The Green Man Challenge is a 47 mile run that basically follows the Avon Community Forest Path circumnavigating Bristol. Why do it? It's actually a great run through some nice scenery and is a pretty hard navigational challenge. As a Bristolian ultra-runner, it's something of a right of passage. One other thing: there's an excellent trophy that is kept on the wall of the Green Man pub in Kingsdown (my local).
Fellow Team Vasque runner Martin Indge and I pencilled in May 4th 2009 for a record attempt. Part of the goal of our run was to get some good training in for the Three Peaks Yacht Race and Old County Tops: a couple of races that I'd like to do well in this year.
We had been a bit worried about having to put up with sunshine and warm temperatures (another benefit of the Green Man Challenge: it's in the sunny south!), but on the day there were no such problems. We had pretty perfect conditions: cool, cloudy and with the occasional drizzle shower: we could run at the perfect temperature all the way round.
It must be said, I wasn't feeling the best for the first half of the run. I think that two solid days working on the boat wasn't exactly the best preparation. We were 2 minutes down on the previous record pace after the first section (Clifton Bridge to Dundry) and we had to put up with this 2 minute deficit for the next four hours. The running in the southern section of the route was particularly nice, through fields full of wildflowers, along the banks of the Chew river. The eastern section of the route (Keynsham to Shortwood Hill) is along the line of the Dramway - a really ancient old industrial tramway linking collieries to the river Avon. There are the old stone sleeper beds still in the path. You run along thinking you've left the Dramway behind and then a few miles later you'll see the stone sleeper beds and Dramway signs again.
The northern section of the run crosses agricultural land, then down the beautiful Frome river before heading across the not quite so beautiful Bradley Stoke. One thing that is really noticeable about the Green Man Challenge is that where it crosses a built up area, you can't see the built up bits. There seems to be this amazing green line round Bristol that the Green Man Challenge seeks out. By the northern section (starting at Hambrook), I was starting to feel more my usual self and we started moving well from here. We took 10 minutes off the record time to Patchway, another 10 minutes off to Blaise Castle and the last 10 minutes off for the final leg back to the Clifton Bridge. I knew that I'd struggled over these last sections last year and was pleased to find the going easier. One thing that really helped was having Martin's parents in a support vehicle. There's no water to drink on route and so having supporters to carry some water makes a real difference.
Looking for a good time, we put our foot (feet?) down for the last couple of (hilly) miles. The Mariners Path through Sneyd Park was as desperate as usual - will it never end. As we rounded the Clifton Downs, we could see the Clifton Bridge gracefully spanning the Avon Gorge: journey's end. One last push up the hill to the observatory and we were there. I stopped the watch and we'd got round in 7h20m: 28 minutes faster than the old record. We were pleased with a great run. It bodes well for the future!
One of the odd things about our run was that I made almost exactly the same navigational mistakes that I made last time even though I was looking out for the known problem areas. I guess I am going to have to recce these places in the future if I want to better my time.
We finished off the day with a contented pint in the Green Man / Kingsdown under the gaze of the Green Man Challenge trophy.