Strange things abound down in the South West… Nearby we have Glastonbury Tor, Avebury stone circles and even Minehead Butlins…. But maybe one of my favourite oddities is “The Green Man Challenge” – a 44 mile route around Bristol which has a bit of a cult status. Anyone who completes this tour is awarded the status of a “Woodwose” – aka a wild man of the woods… I’m not kidding about this stuff – there’s a website and everything!
So – naturally, ultra runners would push the boundaries right? Ultra Running Limited put on a race in March each year on the route – I’ve done it twice and really enjoyed it. In fact, I enjoyed the route so much I did an unofficial run in November of 2014 meeting-up with an old ultra-runinng buddy for 25 miles in the middle of the session.
People ask me why do I love this route so much? I’m a mountain Guy – the Green Man is pretty rural and rolling, only 3,500′ ascent over 45 miles. I’d do that sort of ascent in 5 miles in the mountains! There’s lots of tarmac, styles and kissing gates. Cows, cow pats, mud and muddy pasture… On paper it sounds nasty? But – I tell you what, after a few months of gnarly hills, mountains and rocky stuff – it’s nice to ground yourself back into urban reality a bit. Running through pastured fields, urban and rural housing estates while everyone sleeps is a unique experience!
So – The Green Man Midnight Express. Like the name implies, it starts at midnight about 5 miles south-east of Bristol. It was a normal Friday, so I was was up at 06:00 and worked all day in Cardiff, home at 17:00 and killing time until the drive over the bridge to that foreign country for the start at midnight.
I’d guess most, if not all of the 30 people starting knew what they were doing! You don’t just randomly find out about this sort of stuff. I only got a last-minute place by emailing Steve the RD. Eventually midnight rolled-around with a muted “Go” so as not to awake the residents we headed off into the night.
I was dead last at the start, lots of kissing gates and styles slowed the pack down. Navigation was really tough – on a mountain route it’s easy, you just head for the highest peak! Urban trails twist and turn, there’s lots of little paths and bridleways splitting off in all directions. This is where my GPS paid dividends – I stuck to the route like glue and helped guide a pack through to CP1 where I was straight in-and-out.
Some days you’re happy to chat with runners, some days you just want to focus and run – tonight was a focus night. A couple of chaps caught up with me and we shared a bit of banter. One lad had never done an ultra, the other has only just done a 50k recently – they were moving fast and well so we jogged through to CP2 where I had a quick pit stop and legged-it off alone.
From CP2/15-miles I was pretty-much on my own to the finish and did my Gandalf “None Shall Pass” routine! It was a nice easy run round the outskirts of Bristol… The Green Man is a bit grim through the middle, industrial and urban areas but rewards you with some great scenery later on.
It got light around 05:30, initially I’d targeted sub-10 hours but it was obvious that it was going to be a bit short. After the UTPD last weekend and with the Ridgeway Challenge next weekend there was no point in trashing myself so it was a nice, easy jog/walk through the final few miles until about 1 mile from the finish.
I was looking at my map as I wondered where this mountain came from – surely there are no Alpine peaks in Somerset? Apparently, this peak is called “Guy’s Hill”!
The run had its low points – but that’s only to be expected on a 45 mile run. I love night running through the unknown, and watching the dawn break over some classic scenery is something everyone should experience.
I finished at about 10:20am and was home, back in Cardiff for midday! I still can’t quite comprehend that over the course of about 30 hours I did a full days work, drove to another country, ran nearly 50 miles and then drove back home! 12 hours later I’m still not ready to go to sleep…
Ultrarunning Limited know how to put on a good race! The medals are pretty awesome too – my new “Midnight Express” Green Man medal sits proudly with the other Green Man medals. The Green Man is a brilliant introduction to ultras for the newbie and still a testing route for the more experienced.
Ira Rainey has a book about his journey which, I’m ashamed to admit I have’t bought or read – however it does get rave reviews. Plus – he told us about a diversion last night, so for that reason only I’ll give him a plug!
Buy it from Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/books/dp/191008901X/ref=tmm_pap_title_0