Race Review – Green Man Ultra – GMU30 The Green Boy Rerunning

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful, a miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical. And all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily oh joyfully, playfully watching me. Well, that was how I see the GMU30 when I look back at my running of it last year. But hey, it was good. It wasn’t in the mud and rain of March, it was in the sunshine and relative warmth of September. I finished at sunset. I saw the Green Man in the light of day. The ground was hard. The mud nowhere to be seen. This year, however, 6 months later, with last year still fresh in my mind, I would not be so lucky. I was getting the full Green Boy experience, mud, wind, rain, finishing in darkness and all.

Last Year

I had no expectations 6 days after Loch Ness marathon, coming off the back of an 8 week injury and whooping cough. Oh yes, when my body isn’t happy with me it lets me know it. I had a 9 hour cut off, I had never run a self nav race before, and really had no clue what I was doing. Coming in with over an hour to spare, having gotten quite lost a few times, and broken from the week before I was proud of how I did.

This year

Despite everything I feel like I have had a bad year thus far. I am not looking for people to say “oh, no, you have been amazing, well done, keep it up, etc, yada yada.” I am not writing that for likes or kudos. I am not a fragile princess (well not a fragile one anyway), and am not desperate for the validation of a captive crowd arguing the contrary. This is a personal thing. I feel as if I could have finished Zurich Neujahrmarathon if I had been bothered. It was just that I wasn’t. It was a miserable course, at one in the morning on New Year’s day, and one lap was enough. If it wasn’t laps, and was a single giant loop then I would have been forced to finish it. The format allows those blinded by the race concept to drop out when they are face to face with the reality. I could, if I hadn’t dropped gloves and buff, and then had a brain fart, PBd at Victoria Park, I just didn’t and came up 13 seconds short. I could have run both 33 mile days of Pilgrims but just ran one, the more difficult day (as it has the Box Hill Steps going up), in the snow. I just didn’t. I had psyched myself out and decided to drop to a single day with James. It was hard, it would have been a much slower day 2, and I could have ended up sick or injured, or both, but I could have done it. And Portland, looking back I could have pressed on and caught up with the boys, or just tried for the second half to get around in another 3 hours. So much regret, so many could’ve would’ve should’ve but wasn’ts.  But I guess it was a question of comfort zone plodding.

I am quite aware of my comfort zone. I do push myself from time to time (Ultraks, Comrades, 12 in 12 (twice), the Threshold series, TGC, GMU, Fire and Ice) and I know that Portland would have pushed me (as it did the boys), and both days of Pilgrims would have pushed me more, but on both occasions I chose not to. I cannot go back. I have, as yet, to discover and include time travel on my Linkedin profile. And so it comes to running something that was and will be a genuine challenge again – the Green Man Ultra Green Boy, self nav (I haven’t practised since last time), 30 miles (I have a stinking cold), rigid cut off, and this time around rain, darkness, and MUD! I have a chasm to jump to get to where I am happy… happier… less of a bottler.

I was lucky last year. The snows caused GMU to be rescheduled to September and, despite it being 6 days after Loch Ness marathon and me feeling beaten, I had the joys of running on ground baked by the summer, and a day that enjoyed sunshine for an extra 2 hours.

This time I would not be so lucky and so to the challenge:

  • It would be colder (March instead of September)
  • It would be wetter (rain expected)
  • The ground would be softer
  • Mud
  • The day would be shorter in terms of sundown meaning the last hour could be head torch time
  • It would still be 30 miles
  • It would still be self nav
  • I now have a time to try to beat (7.57 from 2018)

I needed to push on, and a quote from Bristol’s most famous son was needed.

“If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit” – Banksy

I love it when a plan comes together

Stats. Where it all went wrong last time, not that it went massively wrong, needed to be looked at for me to avoid a repeat performance. It was my first self nav trail race on unfamiliar terrain and territory. But there was room for improvement. There always is. Although the Winter green boy would be on mud in the rain and partially at night. So I needed to make gains in daylight. The plan was therefore simple, printed out and taken with.

  1. As I have split pacing on my Polar, try to keep all KMs under 11 mins. There were 10 KMs in September where I took over 11 mins, maybe because I got lost, or it was a CP and I took my time to eat and drink, who knows? But plan number 1 KEEP ALL KMS under 11 mins.
  2. Plan number 2 No stopping at CPs. This meant minimal stops, tap timing chip, or go over the mat, refill bottles and head out.
  3. Plan 3 Run the downs, walk the ups. Natch.
  4. Plan 4 After the first KM follow my rigid 8/2 run walk.
  5. Plan 5. Same as plan 4 Except when one of the US Military Cadences come on. My pod would be on shuffle. There are 50 cadences on there (I wanna be an Airborne Ranger etc), when any of those comes on, regardless if I am walking or it is an up, I would run.

Simple rules, we shall see how that went later.

