I haven’t posted in such a long time! I am aiming to get back on here more regularly once I have got London Marathon done. It is certainly time-consuming training for a marathon, but with the added pressure of fundraising, I have found that I don’t have much spare time at the moment! It’s a shame, as I have done some really cool things recently and I would love to post about them, so I might do some “flashback” style posts so that I can share my experiences still. Anyway, on to the real reason for this post.
As many of you know, a lot of events and races were cancelled this weekend due to the weather. We were hit with an unusually snowy March, and some good calls were made to make sure that runners, marshals and supporters were kept safe. It is definitely a tough call to make as a race director, but I think that safety really did have to play a big part in it. Even more so after seeing the news articles regarding events such as the Hardmoors 55, where runners had to be rescued from the course. Race directors, you have my support.
I was travelling down to Seaton in Devon for the second year in a row, along with a few of my running buddies from my club. There were 13 of us in fact, although one would not be running the event. What event, I hear you ask? We were all set to take part in the 31st running of The Grizzly. This is an annual event held by Axe Valley Runners, and is easily becoming one of my favourites. There is a real spirit to it that is unlike any other run I have encountered. Allow me to tell you a tale…
Axe Valley Runners describe the event like this:
Twentyish muddy, hilly, boggy, beachy miles of the multiest-terrain running experience you will find this side of the end of time. It’s by no means the toughest race around (honestly!), has changed over the years and nearly died on a few occasions, but hundreds of you keep coming back for more so we must still be getting it right. Whatever it isn’t, it is an experience.
They really aren’t lying! The only true way to understand The Grizzly is to experience it yourself. There are two distances available for adults over the weekend – the full Grizzly of 20 miles, and a Cub race of 9 miles – as well as races for the youngsters too. The children race on the Saturday, and the adults on the Sunday. Saturday night hosts the Griz Quiz, where runners and supporters alike can load up on beer carbs, and unload their brains into this evening of quizzing with a raffle. Our club entered two teams, and we didn’t do too badly in evaluation of the questions, but we didn’t win!
Just before the quiz, it has become a bit of a Burnham Joggers tradition to indulge in some pre-race carbohydrates for dinner in the form of fish and chips. The last two years, I have dined at Frydays in Seaton, and we all left on Saturday with very happy and full bellies. (I had swordfish and it was so tasty!)
Rewinding a little more; we had actually found out whilst I was driving a car of Joggers down the M3 towards Devon that the full Grizzly event had been cancelled, however there would be an amended Cub run available for all runners to participate in. This was due to the dire weather forecast for the weekend, predicting heavy, and almost continuous snow. We just decided to make the most of the weekend, as we had booked our hotel rooms and might still get a run in, as long as there wasn’t too much snow!
We went straight to the race headquarters in the town hall to scout out the event merchandise and attempt to locate some of the beer that had been specially brewed for the event by Dark Place Brewery. No special beer in sight, but three lovely hats and some Grizzly buffs acquired – these would definitely come in handy later on… Then off to the sea front – what else were we to do?! From there, and in the photo above, you can see Beer Head and the caravan park. The route would take us up to the top of that cliff in less than 24 hours time! We were very excited and only a little bit cold on the scale of the weekend! (I may have mentioned a few times to my friends that I had my heated jacket on… with heated pockets… but only a few!)
A few beverages were consumed that evening, and I think people were more relaxed about everything since we “only” had 10 miles to run the next day. The snow had been falling since midday and wasn’t showing any signs of easing off, however it wasn’t settling, which seemed like a good sign. The Met Office had forecast strong winds and chill between -5 and -7 degrees for race day… The snow continued to fall overnight, and by morning, there was a covering on the ground. The race director announced that the Cub would still be going ahead though, so we got ready for the maddest run I think I have, and quite possibly ever will run!
The infamous start of the Grizzly event is along the promenade in Seaton. What makes it so unique, is that after a short run along the promenade, runners turn back on themselves onto the stone beach and run approximately half a mile along this tough terrain to experience jelly legs not even a mile into the 20 ahead of you! This Sunday, things were a little different, as we all knew that we would have half the distance to cover, but it was -2°C and snowing pretty heavily. It was still just as tough.
I ran the whole event with my friend Mark from Burnham Joggers, who had agreed we would take it easy as we both have imminent marathons, and the conditions were tricky. The plan was just to get it done, for our sakes but also for those incredible marshals who were stood out there in the cold and snow, and also to enjoy ourselves.
After that initial little lap by the sea, the hills start. A long climb up into Beer, which rewards you with a downhill straight away. There is another extremely steep climb after that. We agreed that although we would normally attempt to run a lot of the steep hills, we were struggling with traction and would be sensible to fend off any injuries before our goal races in April. The roads and trails were covered in ice and snow, which at times became incredibly slippery. Running downhill could almost be trickier than ascending, which we found out when we apexed above Beer and encountered the sheer decline into the town. It was incredibly steep, slippery and tricky to manoeuvre, but we made it down in one piece.
