Greenman Ultra 2015 & 2016

The Greenman Challenge is an ultramarathon of approximately 45 miles around the outskirts of Bristol organised by Ultrarunning Ltd. There’s lots of folklore around Greenman which some runners embrace with dyed green hair – I didn’t notice any this year, but there were a few last year. Instead of pacers, they introduced Time Lords last year, people who know the route well and plan to finish in 9, 10, 11, and 12 hours. IMG_5981.JPG
Last year I used the race in my warm up for the Marathon Des Sables. It is ideally placed at the start of March with the MDS at the start of April. There were a number of others doing the same, easily identified by their bright yellow WAA Ultra MDS packs and drinking bottles mounted on their chests on the shoulder straps.
I ran the race with Naomi, who had been ill all week, but determined not to be sent home sick or she wouldn’t be able to race at the weekend. She stuck it out and finally stopped puking Friday morning, just in time to travel down that evening ready for the race on Saturday. We went out that night and eat the biggest pizzas you’ve ever seen with every topping you can imagine, and then got an early night.
We met Holly, who was to be one of my MDS tent mates before the start, and also had a chat with Mo, Harry, and Ben who were also going to the MDS.
We set off fairly strongly in a group. We were delighted to get to the first checkpoint in a reasonable time, though for some reason our faces on arrival didn’t reflect that; we all look utterly disgusted by something! Stocked up on peanut butter and jam sandwiches and a couple of frazzled and went on our way.
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We faded probably some way between checkpoint 2 and 3 and Holly went on ahead, but when we got to checkpoint 3, found they’d run out of water and had to wait while they fetched more. We were delayed at that checkpoint (26 miles in) for around 15 minutes, but made the most of the time by grazing up and down the buffet on offer. The water arrived, and we filled out bottles and headed off. Immediately Naomi, had stomach pains, and for the next 19 miles she was very unwell. We made slow progress, but she did not stop. I can’t imagine how awful she must have felt so what a trooper for keeping going.

We got a little lost somewhere around a bridge crossing back and for wondering which was the right way. Then made it into the Ashton Court Estate. We read the instructions to go down at pat the Greenman on the head, but thought that was just a diversion from the line we were taking and by this point Naomi had had enough, so we headed straight on. And the curse of the Greenman stuck! Naomi is very good at maps and directions, but was tired at this point. There were a few runners ahead of us, and we disagreed with the line they were taking, but lazily we followed regardless. We ended up getting lost and unable to get out of the grounds coming up against locked gates. We did climb out over a high wall, but not before me stopping for a wee and encountering some stinging nettles – ouch! The 2/3 miles back to the HQ and finish line were painful!! But we made it, and in a shade under 11 hours so not half bad. We were greeted at the finish line by chilli and rice with garlic bread, bright green finishes t-shirts, huge medals and certificates declaring us Woodwoses, signed by the gaveller!

This year Naomi couldn’t make it, but my MDS tentmates Alan and Sherif came, and I ran with Alan. Or rather, I bolted off and he caught up with me a around mile 12 and we stuck together from there on in. The terrain was much more difficult than the previous year, much softer underfoot to put it mildly….squelchy mud up to my knees at some points, and just plain slippy!

I felt so strong and we were making good progress. I’d started the race aiming for around a 9 hour finish time, but we were for a good while on track for just over 8. Alan bonked before the last checkpoint – he was hungry and grumpy! Alan and I run well together, and there have been times when he has pulled me along and waited for me, and times when the roles have been reversed, but generally we’re reasonably well matched. By this point we were on for maybe 8:30 and someone told us “well done, you’re on for 9 and a half hours”, when I questioned it, he was quite insistent and I was quite put out! It turned out what had happened was the 9 hour time lord had passed him about 30 minutes previously, which is why he’d thought that. But the 9 hour time lord and his group of followers slowed more significantly in the last miles than us, and we finished in 8:40, but not before a dramatic sprint finish.

This year the start had been moved back 3 miles, so the start and finish were in Ashton Court Estate. I had been carrying my phone for a couple of miles saying we would pose for a picture with the Greenman as I hadn’t the previous year. Alan said no, we weren’t faffing and we had to finish the race and then go back. But I wasn’t trudging back up the hill – I was ready! As we entered the estate grounds, I saw a girl ahead of us, and I recognised that she was about to go straight on and make the mistake I had last year instead of going left immediately after the gates. “She’s gone wrong” I hissed at Alan, “it’s left”. We turned left as a spectator told her of her mistake, she turned back and saw us and sped up. We passed through a metal gate and she was hot on our heels. I had my camera ready though and pointed Alan in the direction of the Greenman. He trotted back up the hill a couple of metres to where he’d missed it and I, running backwards took a few shots of him posing, then we blasted downhill together. The girl yelled at her companion “WHICH WAY?!” Boy, she sounded mad. We ran all out for that last kilometre to the finish. We crossed the line together in 8:40:54. The other pair finished 37 seconds behind us. They came over, and she asked me how long I’d been trailing her. I honestly hadn’t been, and didn’t have a clue about anyone’s positions in the race, and the first time I’d seen her in hours was as we entered the grounds. She said she thought I was 3rd and offered her congratulations, and I said “nah, they just gave that girl a 3rd place trophy for the shorter distance as she crossed the line, and I didn’t get one so we must have been at least 4th and 5th”. I didn’t feel remotely guilty about pulling her to a podium position, and my plan as discussed with Alan for the race was always going to be a downhill sprint from the Greenman to finish the race. Turns out though, I did! They opened the trophy box and found the trophies for 1st, 2nd and 3rd Male and Female for the 45 mile race missing, so while I’d seen them handing out prizes to athletes running the 30 miler, I really had placed 3rd female in the race, and my trophy was to be posted to me. I only realised this a couple of hours later in the car home when Alan read the results which had been posted. RESULT!

Greenman is an awesome race, not too hilly (though turns out to be a lot hillier this year than I remembered it being last year), lovely scenery with woody sections and views of the Severn Bridge and Bristol Channel and a crossing of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in running an ultra in this area, and especially as a warmup race for MDS. It’s well organised, with well stocked feed stations, good chilli and rice at the finish, and awesome (huge) medals.


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