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Confessions of a ‘Grizzly’ Virgin

A WACers tale from this unique running experience

This race started last August when I had an e-mail from Ian to say you could enter the Grizzly on line. A quick look at the Axe Valley web site soon revealed that you had to be mad to enter this race. I don’t know what came over me but somehow I pressed a few keys and click…..I had a place!

Now, standing on the start line, surrounded by half a dozen WACers, I was having some self-doubt. My training had not gone to plan. I had two bad runs the week before. My calves were tight. I could think of loads more reasons not to run.

After a short delay we were off. A short run along the seafront at Seaton and then on to the pebble beach for half a mile. It was quite surreal -  2,000 runners trampling over a pebble beach. Relief at last as we move back onto road and wind our way over to Beer and then to Branscombe. I manage to keep up with Jeff for the first couple of miles but then a hill looms ahead and I resort to walking. This would be my tactic I decided. Take it easy and walk up hills to relieve the calves.

At Branscombe we cross another beach and wade across a stream. The icy cold water is a relief and takes my mind off what lays ahead. A steep, steep climb. Did I mention the hills?

One thing that sticks out in this race is the excellent marshalling. The route takes you along the coastal path and onto private land. You would expect a lot of gates and stiles but most have these have been removed for race day.

The organisers had sent out an weather warning on the Friday warning of rain and perhaps snow, hail and/or sleet flurries, a strong WNW breeze and not that warm (6-8 degrees which, with wind chill and rain, is going to feel rather cold). What they did not mention was the sunny spells, but we did experience the rest of the weather at various times during the run.

Along the route we passed signs of encouragement like ‘Pain is only temporary’, pipers dressed up in kilts, bands playing outside pubs and even a Buddhist shrine. All things that make this race unique in the racing calendar. However, the climax came just after half way. The bog. One hundred metres of brown slime. If you were lucky you were only ankle deep but at times it was knee deep. For me it was time enough to rest and recover before the second part of the race.

Now the wind was behind me and I felt mentally refreshed knowing the worst was also behind me. The route wound its way back along the coast path and at 15 miles we dropped back down to Branscombe. Someone said don’t look up but you could see towering above you a line of runners on the cliff top like ants. Before that you had to negotiate another gruelling stretch of pebble beach. Only this time it was single file. The relief of coming off the beach was short-lived as we soon hit the ‘Stairway to Heaven’. How can one describe it? I won’t, you have to try it.

A little further on and I could hear this bell ringing and in the distance and could see the familiar figure of Barbara shouting encouragement to fellow runners. I picked up my pace and ran over and gave her a hug. A familiar face like that lifts your energy and knowing there were only 4 miles left gave me an additional boost - or was it my last gel?

The last leg took you down into Beer and up one last cliff. Ahead of me I saw the red shirt of Ian. If I could catch him then we could finish together. I pressed on and as the seafront of Seaton came into view. Still there was a mile to go but there was one more sting in the tail. Downhill we ran and then a diversion down a lane and onto the pebble beach for one more energy sapping time. Thankfully I could now see the finish so gathering all my strength I scrambled off the beach and along the final straight to the applause of the supportive crowd.

Nick in the funnel having completed his first Grizzly

Grizzly 2010 will be on Sunday 7th March with entries probably opening late September. Will I enter? Never say never!

 Nick Solomon



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