what I put them through, I think I got let off lightly when it comes to damage. My legs are a bit swollen still (always get post ultra oedema) and have 3 less toenails than Thursday morning (down from 7 to 4 now) and just the rubbing on my back caused some nice scars to my back and everythings a bit tight but I also know that if I did want to use my Taunton Marathon place tomorrow (4:30 cut off) I’m confident I’d manage it ok. I’m not going to do it though because I also know it would do more harm than good and I just need to take it easy for a week at least before focusing back to training for my next one.
So Green Woman Challenge anyone?
I was absolutely blown away by the certificate that the Gaveller handed over to me tonight (2nd April) at the Green Man pub in Bristol.
Seeing the original trophy of the Green Man challenge up there with the small number of Woodwoses who went out years ago (often alone) to do the Green Man challenge. Yes I think it’s right that the Green Woman challenge should be twice the distance of the Green Man challenge. I’m not particular fit (just a bit stubborn and determined) but basically if I can do two loops in 24 hours then it’s a very achievable challenge. I’ve not set the bar very high either. I reckon I could probably (in good conditions) and with more hours of daylight cut at least 1 1/2 hours from that time and I’m sure lots of runners could do it far quicker than that. The route’s there permanently – there’s water stops en route (and most people will have friends who will pop out to help) so go on… you know you want to…
Mind you, if Steve Worrallo decides to set it up as an official race next year(or someone else e.g. a running club) then that would make it even more accessible to all, then count me into that starting line up :-). Though I also like the Gaveller’s idea of linking the Green Man route to the Green Goddess route around Bath… Too many trails, not enough weekends.
For those of you wanting to help keep such Community Forest Path’s open and usable for all us adventurers out there, details of how you can help (as adventurer, volunteer or financial supporter) are available at https://friendsofcfp.wordpress.com/about/