For those unfamiliar with this race here are a couple of articles written about the Grizzly from the WAC archives:
‘The Grizzly’ – 9 September 2007 – Armageddon No Where
‘The Grizzly takes no prisoners and accepts no passengers’.
This is my favourite race anywhere – despite the fact it can be something of a bodybreaker! Describing it as a multi-terrain race doesn’t do it justice. The route is partly on road, footpaths, pebble beach, bog, under water and even up steep steps up the East Devon cliffs (known as the ‘Stairway to Heaven’) and it had a climb as vertical as I ever hope to encounter in a race (where you used your hands to grasp onto tufts of grass to pull yourself up).
The whole buzz of the event sets it apart from other races. There is much in the way of entertainment, a couple of pipers, a guy with a didgeridoo, a steel band raised the echoes in a cowshed, a couple of folk groups, and something that looks like a Buddhist shrine in the woods and – did I really see it or was I starting to hallucinate due to low sugar levels – a ventriloquist! In a recent national poll the race was voted the third best race in Britain (the top 2 were the London Marathon and the Great North Run – both of which have many more runners in them). It may only be 19.7 miles but is tougher than a marathon. If ever there was a must do race this is it.
Jon, Jerry and I travelled together to the start where we met up with Pete and Gillean. The last time Gillean and I met was for the Lairig Ghru fell race in the Cairngorms in June. Gillean and I decided to run together, we started at a steady pace and at 10 miles we were feeling pretty good, well as comfortable as it is possible to feel on a race of this kind, and slowly but surely we started to make up a few places. At around 15 miles there was a steady descent onto the beach. We decided to raise the pace from this point on. In the next 2 miles we had still to tackle pebble beach and the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ but after that I knew the route would get easier. All those miles we did earlier in the year when preparing for Scotland started to pay dividends and Gillean and I gained dozens of places in those final miles as other runners started to struggle. On the Stairway to Heaven I was about half a dozen places ahead of Gillean. One of the runners between us collapsed and all those behind him on the narrow path were held up until the first-aiders were able to get to him.
Once I emerged onto the cliff top I kept targeting runners ahead of me and chasing them down – it was a great feeling (although some of them weren’t putting up too much of a fight – I must have passed four runners at various times lying on the ground groaning with cramp). This is the first time I have run the Grizzly in warm weather (we are more likely to get howling gales) and I think that a few people may have got caught out with dehydration.
As I ran along the final section of shingle beach into Seaton I could see Pete’s family cheering the runners home. Hollie, who was one of the stars in the Tarrant Valley recently, had no trouble running alongside me shouting encouragement all the way.
A great day. Gillean came in a couple of minutes behind me and once she had got her breathe back declared that it was 1-1, Lairig Ghru to her, Grizzly to me, and we will need another bonkers off-road race to settle it for a best of three. Any ideas anyone? Naturally if she gets the best of me next time out I shall be pushing for a best of five!
Jerry, Jon and Pete all had excellent races too.
Jerry Shield (96th) – 3:07:47
Jon Braund (172nd) – 3:16:53
Pete Lemon (198th) – 3:19:03
Ian Kennedy (662nd) – 4:12:49
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 a 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 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.
Grizzly 2010 will be on Sunday 7th March with entries probably opening late September. Will I enter? Never say never!