Back in August 2014 I read a book by Ira Rainey called “Fatman to Greenman” probably as it seemed quite apt for me being a bit of a big fella. The book was all about Ira’s training for the race which follows the Community Forrest Path circumnavigating Bristol, some path, some road, some trails and a lot of mud, hills and wildlife. It was also an extension to the Greenman Challenge where any person could complete the route in under 24 hrs the would be added to an ancient group of Woodwose’s by the Gaveller.
Woodwose: Anybody who conquers the 44-mile (ish) Green Man Challenge around the Community Forest Path is termed a Woodwose, from the Old English wuduwāsa or wood-being, regardless of gender. Woodwose is the proper name for the wild men and wild women that haunted the imaginary forests of medieval Europe and is entirely appropriate for anyone mad enough to conquer the Community Forest Path!
Well that was it I was hooked I must do this race. After some research into the event run by Steve of Ultrarunning Ltd from Worcester I entered the main March event. Seeing how difficult the course was I thought it would be useful to have a recce over a weekend. Maps and routes printed off Julia and myself headed of to Bristol in late November. Following 3 days of running round a very muddy course (I had to change in the hotel shower due to being plastered in it) and getting vey lost (I did an extra 4-5 miles). That showed more thought was needed. The answer was technology, GPS tracker and electronic maps purchased a further recce was needed to test their usefulness and my stamina. Back to bristol and the end of January I set out to see if technology would help. It did, a short run on arrival with Julia picking me up at the top of Dundry Hill before heading back to the hotel prior to what would be my longest run ever in the morning. Early start with the intention of running until it started to get dark. 7 1\2 hours later and extremely tired I reached the Blaze inn at Henbury. My second visit here covered in mud and I ordered my usual os a pint of lime and soda followed by a Guinness chaser while I waited for my amazing support crew (Julia) to attempt to find her way out of Bristol City centre. 60 minutes later she managed to navigate the 6 miles to Henbury and take me back to the amazing room we had at our new hotel for the weekend the Thistle Bristol city centre where we had been given the Bridal Suite (best room I have ever stopped in). The next day Julia ran with me to complete the final few miles (8) and a successful weekend completed now happy with the route and new Tec, just wait for March 6th now.
All great plans and that, 4 days before the 6th I went down with the flu (even the doctor said ouch when he took my temperature and he’d kill me if he caught it). Race off, but I was still going just incase I got miraculously better. After a couple of Days in bed and feeling a lot better we (including out Daughter Erin this time) headed back off to Bristol with me still thinking I may be able to do it but in the end listened to Julia and pulled out but we went along to watch the start and onto checkpoint one where Julia and me went for a short run which confirmed to me I was not capable as I kept having to ask her to slow down. We did however enjoy the day and still felt involved in the event. I would now have to come back next year.
Disappointed, I thought of all that training wasted (and cost), but then I found another race this year "The Greenman Midnight Express” same organisation but run in August starting at midnight doing the course in reverse. Knowing what I did without even taking the start time into consideration the route was harder clockwise. Nothing else to do but back up to Bristol to check out the route backwards. Towards the end of June my intrepid support crew Julia (who is now getting really good at driving round Bristol) and me headed back to Bristol where I ran the First 2 checkpoints (ending in Henbury again) and Julia ran a 23 mile section with me on the second day finishing at another of our favourite bristol pubs, The Lockeeper in Keynsham. Happy with this I now entered the race.
At this point I mustn’t forget the other training events we managed to slip in between our visits to Bristol; London Marathon 3hrs 42, The Ox Ultra (Wiltshire) 38 miles 6hrs 50, The Dorset Invader 27.5 miles 4hrs 54 and Salisbury 54321 27.5miles 5hrs 14 joint effort.
The big day finally came, Midnight Friday 22nd August at Norton Malreward Village hall the 30 entrants gathered all looking rather nervous including the man himself Ira Rainey. After the recent weather we had been having I was expecting it to be a nice cool night and put an extra shirt on, it was however the hottest night of the summer 20 degrees with 98% humidity, not nice. We started off into the darkness and I found myself running with runners quicker than I really wanted to go but stuck with it as I didn’t wish to go wrong on the route and they seemed to know where they were going. Our first encounter with cows occurred 2 miles in where a herd of around 40 cattle charged straight at us (this made me run even faster even though it was up hill). Checkpoint 1 Long ashton Community Centre - 1hr 16 mins joint 2nd place 1 minute behind the leader definitely going to fast. Onward to checkpoint 2 over the Clifton suspension Bridge via Shirehampton Golf Course to the Blaize Inn. Not to eventful but even the rain was warm and I was starting to feel the pace and heat and only 15 miles in. Joint 4th 2hrs 51 mins. Now the first long leg of around 11 miles to the White Horse at Hambrook. During this leg I did my usual stunt man impression falling down centurion Hill but luckily it was a soft wet grassy landing although it did knock the stuffing out of me, we also had our second encounter with a large herd of cows. I dragged myself into checkpoint 3 where Julia was waiting for me with goodies like gels, tomatoes and such like, (I let her off the first 2 checkpoints so she could get some sleep, ain’t I thoughtful) in a time of 5hrs 4 mins in 7th place now 27 minutes behind the leader after around 25 1/2 miles, feeling very tired and it was still dark. After a feed and switching headlights I headed off towards Keynsham another 11 miles (ish) away, I was running mainly on my own now but as daybreak began another runner called Dave joined me and with his help (even though he was quicker than me and this was just a training event for him as he was soon doing a 100 miler round the Cotswolds) we ran on through to Checkpoint 4 arriving in a time of 7hrs 41 mins for 37 miles, only 8 to go now. I had a little longer break here and changed shoes and socks Julia brought along for me as they were saturated not realising the were full of grit and seeds as well. I dragged myself onward back on my own again and really struggling saying it would take me about 2hrs for the last bit, it was very painful with a massive hill 1 mile from the finish but i did it in 1hr 59 mins (not a bad guess considering the state I was in). I made it to the finish back at Norton Malreward after 9hrs 40 mins, 5 1/2 in the dark, 3700ft of hills, no sleep, chased by cows, falls, hot, wet in 8th place absolutely shattered.
I made some great new friends on this adventure which is something that goes hand in hand with running, I have sworn never to run this race again although 2 days on I am already planning to run the main event next March. Thanks to everyone involved especially to my wife Julia the best support crew you could ever have. It was worth it! JULIAN