Jonathan Gledson’s Report

Why?

When I texted my friend that I wouldn’t be coming climbing because I was planning to run 45 miles at the weekend, his response was “WHY?” I sent him a link to Chris’s Green Man Challenge web page but had to admit that although it would explain “what” I was doing, nothing could really explain “why”. Partly, it was the challenge of doing something more extreme than I’d ever done before. Partly it wase curiosity about how it would feel. Partly a competitive instinct: if 26+ other people have already done this, then I had to prove that I could, but none of these reasons could really account for why I felt the need to do it. All I can say is that once the notion took hold, it all started to feel like a completely natural and necessary extension of all the fun and enjoyment I’ve had on TACH training runs. Once I had recce’d a few of the stages, learning the whole route became an enjoyable and satisfying project in itself.

To help myself get to sleep during the week leading up to my attempt, I would go to bed each night and try to mentally follow the route in its entirety. This is quite a hard thing to do without letting your mind wander off somewhere else. Invariably, I would be asleep before getting around more than one “leg”. In fact, several days after the “real” me completed it the sleepy me was still lost in the fields out there somewhere on the northern stages. Doing this made me realise just how long 45 miles is and ensured that on the big day I would ‘respect the distance’. It was also a reminder how varied and rich in detail the terrain is and how alive with human, plant and animal interest. Every section had memories of things that I saw or people that I spoke to and now that I’ve done it all in one go, it seems that there is simply too much of it to describe here.  

On the big day everything started well as I left the Dovecote with an entourage of supporting runners and most unexpectedly, two mountain bikers! Annoyingly, I’d forgotten that I would be starting in darkness and had forgotten my torch but luckily there were enough runners to light the way and John lent me his through the darkest wooded early sections. By the time we got to Dundry, it was getting light and I could appreciate what is probably the most scenic part of the route from East Dundry to Keynsham. The fact that the first third is nearly all off road meant that I could wear my lightest, most slipper-like fell-running shoes as far as Keynsham. Conditions were perfect. Two nights of sub zero temperatures had given the ground a nice firm crust but it was soft enough underneath, that the ruts, tussocks and hoof holes were not ankle breakers.

By Pensford, all the early support runners except Rob Hicks had dropped away and from there on I tried to keep up a brisk but unchallenging pace. It was difficult for me run as slowly as I should have so I just tried to keep within a no stress, no effort comfort zone and hoped that that would be slow enough. By the time we reached Keynsham I was starting to feel the miles building up in my legs while being conscious that I’d only run a third of the total and that there was a lot of challenging terrain and hills to come. By the time we got to the top of Shortwood Hill I felt that I was now fully immersed in a “Challenge” and that from here on, there would be no easy miles. Mark joined us here and much as I’d enjoyed Rob’s company, a new face and new topics of conversation made me feel that I’d entered another phase of the run. As my two black clad pacers flanked me, Mark joked that if they had been wearing sunglasses they would have looked like my bodyguards.

I’ve always found Kendleshire golf course to be one of the least enjoyable sections. It may be the sight of people engaged in such a slow paced sport or my resentment of the fact that the golf course has diverted the footpath around its perimeter.  By contrast I found the next section very enjoyable, following the river Frome to Hambrook – I was close to home and my regular training grounds and it was a sign that I’d “broken the back of it”. The sight of my sister Ruth waiting at the gate near the White Horse with my niece and nephew cheering was a very welcome site. It was here that Rob dropped out and Ian and Alex joined me, further emphasizing the feeling that I was now entering yet another important stage.

I made conscious effort to appreciate the last of the green fields before hitting the built up section from Bradley Stoke to Patchway. It was during this stage that running first began to feel like hard work. The garmin seemed to take forever to change from mile 29 to mile 30. I don’t know why these landmark distances are so import but I was becoming impatient to reach that all import two-thirds marker. I mentally ‘dug in’ and focussed on keeping a light and relaxed running action and eventually I was relieved to find that I approaching the next planned food-stop at Patchway School. Mark ran ahead to get my flask out of Cathy’s car and when I arrived to take it, I had my first sit down of the day. At thirty something miles though, I found that my cocoa & molasses concoction was no longer hitting the spot. Thankfully Cathy had some strong coffee, which was a more invigorating tonic.

Leaving Patchway felt good, knowing that it wasn’t far to the green fields on the other side of the M5. The churchyard at Easter Compton is one of the highlights of the later stages for me. By the time we were up on Spaniorum Hill I felt that I was hitting a golden patch that lasted until Blaise. Meeting Antony on this section was a great boost – because it wasn’t at one of the planned rest stops, it felt like an unexpected bonus to see a friendly face appear as I ran down the hill towards Henbury. At Blaise, I was pleased to see that Chris had donned his running gear to join me for the last leg. After an eagerly anticipated double espresso, I was off again. Another unexpected friendly face appeared in the shape of Wilf. The running support group was now bigger than its original size but with myself as the only constant – like one of those old bands in which all the members bar one have changed but which keep the same name. Once we had made the climb up to Kings Weston Hill I was feeling pretty exhausted again but running along the ridge in a pack made it more than tolerable – enjoyable even. Then the combination off caffeine kicking in and a long down-hill section to Sea Mills made for one of the most enjoyable stretches of the day.

After grinding out the long climb up to the Downs and the Clifton Observatory, I just had that final “sting in the tail” climb up North Road then after a quick photo call at the Green Man, I was able to almost sprint the descent to the Dovecote, spurred on by the news that my family were waiting. Seeing Helen, Sadie and Manon, standing by the pub with a “Well done Daddy! We love you!” banner was one of the most welcome sights of my life. The first pint of Butcombe Ale was one of the most welcome tastes! I was pleased to learn that I had done the whole thing in a time that, so far, only elite class ultra mountain runners from Team Vasque have bettered.

How did it actually feel in the legs?

I can still remember the horrible, painful desperate feeling I had as I neared the end of my first ever half marathon, and years later, in the final stages of the London Marathon – a feeling that you just want it too end, but in some strange way it’s necessary to just keep going because if you stop anywhere other than the finish line, you’ll only have to scrape yourself up and get going again. I also remember when I first started exploring the countryside to the East of Bristol. I would sometimes get carried away and run too far or get lost and find myself miles from home, legs hurting like hell, out of fuel, out of energy, out of my comfort zone and out of my depth. I didn’t experience anything like that during my Green Man Challenge and it now seems strange that I ever felt so done-in by what turned out to be mere 10mile runs, or the 13 or 26mile races! I hope this observation will convince anyone who thinks that they couldn’t possibly do the Green Man Challenge, that actually, you can! Just build up to it gradually. What you find hard today will one day seem easy.

I don’t think it’s advisable to train for your first 45 mile run in the same way you would for a marathon – building up in structured, weekly increments to something near the full distance. By the time you get close to a 45mile run, you’ll need a month or more to recover properly. My only training plan for completing the Green Man Challenge was to get fit enough by doing a lot of long fell races and hilly training runs over the course of a year. I did one 31mile run a whole month before doing the full route. It helps if you train enthusiastically for those shorter events and keep an open mind about when and if you are going to do the full route. Once you commit yourself to doing it, you’ll be amazed, as I was, by the encouragement, help and advice that you’ll get from TACH members, Woodwoses, Woodwights and any other runners you know. Thank you to all those who came out to run, to see me off, to see me in or just to say hello – especially Cathy and Andy my mobile support crew.

Woodwose XXVIII

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