A Green Man is a sculpture or other representation of a face surrounded by or made from leaves. … Found in many cultures from many ages around the world, the Green Man is often related to natural vegetative deities. It is primarily interpreted as a symbol of rebirth, representing the cycle of growth each spring.
6 days after the Loch Ness Marathon I found myself standing at the start of GMU 30, the Green Man Ultra (you know, the one in Ira’s book)’s little brother The Green Boy in a pub car park in Keynsham. It was 11am and I realised that the shit that had happened in the year, the sickness and the injuries were just tests. And despite getting low, feeling defeated you get over all the obstacles. And this, a self-nav 30 mile ultra (yes, I had bungled down from the 45) was just another test. And on it I would be joined by one of the greatest people I have met on my running journey, the table dancing sweetheart, young Keith Miller @teef2.
Two races happen the same day, on the same route. Or pretty much the same route. Starting at 8am at a school in SW Bristol the intrepid 152 Green Man runners head out in an anti-clockwise loop of the extremities of the city. They have 12 hours to cover 45 miles. And then, starting 3 hours later and 15 miles around the course the 50 Green Boy runners start, and have 9 hours to cover 30 miles. The race does sell out at 400 but with the rescheduling, and a few I know running the course in March regardless, the final number was nowhere near. And it all seems very doable on face value. But throw in a few hills, mud, and that this is a self-nav race, and things get a bit trickier.
I had originally planned to run this race back in the Spring, just after TGC. It would have meant a mara (gothic) then TGC the next week, then the 45 mile Green Man 6 days later. A tough ask. I tried to bring it down to the 30 mile Green Boy (more manageable) but had missed the deadline. I was resigned to binning it, but then something happened. It snowed. And, as we know when we live in the UK, a few inches of snow and the country grinds to a halt. Races were cancelled all over including Green Man Ultra. And so, with a new date at the end of September I shifted my distance down to 30, knowing it was back on the menu a week after Loch Ness.
I am a little hopeless when it comes to this kinda thing. I possess not one but 2 copies of the Ultimate Navigation Manual, neither of which I have read. I own a Garmin ETrex-10. A hand held device that allows you to upload a GPX file and then follow it using GPS. Of course, I never really tested it. I had planned to at RTTT, just as a dry run, but forgot it. I had 3 compasses upon my person: a wrist-worn one, one attached to a climbing carabiner connected to my Hoka backpack, and one with a plastic square with lines all over it, for map reading and shit. The race organisers give you three sets of instructions too: a set of Ordinance Survey maps, a set of what looks like Google Satellite view of the route, and written directions. A combination of the latter two seemed to work for me in theory so I printed them off. I also downloaded the OS Maps application onto my phone, and the GPX of the route from the race website. This I uploaded to the OS Maps app and the maps you see in the images are from the app. SPOILER ALERT – if it hadn’t been for the application and it’s accuracy and ease of use, as well as the 11 hour Timelord and some old guy named Bob, I would probably be still out there, somewhere in Bristol, cold, muddy, lost and crying, and not at home in Hampstead in front of a roaring fire, rug over my knees, Horlicks in a Statler and Walforf mug on my side table, blogging about the race.
HOW I DID
My plan, as far as it went, was to follow the crowd. To quote the Pet Shop Boys – “Stick with the Gang, if you want to belong.” And I wanted to belong. In my head I naively thought there would always be someone within a few hundreds yards of me, no matter at what pace I pootled along. This theory, for want of a better term, was disproved in exactly 2 miles when I crossed a road, went up a path and took a turning left and not right with two guys running whilst staring at their GPS watch. It was pretty much here that I turn on the OS Maps app for the first time, zoomed in as much as I could and saw, as per the centre picture below, that we (red arrow) had taken the wrong path before the cottages and now had to find our way right through a small wooded area to get back on track (red line).
And this is pretty much how the rest of the first part of the day went through fields of cows and horses, under underpasses, over bridges, alongside a river, and through a town. I wanted to spare my battery, as full GPS and the app running would kill it within 6 hours, and that is being optimistic. And so I would look at the map, memorise the next bit, then turn off the app and all others to save juice. Although, for backup, and very sensibly, I brought with me a portable USB charger, that I had fully charged at the hotel the night before.
In the printed notes, when I read them, I distinctly recall being told that some of the route, the bits across farmland, involved going diagonally across fields. I remember this because the RD noted that people always get this bit wrong. And so, as I came, alone, to a field, I noted a path bisecting it on the diagonal and so took it. Unfortunately, the far, far, far corner of the field was enclosed in hedgerows, and I couldn’t get out. It was all very…
On with the phone, on with the OS Maps app and I had taken the wrong turn going into this field, I should have taken a path that ran parallel to it, then around it. Now, I had to retrace my steps and head diagonally back across the field, then take a sharp right for a hundred yards, to a gate, then 50 yards more and I would be golden. Simple? Um….
I was already a little pissed off with myself for getting lost twice already and decided to see just how dense the hedgerow was. I saw brambles sure, thorns, nothing to be too scared of, and so tried to push my way through to see how far I could get toward where I needed to be. The answer? Not very far. Stamping down a few brambles was fine, but a scratch here, a cut here, the wonderful tearing sensation of my clothes and my skin and I decided it was better to retract my self, else I would end up looking like Jack in American Werewolf in London.