Before it even started

I’d only been to Bristol on one occasion, and that was to race GMU 2018, despite Brizzie being a hip and happening college town, home to Banksy, a great town to eat by the water, and to watch modern musicians like Chase and Dave (the new Chase and Status/Chas and Dave mashup), Hawkwind and Lady Garden, the all female Savage Garden cover band. I’d stayed at a swanky weddingy type hotel last time with a restaurant and bar and room service. I had walked there from the end of the race, in the dark, cold and tired. This year would be different.

For one I stayed at a lovely hotel closer to the finish, although I Ubered there after the race anyway. It was very comfortable, I got an upgrade so had the largest room, the largest bed and a huge picnic breakfast basket to tide me over. And yes that is wine. And yes, I ended up craving a huge bowl of corn flakes after the race rather than the normal burger. And yes, I ate the mini box of After Eights within minutes of arriving.

The shoes….

My On Cloud Venture trail shoes got destroyed at Pilgrims. They came back looking like something Time Team would dig up. And so I got new ones. They are slightly different. They have a higher and more rigid ankle support. I did not notice this until the morning of the race. I started walking around the room in them and noticed within moments that they rubbed. I knew if I wore them that they would wear a hole through my ankles and it would be very very unpleasant.  With the last train to Keynsham going an hour before the race I didn’t have time to dick about so had to make a decision, and that I did. I decided to bin the Ons for the day and wear my Nike Free road shoes. They would be fine on the road and paths, and I would just pray to God that the mud was not as bad as feared.

Surprise, Surprise

It is a pain getting to Keynsham. The Green Man starts at the finish, at the Ashton Court School, the Green boy starts at the Brassmills pub in Keynsham. It is 6 miles from the finish as the uber drives, and the train is infrequent. If you want to get there in time for the 11am start, and collect your bib, day release timing chip, and go to the loo etc, you need to be on the 9.43  from Bristol Temple Meads. And on it I met up with young Tom, a local runner who had been cajoled into running the Green Boy by his running club. He was young and local, knew some of the route, and had run a recce, but he was very nervous. I put his mind to rest and we talked about running in general. He had never run a road marathon. It was the first thing he said. He had never actually run a trail marathon either. A trail ultra would be his longest race after halves.

Increasingly I find myself meeting people skipping road marathons and going straight to trail ultras. And, after 7 years of running myself, I can kinda see why. They threw a dice, went from couch to 5k to 10K to half, then took the ladder to trail ultra. I went down a few snakes and did a lot of halves, and several road marathons (6 I think) before my first trail marathon, and then my first trail ultra. It was only last year that trail 50ks became more of a mainstay on the game of Snakes and Ladders that is my race calendar.

We talked for a bit and then, as we got out of the train, I was met with a surprise arrival.
He missed me really

It’s definitely his Fault

We hit the pub car park and things were already a little different from the previous year. The timing mat was way in the far corner, and the bib and timing chip table was there too, rather than with the tables and seats in the pub beer garden/outside space. It meant standing around rather than sitting and relaxing. It was then that we met the man who made me run this, and he quite openly acknowledges his guilt, Ira Rainey, author of Fat Man to Green Man. And then, after the same briefing as last year, we were off, and, despite having Keith there, I had to stick to my plan.

The Race

The beginning I remember vividly from the year before, out of the pub, turn right, along a path, down and under the underpass into the first muddy field, along a river to a stile, climb, repeat for a few fields before road, crossing and the railway path. As I got into my mindset, the zone, and queued up the tunes a lady runner pulled alongside. She said she had signed up for this race last year, and that she was injured so couldn’t run it. She was injured for a long time and hadn’t trained much. This was her introduction, not a hi, how are you? Do you run here often? Injury/lack of training right off the bat. I was planning to do a Road runner into the distance at this point, but that would have been rude, so I listened to her story for a while, gave her a pep talk, that we did have 9 hours, that I would be run/walking too, and that she will be fine before I caught up with Keith. I can recognise his bony arse anywhere.

I knew I had people running this too. I had a chance of seeing Ali Davidson, Stephen Reynolds, and Kirstie Carr too and so sped on following my plan as best as I could. And pretty soon I found myself crossing a road with a lot of runners and going up the path behind the cottages. This was the first place I got lost last year. I didn’t realise it was so early in the race.

And then I ran with a couple of guys and crossed a field. It was the diagonal where I ended up stuck and in the bramble hedgerow last year. Were all of my special moments where I got lost this early in the race? It made me chuckle to myself as I joined two others at the junction where last year my group got confused and went into the field. We all went straight ahead, correctly, and I said good afternoon to the house owner who watched us go by. It was all going decidedly well.

At the first CP I was already 7 minutes ahead of my 2018 time and I had bypassed all the places I had gotten lost. This was going well. I was trying to stay off my phone, keeping photos and OS Maps usage to a minimum. Although I did bring 2 fully charged portable USB chargers and kept my phone plugged into one the entire time. See? I do learn, Jenni.

You hear that? I am learning, I do pay attention sometimes. When it suits.

