Woodwose 7’s report

Green Man Challenge

Saturday 23rd February 2008

Martin Beale

The Green Man Challenge had been at the forefront of my mind since January 5th 2008 when I had egged Tim Laney and Pete Darwood into their successful record breaking run of 8h52m. They had run round the Green Man that day while I watched the rain and wind from the shelter of a nice warm room. I had stated my intent to have a crack at the route many times since their run and it was now time for action.

I walked over to the Clifton Suspension Bridge from my home in Kingsdown with nervous thoughts in my mind about the 45 miles ahead of me. I told myself that I’d done this distance many times before and I would do it again.

However many times you set off on this sort of distance though, there are always those nagging fears about how you will face up to it.

Suspension Bridge: the start

 

I set off just after 9pm with maps in hand and some water, food and clothes in my rucksack. I did not have the luxury of a change of shoes from supporters (there being no supporters!) on the way round and opted for my trusty Montrail Highlanders to help see me across the wetter and muddier sections of the route. I was going for a lightweight approach, intending to stay warm by keeping running and to stay hydrated by finding water on the way. I ran over the Suspension Bridge in my shorts and T-shirt with the dark grey mass of Dundry Hill looking a long way away to the south east.

The Green Man Challenge is conveniently split into 8 legs. Aiming for an 8 hour circuit, my time schedule for the run called for me to pick off a leg of the route every hour. The first leg to Dundry was one of the harder ones to achieve this goal on due to the ascent and the distance involved (this is especially so when the leg is started from the Suspension Bridge). However I was fresh at this stage and the excitement of starting off on the route lifted my spirits and saw me reach Dundry dead on time: I felt I’d got my teeth into the run.

The section from Dundry to Keynsham is possibly the most scenic of the run as the Green Man Challenge follows the down-like hillsides through beautiful little villages nestling in green river valleys. Views over to the greater ranges of the Mendips lend a certain grandeur to the scenery. The route seems to follow the grain of the land and this helps to give a feeling of momentum to this section of the route as you flow down the river valleys towards Keynsham.

Keynsham to Hambrook

 

I was 21 minutes up on schedule at Keynsham and past some of the rougher (i.e. cross country) terrain. I knew however that things were going to get harder for me from here on in as I would be running on harder tracks and towpaths for the next 5 miles: my footwear was less suitable for such terrain. I got stuck into it and although the Avon towpath and Dramway were harder on my feet, I made good fast progress to Shortwood Hill despite getting lost crossing the A420 in Warmley.

The section from Shortwood to Hambrook was particularly interesting for me as I had driven the M4 that slices through this leg many times and wondered what the countryside was like as I whizzed along on my daily commute to work. There is a fascinating old colliery close to the motorway and one of the motorway embankments even seems to be made from slag from the colliery!

One of the great things about a run such as the Green Man is that helps you to bond with the country through which you are running. The colliery and the green fields hereabouts are no longer alien to me but are linked into my home city and that day in February.

Hambrook to Patchway

 

I phoned my friend Paul at Hambrook in the hope that he would be able to meet me for the last two legs from Patchway (and bring me some water). I was really looking forward to the company, but my hopes were dashed as Paul was dragged away on family duties instead. A dark cloud hung over me as I ran up towards Stoke Gifford.

It was inevitable that I would get lost somewhere in Stoke Gifford. Thankfully my error was mercifully small and was marked by a church that correlated perfectly with a cross on the map. I re-orientated myself and executed the rest of the run towards Bradley Stoke flawlessly (if a little on the tired side). By now the water situation was getting critical (no I couldn’t drink the water that the guy in his drive was using to wash his car, nor the water from the streams and ponds in the Three Brooks nature reserve) and I had to make an extra detour to the Tesco Express in Bradley Stoke to replenish. A bottle of orange juice has never tasted that good!

Patchway to Blaise Castle

 

The weather deteriorated in Patchway and beyond and I had to keep putting my waterproof jacket on and off. It is really important to stay warm on these long runs as it is quite easy to get overly cold when your defences are down. I kept warm and kept going, pleased to be over the west side of the M5 and back into the countryside.

The section from the M5 over to Spaniorum Hill and beyond is particularly pleasant as you are running on nice footpaths once more with views over to the Severn Bridges and the Brecon Beacons beyond. I had recced this section with my friends Paul and Pete on the night of New Year’s Day and this was home turf at last. By this stage you are feeling that every mile that you tick off will bring you closer to that ultimate reward of a nice satisfied rest at the end. Although the 60m of Spaniorum Hill felt like a mountain, they were followed by a mainly downhill run all the way to Blaise Castle and the start of the last leg.

Blaise Castle to the end

 

I seemed to be running into the wind and weather again along Kingsweston Down. This felt particularly trying as I was looking at my GPS seeing a pace of a mere 8 minutes per mile along the flat: where had that spring in my step gone? After a trot through Sea Mills, I was finally at the base of the last two hills up onto Durdham Downs. Chasing a sub-8 hour time by this stage I forced myself to run up the dreaded Mariner’s Walk to the downs. I felt as though I was really in sight of the finish as I ran across the top of the Main Wall of the Avon Gorge (with someone topping out on Malbogies in the drizzle!) and then along the Promenade to the Observatory. I was tempted to take the rock slide down to the Suspension Bridge, but ran down the slippery zig-zag to gratefully collapse in a panting heap on the north side of the Suspension Bridge where I’d started 7 hours 48 minutes ago: Dundry still looking brooding in the distance.

I’d wanted to stretch after my run, but in reality all I could do was sit on a bench and feel elated and sorry for myself at the same time. I put all my spare clothes on and tried to eat, but realised that the thing I really needed to do was to go home and get to bed (oh and to phone Pete and Tim which I did almost as soon as I’d finished!). Half an hour later I was in bed, but sleep was impossible: whenever I put weight onto my thighs, the ache in them would wake me up. At least it was nice to rest and think of the great day out I’d had on the Green Man Challenge.

The schedule

 

This is my schedule for the Green Man. The distances are taken off my GPS and measured on Tracklogs. The pace is a little uneven as I was going better at the start than at the end: maybe this is inevitable.

Start: Clifton Suspension Bridge

Dundry Church 6.2 miles 0h59m

Pensford A37 11.3 miles 1h48m

Keynsham: river Avon 17.0 miles 2h39m

Shortwood Hill B4465 22.8 miles 3h36m

Hambrook B4427 29.5 miles 4h42m

Patchway A38 35.1 miles 5h43m

Blaise Castle car park 41.4 miles 6h54m

Clifton Suspension Bridge 46.6 miles 7h48m

 

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