The Grizzly is a race organised by Axe Valley Runners. It takes place in March every year and starts and finishes on Seaton sea front in Devon which is on the South coast of England.
The race is very popular and entry is gained by taking part in a ballot held in September where approximately 1500 places are allocated. About 400 women take part. The Grizzly has been happening every year since 1988. Not including 2016, the race has raised £305k for local charities. Every year the race has a name. The 2016 race was the 29th and was named ‘Grin and Bear It.’
The race is about 20 miles long and has over 3,500 feet of elevation – most of which are very steep. There are two sections of beach totalling well over a mile. There is also a steep path up the cliff at Beer Head – known as the Stairway to Heaven. There is a river to run along at Branscombe Mouth – twice. There are bogs which can be waist deep in mud and water. Some of the descents are very steep, slippery, wet and muddy. The 20 miles will take at least as long as a road marathon – longer if conditions are grim. There is a shorter race called the Grizzly Cub which starts at the same time and is about 8 miles long. About 500 people take part in this and it is possible to change your mind after about 5 miles of the full Grizzly onto the shorter course. The Cub is about 8 miles long and is still quite arduous with beach sections and steep hills. The sketch map gives you an idea of the course but it can’t tell you about the hills mud and the generally rough terrain.
For me the Grizzly is a regular event. This year was my 10th. At about mile 7 I decided I should be old enough to know better than to be doing it again. There were not that many older ladies in the field. But after that I got a grip and enjoyed myself.
There are many outstanding things about the race but as ever it is the people that really make it such a success. The main people are the organisers, Axe Valley Runners. There is a certain quirky humour underlining everything they do and this seems to transmit onto the course. Here is a link to the Grizzly poetry.
There are hundreds of volunteers involved in the race. There are marshals shouting encouragement and keeping everyone on the right route at regular intervals throughout the course.
These people are universally cheerful and encouraging. There are also several musicians – a samba band, men playing bag pipes and even Elvis!
There are 6 drinks stations – two of which are visited twice. There is a cake station at about 14 miles too. There are hundreds of members of the public including many children offering sweets, mainly jelly babies and wine gums but some chocolate raisins. All the feed stations have dozens of people handing stuff out and clearing up the mess afterwards.
Other important people are the men in chest waders at the bogs to rescue those who get stuck. There is also John Greenhalgh who dresses in chain mail wielding a sword and yelling abuse in Olde English at the very big, very steep hill afterwards.
There is a cliff rescue team on the Stairway to Heaven – offering encouragement but also to help people who suffer from vertigo. One was handing out grapes – Mmmm very nice. There are volunteers at the finish giving out flapjack, bananas, t shirts and water. There are Fire Fighters at the finish hosing the runners down to get the worst of the mud off. All of these hundreds of people make this a very special, memorable and enjoyable event.
The race is started by the Town Crier and this in itself is great fun with plenty of audience participation, shouting and cheering before the start.
Once underway it is straight onto the stony beach which is of course very hard work. It is a great spectacle to watch 2000 runners struggling their way enthusiastically along the beach with Beer Head as a backdrop.
The next few miles are unavoidably on the road to Beer but there are lots of cheering spectators,a band, and also Elvis. After about 3 miles the route is off the road and the hills and mud begin. There is a lovely section with fantastic views along the top of the cliffs between Branscombe and Beer…
…before the plunge down a steep, muddy, rocky path to Branscombe Mouth and into the river – wow – very cold and well over the knees.
A good rhythm is kept by the Samba Band who keep playing continuously for about 6 hours here. There are lots of spectators a Branscombe Mouth – many offering sweeties. Then the route goes into Branscombe village– a nice flat easy stretch. This year I was too hot at this point but I knew Ian would be there so I could discard a base layer.
After Branscombe the route climbs into the Devon hills and the next 9 miles go up and down hills – through muddy forest tracks,
and through the infamous bogs.
There are still many spectators and lots of sweeties – water stations and cake stations, knights in chain mail and every half mile or so an inspirational sign to make you smile and keep you going.
The camaraderie amongst the runners is fantastic. We’re all in this together and although doing the best we can we are all willing to help someone out if they need it.
At fourteen and a half miles there is a steep muddy lane which emerges at the Fountain Head Inn where there is a Ceilidh band playing and a tunnel of cheering spectators.
I’m always glad to get this far as I know there is ‘only ‘ 6 miles to go and the number of proper hills can be counted on one hand. It is straight up steeply from the pub and then another lovely wooded section with lots of smiling marshals and their encouragement (and more Jelly Babies). At mile 16 there is yet another steep plunge down to Branscombe Mouth (again). The Samba Band are still providing the rhythm with amazing enthusiasm and we once more wade along the freezing cold river. Then it’s onto the beach. Every other time I have done the Grizzly the beach has been deep shingle. This year it was possible to run on sand- quite firm sand.(because of a big spring tide). As my daughter said it felt like cheating!
At mile 17 there is the steep ascent of Beer Head, the Stairway to Heaven.
It is possible to run the lower section but once onto the steps it is a walk. On emerging at the cliff top this year there were about 30 people all clapping and cheering so instead of lumbering slowly along we were encouraged into running. From the top of the cliff it was mainly downhill to Beer. The drinks station at the caravan site had Jaffa Cakes and chocolate digestives. By this time I was on a mission to finish. I still had plenty of energy and was able to keep running over the little hill before descending to Beer. There were still hundreds of people here cheering encouragement. It’s a bit hilly after that but the end is in sight and I can be quite gritty and determined in these circumstances so I kept running where by now there were lots of people walking.
The last kilometre is downhill to the finish. My Strava splits showed that this was the fastest kilometre I have run for a while which is quite pleasing! It shows how keen I was for it to STOP! And stop it did – just over 4 hours after I started.
There are prizes in this race for the first three in each sex. But every finisher is a winner! Everyone gets a T shirt – (they change the colour of the t shirt every year).
At the finish there are lots of volunteers giving out food and drink and of course the Fire Fighters with their hose and brushes to clean the worst of the mud off.
A grand day out.