With the KMs ticking over I did finally hit the mud. Fortunately there were no other runners around to see my comical, Bambi on Ice, slip sliding down the paths for a mile or so that really did slow my time. The Nike Frees are soft soled, flat, road shoes that are ideal for my fat wide Fred Flintstone feet. They are, however, no use at all on mud, and so for an exhausting, and slow mile I had to hop from one side of the path to the other, praying I hit a dry bit or a patch of grass. At times I had to take pigeon steps where there was no alternative. But I made it unscathed, other than a scratch on one finger, and without going headfirst in the mud. Bosh. Out and onto the last CP.

Oh yesh, MIsh Moneypenny, I shall have a gorgeoush cuppa.

I had followed the TEAMBOOM guys for a while as CP 2 came into view. I had been fantasizing about a cup of tea all day. I had had enough water and squash to last a lifetime. Last year I spent ages here, here I needed to follow the plan and be in and out but noooooo! I couldn’t. The siren song of PG Tips drew me in and I needed a cuppa, to pee, and then I was off and onto the last 10K 20 minutes ahead of the year before. BOSH! ‘Ave it!

And the last 10K was easy. It was mostly on road, once you have left Blaise Common. Along one road, down the next, climbing all the time until you are greeted by the view of the bridge. It is a truly glorious sight when you know you are 3K from the finish. It is just a ballache to get across as one path is closed and the other is filled with bloody tourists.

I know the way

Having negotiated the bridge you climb more and more to the high stone gates of Ashton Court. The sun had gone down in no time at all and the new Petzl headtorch was on. It had started raining too and I was wrapped up in my waterproof watching the rain obscure my vision as 4 of us entered the grounds to the stately home.

When I ran this last year, dear old Bob showed me the way. It was all very fresh. So I knew as soon as we entered the grounds we took a sharp left and down a path. The other 3 had run on so I called to them. They turned and I pointed them in the right direction before leading them down to the Green Man. That’s the green man, I said. but they didn’t stop or seem to care. What is wrong with people?

I’ve never been too good with names but I remember faces
I pointed them in the right direction. I took the diagonal across the field following the white staked path downhill, then a short up then a stone path to the car park (said hi to the marshal there in the rain – they are superb) and the final diagonal across the pitch dark field to a gap in the hedge where there are race flags (which I couldn’t see in the dark), then onto the school grounds. Here it is easy to aim directly at the shadows in the distance by the building around the dark arch, but you are on the football fields and there’s a fence separating you and your goal and so need to aim for the middle of the fence. But then I am home, cheering shadows, clapping and, within moments, someone demanding my race timing chip. I had done it. But how did I do?

How I did

What I did differently, the not getting lost, recognising a lot of the route, taking portable USB chargers so my phone and OS Maps was already available, my plan and the 11 min KMs, and knowing the time I needed to beat, as well as (unintentionally) #Teamboom I kinda did it. The green boxes are KMs I was faster on this year, red are the over 11 min KMs (stopping, toilet, getting lost, mud). I didn’t fully eradicate the 11 min KMs but there were a lot less, so much so that I was (official times yet to be published) 32 minutes faster than last year, despite coughing up a lung a few times and walking a chunk. I am happy with that. 

The Bling

Still a classic, and with a different ribbon this year. Medal number 196 in my running life of 7 years, and 33rd that counts towards my 100 Marathon Club in 41 months of maras. Not bad for an old bastard.

The Summary

At the start of the year I came up with a set of goals

  1. 5K PB by 2 mins
  2. 10 PB by 5 mins
  3. Half PB by 10 mins
  4. Mara PB by 30 mins
  5. 50K PB by 1 hour
  6. Hit 50 Marathons in my 100MC attempt
  7. 1000 miles for the year
  8. Beat 2018 time at St Illtyds Ultra
  9. Beat 2018 time at Green Man Ultra 
  10. Beat 2017 time at Portland Coastal Marathon
  11. 50 parkruns total, with at least 10 new events

I didn’t run the Portland Coastal Marathon in the end so I can’t complete that one but I can definitely cross off number 9 (Beat 2018 time at Green Man Ultra). At one point I was on for a 6 hour finish. I had a plan, I stuck to it for the most part and it paid dividends. Maybe that is what I need to do for the big races, chillaxing on the others.

This race meant a lot to me. It is very hard, and it very early in the year. What kind of twonk starts the year with Pilgrims, Portland and GMU? And somehow, although the results were not brilliant I did try at least. I was sick going into this one but, other than coughing up green goop and adorning the footpaths of Bristol with it, I kept it together. I had a plan and stuck to it and I did take a chunk off last year’s time. For want of a word, I am proud of myself. I am not one for blaming anyone else, it is all on me, and for once I feel I did ok.

I do highly recommend the Green Man, the Green Boy at least. I know self nav seems scary but this time there were lots more runners around and I didn’t get lost at all. You won’t regret it.

WOULD I RECOMMEND THE GREEN MAN/GREEN BOY? YES

WOULD I RUN THE GREEN MAN/GREEN BOY AGAIN? YES

Next Up: The Big Half

Afterword

Official Results are out. I finished exactly 32 minutes better than last year.

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