I actually waited for my friend to use the loos in Beer, and befriended a lovely couple and their Golden Retriever – the poor pup must have been freezing, so we had a cuddle to keep warm. The couple said they would see me on the cliff later on. The support through Beer was incredible, and especially because of the weather. I couldn’t believe so many people were out whooping and cheering in the snow! It was such an amazing atmosphere.
Running through Beer, the next stop of the route is Beer Head caravan park – remember from the photo earlier up on that cliff? The road through there winds up the hill, then turns into a grassy trail until you reach the top of the cliff. Except this year we add a lot of snow, a strong wind, and tiny little snow bullets pelting your face. That buff from yesterday is coming in handy now, right?!
Atop the cliffs, the wind and snow was tough to run in, so I really felt for those marshals who were stood there in it! I made sure I thanked every single marshal on the way round – they truly deserved it. I never once saw any marshal with their hands in their pockets looking miserable. Every single one of them was cheering and encouraging all the runners, looking out for their safety, and generating that amazing Grizzly spirit. The faster runners had already turned around (due to the shorter course) and were passing us in the opposite direction, which made it more fun, as we could high-five and cheer on our fellow club runners.
Mile 5 was dubbed the emotional mile. The memorial tree had been moved from its position on Branscombe beach (as we would not be running out that far) to an earlier point on the course just after 5 miles. There was a young lad handing out ribbons to tie onto the tree in memory of someone, which I was delighted about, because it had completely slipped my mind to bring along a ribbon for it. I attached a royal blue ribbon that I was really grateful for, and took a moment to remember my mum with her favourite colour. We climbed the steep hill ahead of us, whilst being entertained by a man dressed in Roman battle attire (bare legs/arms and all!), joined the queue for the stiles ahead, when Mark’s nose started bleeding onto the pure, white snow. Whoops! We mopped that up, only for him to have a couple of slips on some rare mud. We opted to hold hands and help each other up the slippery slope, until we reached the steps.
We were then running back along the cliff in the footsteps of those faster runners. The snow was really deep in some places, and the wind/snow combination was becoming brutal – again, I am in awe of those marshals; you all rock! I did also stack it up here, landing on my hands and knees in the deep snow… I noticed at this point how much I was literally frozen. I wore a bobble hat, where the bobble was solid ice. My eyelashes were frozen, there was a thin layer of ice affixed on my cheeks, and that trusty buff was crusty with ice. The hat and buff did do a good job of keeping the weather out though. Mark and I exchanged comments about how idiotic this run was, along with lots of giggles – it was quite the experience. Visibility was tricky for Mark, who had to remove his glasses, and then for both of us where the snow was firing sharply into our eyes.
I was pleased to find myself down from the cliffs and back in the caravan park. Where the cups of water they were handing out were topped with snow earlier, they were now like drinking slushies. Luckily, I had brought my hydration pack with me, and we both drank from that, as it was a lot more drinkable than the little icy cups. We also rehydrated shortly after that at the pop-up pub at the bottom of the caravan park, and enjoyed a small cup of that specially brewed Grizzly beer – delicious!
We mostly followed the route (with only a few diversions from the track we had taken on the way out) back towards Seaton, unfortunately avoiding the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ back up to the cliffs. There were a few more climbs, and as we ran through Beer and back up the cliffs on the other side of the town, I was cheered on by the couple I had met earlier with the dog – thankfully, they appeared to have taken the pup home to the warm. That was a welcome and familiar cheer, and helped us climb up to the wonderful view of the coastline.
The final descent into Seaton was slippery but manageable, and the draw of the finish helped us get a sprint in down the seafront. We were still careful not to push too hard because the snow-covered roads had been churned up by hundreds of other feet, but we maintained a good pace and pushed our way to the end with gurning faces. We were awarded with our finisher’s t-shirts and delicious flapjacks, before disappearing into the warm and dry in the town hall. We were reunited with our other club members, and enjoyed some delicious home-made soup, as well as acquiring that sought-after Grizzly beer.
The weekend was finished off with a few pints in the Hat ‘micro-pub’, a lovely dinner in the Malt House pub, a well-earned sleep, and a monstrous breakfast in Trotters café the next morning. The icing on the cake was a final visit to Beer on the beach, where we encountered some beautiful views of the cliffs we had ascended and descended merely hours ago. But the cherry on top was the snowman built by my boyfriend, who we named BJ after the club’s initials. It was a surreal experience building a snowman on the beach, but a definite opportunity to be seized!
I would like to send a HUGE thank you out to Axe Valley Runners and all of the surrounding communities who made this event possible, and to everyone involved for making the best of a wintry situation. The 31st running of this event has been reported to have been the toughest running of the event to date. I can’t vouch for 29 of those, but from last year, it really did compare in a vast way. Everyone who was on the start list for this year has been offered priority entry for next year, since we were unable to run the full event, which is so kind of the club. They didn’t have to do that, or even put a run on last Sunday, and for such a popular event that a ballot is run for, you really couldn’t ask for anything more. I will most certainly be back again next year, and hopefully in years to come!
Thanks for reading,