My diary was eerily apt for race day…
I hadn’t finished an ultra since the South Downs Way 100 last June. After two drops in August and September I decided to have a reflective winter and to rest and re-build. That meant very little running and a return to basics. I started looking after myself better with regular physio and tried (and mostly failed) to eat better. I still ran, but very rarely anything over six miles in one go until after Christmas.
I ran the Slaughterford 9 in January and held the Cotswold Way 50k where I gently ran the distance at the back, helping those less familiar with the course in order to just bank the miles and not worry about the time. And before I knew it, the calendar hit March and it was three days until the Green Man, a 45 mile mudbath of a single loop of the Community Forrest Path encircling Bristol.
I had run this once before in 2015 when I was arguably at my fittest, three months after my fastest 100 miler at Brazos Bend in December 2014 and so I knew getting close to that time would be virtually impossible. Conditions that year were dry underfoot too, so all I cared about this time was getting to the finish and getting the DNF monkey off my back. I knew I wasn’t as fit as I could be but I needed a confidence boost before a big season and to finish was all that mattered. I also firmly placed in my mind that I have never dropped from a distance of less than 100 miles and had finished many 50 milers when less fit and settled as I am right now, so whilst confidence wasn’t exactly high, I was looking forward to this one.
After driving to the start I caught up with Paul Heath who I last saw after he dropped at the Autumn 100 and we spoke as I was waiting to pace Mark Myles the last 30 miles. He seemed fired up and I was pleased to see he finished in a great time and I hope he is delighted, as he should be. We shared a coffee as we waited to get going and I also spoke with Dawn Gardner. Anyone who knows Dawn knows she is in a different league. Dawn was running the Green Man double and had already completed one loop overnight before starting with the mass field at 8am. She looked a little tired, but more than that, focussed and completed her 90+ mile personal challenge in less than 24 hours. We had chatted the day before as I was one of only a few people who knew she was planning this, having run a section of the course with her in December and she almost didn’t start the normal race, let alone the double, which just goes to show her mental strength. Expect big things from her at the GUCR in two months time.
We started out from the beautiful mansion at Ashton Court estate and headed up for the first few miles, often stopping as the mass field got caught up at gates and stiles. These slow and steady miles were what I needed as I placed myself towards the back of the field, but I quickly realised that it was significantly more muddy underfoot than I recalled from two years ago and knew we were in for a slog if it stayed like this. Stay like this, it did.
Whilst I didn’t have a time goal in mind, I figured if I was within an hour of my 9:58 of 2015 I would be doing well. This was based on fitness, confidence and the underfoot conditions, so I had 11 hours in the back of my mind, but was in no way running to that goal but more enjoy the day and simply finish. I hit checkpoint one in 1:51 and knew this was not too shabby and I felt fine, so quickly downed a couple of cups of coke and moved on.
The run to checkpoint two was much of the same, a very slippy section of often ankle deep mud and an exercise in staying upright but the miles clicked by and whilst wet underfoot, it was a beautiful morning and I just enjoyed the scenery and running alone, as is my preference.
I moved quickly through this checkpoint too, but whilst I wasn’t at the very back they had already run out of coke which was a bit frustrating as this is my main fuel on shorter ultras as I don’t like too much solid food. Sadly this pattern continued and where there was red bull at checkpoint three a couple of years ago and soup at checkpoint four, there was only squash and coffee respectively. Having paid for the catered event, this was disappointing and I feel running out of coke and not having soup where advertised isn’t good practice. That said, the volunteers and marshall were awesome as were all of the crews on the course cheering us on and offering sweets etc.
The section between checkpoint two and three took over 3 hours and this was my lowest point of an otherwise pretty upbeat run. The terrain here is mainly flat but everywhere was heavily waterlogged and made the going quite slow. It was also pretty warm for early March and I found myself rationing water knowing it was a long stretch. It started raining about half an hour out of the checkpoint so I stopped to put on my waterproof and enjoyed running in my own little cocooned world with my hood up and music on.
In most races I set myself a checkpoint target from where I know I will complete the distance. Obviously things can go wrong, but this tends to work for me and helps break down the distance. Checkpoint 3 was about 29 miles so when I started this was my ‘finish’ line and if I made it here I only had a 16 mile jog/walk to go. Psychologically this helps and so when I ran into this checkpoint, I knew I would finish. I think everyone has their own way of mentally breaking down ultras but this as always worked for me and so I left here focussed and ready to get to checkpoint four.
At this point it started to really pour down, but abated after half an hour or so but I kept the waterproof and gloves on and felt warm, settled and confident. It was another 10 miles to the next checkpoint, but we were mostly in urban areas by now so the going was easier but the legs were starting to feel it. I’ve done enough races now to know that the legs don’t hurt any worse at mile 40 than they do at mile 30 and so I embraced it, with my body remembering what it was capable of. It was just great to be back.
I quickly grabbed a coffee at checkpoint four and moved on for the final six or so miles back to Ashton Court. This takes you through one of the nicest parts of Bristol and I enjoyed the home stretch. At The Green Man there are ‘time lords’ who run at 9, 10,11 and 12 hour paces and I was tooing and froing with the 11 hour crowd running with time lord Ira Rainey (of Fat Man to Green Man fame). By this stage, my mindset had firmly focussed on sub 11 hours and I knew if I pushed and maintained I would finish ahead of Ira’s pacing so got my head down and ran as much of the flats and downs as I could and walked the hills as fast as I could manage.
The sun had now set, so as I hit Clifton Downs I grabbed my headtorch and pushed on. Soon the stunning site of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, lit up, was ahead of me and I knew this marked one mile to go. It was 6:40pm and I had 20 minutes to cover that last mile. I jogged and walked with a group of other runners over the bridge, turned left into the estate and ran down the final hill to the finish, crossing the line in 10:56.
I really needed that run. As I write this, I feel great and it was the exact confidence boost I needed. And to sum it up, my diary quote at the top of this post is just perfect.