Luke’s Green Man Challenge Report

Here’s my report about taking on the Green Man Challenge on Sunday 27th February 2011. Warning: It’s very long!!!

Much of what I’ve written is rather more factual than those of some other Woodwoses because this my attempt to document my personal experience in the hope that it may be of some help or encouragement to others thinking of putting themselves forward.

Before I go into the background and preparation for the Green Man, I would like to give some very special thanks.

Firstly to Chris Bloor, who is the Father of the Green Man Challenge, provides encouragement and enthusiasm about the challenge and who very kindly transported me to and from the start line (and provided tea at Blaise Castle).

I’d also like to thank Ian Ruck and Antony Clark for accompanying me from Ashton Court to Shortwood Hill. Their good company helped make the first half pass by relatively quickly.

Thanks to Ruth (Ian’s wife), who not only got out of bed early on a Sunday morning to transport Ian and Antony to the start, but was there at Shortwood hill with my drop bag, a deck chair (which I was too scared to use) and a wonderful smile.

Finally, I really, really want to thank Jonathan Gledson. Jonathan helped me round the whole of the second half of the course – putting up with my dwindling sense of humour, carrying sodden, mud soaked trail shoes and letting me raid his rucksack for snacks and drink.

OK, now a little about the background and preparation…

The Green Man Challenge was something that I quickly got to know about after joining TACH in about September 2009. I had originally planned to run the challenge in March 2010, but was prevented through a back injury which kept me out of running for the whole Summer.

Some of the reasons to attempt the Green Man Challenge were in part the distance – a proper Ultra distance but nevertheless not too daunting, and also because it is a personal challenge rather than a race. However, the main reason is that it has been a wonderful chance to connect with the countryside which bounds our city (we are so very lucky to have such wonderful countryside, so close by).

My preparation was based upon the following principles:
Don’t use any fixed training plan as the challenge could be attempted at any time
Specificity – The course is long, reasonably flat and quite uneven under foot. I needed to prepare accordingly
Always remember, it’s often the lack of recovery that causes injury rather than over training, and so always prioritise recovery over more training. Similarly, I read somewhere “Those that under-train will always finish. Those that over-train never get to the start line”
Judge long runs by ‘time on your feet’ rather than distance

Using the above principles, my training generally fitted the following pattern:
Long run every 1-2 weeks (building from 2-6 hours)
TACH training runs on Thursdays
Some treadmill intervals (to strengthen legs)
Core and upper body gym work
The treadmill sessions were pretty sporadic due to the combination of work commitments and recovering from the Sunday long runs. And looking back, I think I could have made more use of some of the very short ‘free’ runs that often present themselves if one puts ones mind to it. Like, for example, running over to where the swimming pool is for a family swim rather than going in the car.

A week in advance of the challenge, I completely abstained from alcohol and caffeine. The caffeine abstention was intended to give my body time to become more sensitised again to caffeine, such that when I really needed a lift, a caffeine hit would keep me going.

Also, on the Wednesday before the run I subjected myself to the pain of a thorough leg, hip and back sports massage.

My nutrition plan was to take just Hammer Perpetuem (in a sweet, gloopy mixture) and water (with Nuun) for the first half, and then move onto solid food in the form of homemade choc-chip and banana bread, muesli bars and finally caffeinated gels.

Finally, in terms of preparation, my strategy for the run was simple – run at a very easy pace on the flat and downhills, speed march any up hills or when other walk breaks were required, and try to limit the time taken at any stops.

So to challenge day…

I got up about 5:45am to give me plenty of time for a good big breakfast (muesli, yogurt, honey and toast), lots of water to drink and time to digest.

Chris picked me up at 7:40am and we met Antony and Ian at the Green Man in Ashton Court in good time for an 8am start. Any thoughts of nervousness were dispelled as our conversation strangely veered onto the relative merits of Deadly 60 and Horrible Histories, against the ever so slightly surreal Chugginton.

The off:

The first leg up to Dundry followed by legs 2 and 3 to Pensford and Keynsham were all pretty straight-forward. Although, by Keynsham I was beginning to feel a slowly worsening twinge in my right knee. I swapped socks here as my original ones were in a pretty sorry state, and I could feel a few large pieces of grit irritating the soles of my feet.

At Keynsham with the old Cadbury’s factory in the background

Throughout the whole course the going underfoot was varied – some good, some wet and boggy, and some sticky.

Leg 4 to Shortwood Hill progressed quite well, although I was beginning to feel a bit tired and my knee was still sore. Thankfully, Ian and Antony were good company which helped a lot, and also, Antony’s superior knowledge of the course proved invaluable on several occasions.

At Shortwood Hill, Ian’s wife Ruth was waiting with my drop bag. I refuelled with more Perpetuem and extra water, and departed with Jonathan as my support for the remainder of the race. Jonathan kindly carried a spare set of road trainers for me in his rucksack.

The next leg from Shortwood Hill to the White Horse at Hambrook was one of the hardest for me. I was beginning to feel really tired by now, and my knee was still pretty sore. So, as soon as we got to the end of the leg, I used the opportunity to take a couple of ibuprofen and caffeine tablets. Within 20 mins of the next leg (no. 6 to Patchway) I was in much finer fettle.

Jonathan was proving to be the ideal support, helping with gates and providing encouragement.

At Patchway, I had run out of fluid, and Jonathan kindly gave me a spare bottle he had of Lucozade Sport which turned out to be a welcome change for my palette which was getting sick of the over sweet Perpetuem.

I really enjoyed the route from Patchway to Blaise, the terrain is very mixed, with the contrast between the boggy flat land around Easter Compton and the views from on top of Spanorium Hill.

Just before Blaise Castle, I changed socks again and also moved to road trainers. I was surprised how heavy my trail shoes had got – they were caked in mud.

At Blaise we were met by Chris, this time with a very welcome cup of tea. I took a little more time at this stop, and had another couple of caffeine tablets, in preparation for the final 10k back to the Green Man.

As one can imagine, this final stretch was the hardest. By now my legs were pretty much spent. I suggested that perhaps Jonathan and I could swap legs, but he didn’t like the look of what he was going to get in return.

There were a lot more short walk breaks now as I could feel my hamstrings cramping. But I knew I would finish, so my spirits were high even if my body was a bit broken.

It was wonderful to see Chris and Ian at the Green Man. As you might expect, I felt rather emotional.

At the finish:

I believe that the Green Man Challenge is the embodiment of TACH, Bristol, and most importantly, the passion Chris Bloor has for connecting people with the countryside. I wholeheartedly encourage anyone who reads this to consider taking on the challenge in some form (run, walk, relay, one leg at a time, etc.).

Luke Taylor – Woodwose XXXVIII
(Green Man Challenge, 8hrs 31mins, Sunday 27 February 2011)

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