As it was my knee wasn’t too happy with me.
Retracing my steps and I met up with 3 guys sharing one working Garmin. They were running the 45 and were doing well, but two were pretty beaten. We ran together for a while, occasionally coming to a junction. We all started one way. Then the Garmin guy would stop. We would all stop. Then the Garmin guy would squint at his device and choose a second way. I would stop, get out my phone, start the OS Maps app, zoom in and realise neither of those decisions were correct and we should instead go this way. It didn’t help that there were numerous FOOT PATHs, the Community Forest Path, and the Bristol Bath Railway Path, other Pathways, the Dramway, the Frome Valley Way all similarly sign posted and we were not sticking to any of them for this race for very long.
I parted ways with the 3 guys at a field that was clearly the wrong way to go, but they were going to go that way anyway. I left them to it and enjoyed some solitude and tunes, fully utilising the app all the way to the second checkpoint, my bottles refilled (Green Man is cup free! Yay! And given the Green Man was all about ecological awareness then major kudos there) and heading out again before running into local legend Bob. Bob knew the route like the back of his old hand and was happy to run walk all the way, even as a large (for this race that being about 8 people) pace group came by with the 11 hour pacer. My aim was to just get sub 8 hours, especially with getting lost half a dozen times and I was easily on for that even with an extended stop for a proper cup of tea and a sit down at the CP.
Bob really did know the way. He said that if I wanted to run on ahead, when we enter the grounds of Ashton Court take a sharp left and head down and it, being the Green Man, was there. I was ok with sticking with him though, as we joined a grumpy runner from East Sussex who had terrible blisters and was swearing and limping as we reached the picturesque suspension bridge and the crowds of sightseers who looked upon us as if we were freaks. I wore my trail shoes for this race, thinking it would be muddy. I was wrong. The ground was baked solid and my feet were in bits. I just wasn’t bitching about it.
And old Bob was right, we crossed the bridge and climbed the hill to Ashton Court Gate, took a sharp left, and we were there. The Green Man. Well, half of him. A little bit underwhelming but what the Hell. I never got a photo of me at the Stones when I ran 100K to them, I had might as well make the most of actually being there in daylight and take a photo. Boom! And then it was all downhill from there, literally. We were joined by 4 more runners as we ran down the hill, passing a couple of orange clad marshals and the RD, across one last field and then onto the school grounds of Ashton Park school. Bob suggested I run on ahead, but I ran beside him over the line. Even though I had plenty in the tank (and would need it for the 40 mins walk back to the Marriott) he got me through and so I wasn’t going to finish before him.
Grumpy East Sussex Runner, let’s call him Blisters McGee, ran by the friendly, cheering marshals. They asked how he was and told him there wasn’t long to go. Blister’s response was he f’ing hated it, because his f’ing time was shit, and he repeated it as he headed down for the line. This knocked the wind out of the marshal’s sails a bit and so I said I was really happy, it was a great race and thanked her for her support. She told me she loved me and then Bob and I finished the race together.
I have wanted this medal as long as I have been running. I never thought I would get it but here it is, 6 days after Loch Ness. I am pretty chuffed about that.
And Number 29 towards the 100 Marathon club, 2 in 6 days and it is no wonder my poor feet and not happy with me.
And congrats to Keithy Boy, for his run. He was half hour or so behind me the whole way, and still came in under the 12 hour cutoff for the 45.
I have never run a self-nav race before and this showed me just how unprepared I was. Even the guys with the Garmin got lost. The only way you could run this without ever getting lost is sticking with the pacers, or knowing the route first hand. I am very grateful for Bob’s help to get me through. But get me through he did. I crossed several motorways I think, underpasses, footbridges, road bridges, a footbridge above a stagnant stream on the way to the first CP. There are only 2, and with them being 12 and 22 miles into the race that may freak people out. It did me and so my Hoka backpack was filled with Mars bars, 3 water bottles, gels, mint creams, and Pepperami. The bottles being the only thing I used in the end. I have known about The Green Man ultra since I started running. The medal has always be on my TO GET list. And now I have one, albeit the Green Boy but there was no way I could have run 45 miles post TGC back in March, or 6 days after Loch Ness in September. It was, for those who want to do it, a great challenge. Only 200 runners, a not massively challenging route terrain wise, it wasn’t as hard as Tower day 1, or St Illtyds. It was similar to Amersham Ultra and day one of King. The self-nav thing was the issue. If you get lost, you lose momentum. If you get lost you need to stop and then normally retrace your steps back to the right path. I probably added half an hour onto my time just doing that. If you are going to have a go at the Green Man or Boy I suggest getting comfortable with the route, maps, and a decent GPS watch, or app. I do highly recommend the OS Maps app.
WOULD I RECOMMEND THE GREEN MAN/GREEN BOY? I definitely would, but be prepared
WOULD I RUN THE GREENMAN/GREEN BOY AGAIN? I may do, but I’d go back for the 45
The Scores on the Doors