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Explore Discover Race - The Greenman

A Greenman ambled past me.

It’s 07:45 on a mild March Saturday morning and I’m huddled listening to a race brief on the Ashton Court Estate near Bristol in south-west England. Minutes later, Timelords take up prime position on the start line and set against the classic Chariots of Fire theme the legs of freshly tapered ultrarunners spring into life.

Greenmen and Timelords?? Ultrarunning events often have their idiosyncrasies though the Greenman Ultra or GMU45 and shorter GMU30 is special to a different level. On successful completion of the challenge each participant earns entry into the ‘Book of Woodwose’ and their name is duly scribed by the ‘Gaveller’.

Woodwose: Anybody who conquers the 45 mile Green Man Challenge around the Community Forest Path is termed a Woodwose, from the Old English wuduwāsa or wood-being, regardless of gender. Woodwose is the proper name for the wild men and wild women that haunted the imaginary forests of medieval Europe and is entirely appropriate for anyone mad enough to conquer the Community Forest Path.

Exert from

The GMU45 inevitably crept onto my race-radar whilst living in the south-west of England and the prospect of running around Bristol appealed. I’m generally a sucker for running up or around hills, islands or anything vaguely monumental. However, it was the prospect of becoming a fully-fledged Woodwose or Wild Woman which clinched the deal.

From a training perspective I find strategically popping an ultra at the beginning of the season gives a boost of motivation to endure the bleak English winter. These events have previously been sun-seeking; think Marathon des Sables or Trans Gran Canaria Ultra – see blog posts here and here respectively – though a combination of ongoing house renovation expenses, a recent yoga retreat for much-needed mental headspace and desire to race local for some races meant GMU45 worked well.

The official Greenman Ultra or GMU45 traces the Community Forest Path around Bristol with an anti-clockwise loop in winter (March) and clockwise loop summer version (July). There’s the option to double it up and complete both events in the year to be awarded the prestigious GMU buckle based on accumulated time. The Community Forest Trail was designed in 1997 by the Forest of Avon to link together the counties that used to be called ‘Avon’ (City of Bristol, South Gloucestershire, Bath and North East Somerset and North Somerset), and encourage Bristolian city dwellers to head out of the city.

Training could only be described as ‘frustratingly intermittent’, partly due to a grey furry dog (thanks Bryn!) and frozen ground Coccyx incident in December when the southern section recce from Keynsham to Pensford was painfully cut short. Thankfully the kindness of strangers prevailed as I rescued by a passer-by who drove two rather wet and bedraggled beings back to Keynsham. Post festive season rampant vicious cold and flu bugs then took their toll and swathes of the route from Keynsham to Bristol Parkway were submerged under water due to flooding which further disrupted training. The mantra ‘consistency is queen’ (and king) as my athletes are so well-versed meant standing on the start line wasn’t entirely how I’d hoped. Sometimes you simply have to roll with what you’ve got...

On a map the route twists and turns through the urban jungle though on the ground it’s surprisingly green snaking its way along designated nature corridors. My trusty Garmin Fenix 6 with route gpx file locked and loaded was essential for navigation as the Forest Community Path markers appear, disappear, then reappear without warning. Local monuments along the route illustrate the rich local history of the area; Pensford viaduct, Brandy Bottom colliery near Pucklechurch, the iconic Clifton Bridge and Bristol Observatory.

It’s only in the last kilometre I fleetingly pay homage to the ‘Greenman’ sculpture; a chunky stone carving with leaves caressing the contours of his face. He’s fittingly nestled next to an ancient Oak tree overlooking the city and the finish line. The Greenman is a legendary being, a symbol of rebirth who represents the cycle of new growth that occurs every spring. Crossing the finish line it seems a fitting pilgrimage circumnavigating Bristol in honour of these annual seasonal cycles. Hello spring!

Top Tips

Race Local. Hands up I’ve trained and raced over the world for several years. However, increased awareness of the climate crisis and publication of ‘We can’t run away from this’ by Damian Hall has firmly highlighted our contribution as runners as part of the problem. I’m keen to be more mindful of overseas travel, shift races closer to home and/or combine with meaningful work projects to support local communities.

Race Different. The ultra-running world offers a range of delights from 50km, 100km, 100 miles (though 200 is apparently the ‘new’ 100), multi-stage, 8-hr, 12-hr, 24-hr and beyond; in a variety of environments. The Greenman was outside my normal sweet spot. Shorter and flatter though sometimes is interesting to switch things up.

Post Race. Think about the days following your ultra escapade. Focus on rest, recharge and relaxation. Keep it light and be gentle on yourself physically, mentally and emotionally. Think yoga, salt baths and nourishing food opposed to diving back into the training programme.

Train Smart. Run Happy.

Anna-Marie x

Certified Woodwose or Wild Woman

Thanks to La Sportiva and Precision Fuel and Hydration for their ongoing support.


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