One week after my slightly lacklustre run at Bideford, I found myself lined up on Seaton seafront for a race. ‘The Grizzly’ consisted of a pebbled beach, followed by hills and some mud, followed by some hills, more hills, definitely more hills and then a pebbled beach before a hill to finish. It’s a tough race, 20 miles long and off-road. Personally, having got a long course Triathlon planned in for May, I thought I’d avoid any marathon type activities until after that. The effort and recovery can be quite substantial. However, Sarah for some reason had put herself into the ballot for this (yes- it is that popular) and managed to get a place. I don’t think she really wanted to do it. Then, given the opportunity of a friends 30th in Krakow, she jumped on a plane and left me holding the race number. Feels like a set-up to ensure I would feel like a cripple for my Birthday two days later. Still, I could take it easy I suppose.
On the start line, it was good to bump into a few people from South Devon that I hadn’t seen since moving to Taunton. Ceri Rees, who regularly wins the race (by some margin) was lined up. When i lived in Totnes, I used to run his Thursday night Wild run club where we grabbed a head torch and spent the evening roaming muddy fields. Ceri is a really talented runner and spends all his time training off-road so the Grizzly suits him perfectly. I also spotted Torbay club mates Andy Longthorpe and John Parkinson lining up a couple of rows back. JP runs the quick training group at Torbay which has a really great bunch of folk doing it and a real sense of camaraderie. He gives session plans 6 weeks in advance which is really helpful and you can see the way he’s periodising the runs to build speed for the summer.
Back to the start line, and we set off we had the town crier yelling out a motivational speech. The sun was out in force and there was a great pre-race atmosphere. Had we been stood in wind and rain, the speech might have been less entertaining. As it was, the weather was looking perfect. The gun went and we set off on a short loop which took us along the pebbles of Seaton sea front. Running on pebbles feels a bit like running on a treadmill. There’s no sand to grip, and your feet slide backgrounds on top of the pebbles. It was the same handicap for everyone though, and it broke the front of the race up quite quickly. Ceri slowly disappeared off the front and I was left around 10 or 15 places back. The loop ended quickly and before you knew it, the first steep hill hit.
Ceri leading out up the first hill*.
How many hills do you get to race that have an Elvis Presley impersonator at the top? This was my first, and one of the many little things that make this race special. My original thoughts had been to take the race easy, leave my legs feeling fresh, and build to Taunton half marathon a few weeks later. I’d changed my mind though. I wanted a crack at getting a good run out. The first hill was either quite long or quite steep or both. I remember being a little surprised, but we’d soon climbed high enough to encounter a beautiful view overlooking Seaton beach and Sea – I’ve seen some pretty awesome landscapes in my life and this was right up there. As I remember it, we then dipped down near the pubs where there was great support. Then along a path where an old guy tried to encourage us by telling us that we were nowhere near the leader and should get a move on.
I’ve done a few races that were off-road where the directions were not at all clear. The Grizzly set a high standard for how course navigation should be done. The directions were good and there were marshals where you needed them. I think that anyone who gives up their Sunday to marshal a race is a hero; we just couldn’t have running as we know it without the volunteers. The one’s that smile and cheer you on are great. It’s funny, I’ve marshalled races and you can feel a bit self-conscious about cheering but there’s nothing better when you’re running to have a random stranger giving you encouragement. Thanks Grizzly marshals – you rocked! There was a lot of effort put into this race. I passed at least ten signs with motivational snippets written on them that had me philosophising in my head as my brain wandered in its glycogen depleted way. I really appreciated these. They broke up the miles, especially as I was running most of the race on my own. It was strange though. Even though it was a long race, It didn’t feel too lonely. It must have been the good support and good marshalling.
I often like to recollect entire courses when I run a race, but I’d struggle to do that here. The hills were relentlessly frequent. Straight up and straight down. What I did discover was a love of running downhill. Anyone who’s ever read a race report from me will usually hear me moan about being overtaken on the downhill’s. I’ve got to say that wearing the Innov8 Mudclaws was definitely a great call and meant I completely ignored any thought that I might slip or lose my footing. The disappointing downhills from the Humdinger Half had so ingrained into me, that I forgot I could run off-road hills. I reckon I was putting about 25 metres into some people on the longer ones. There was one guy who was a better climber and we spent the race yo-yo ‘ing’ back and forward. It was like the opposite effect to most road races I do. I wasn’t bad at climbing but I don’t have the super lean build of a few people and I think that really helps as you get near the top of the bigger climbs. That and a set of bagpipe lungs. That reminds me… did I mention there was some bagpipers at the top of one of the hills too. Again, the little things that keep you smiling over the gruelling distance and elevation.
Aside from the relentless hills that featured one of which had a knight in full metal armour on it, there were bogs. These were the types of bog that you run at and immediately stop in, basically because they are so deep it take a few seconds to drag each foot out of the suction. I was knee-deep a few times and I think I scampered around some of the deeper bits. Having done a few ‘Sodbury slogs’, I’m pretty accustomed to bog running and if you hear no other advice than this, tie your shoelaces tight. I did have one come off once but at least I found it, I’ve seen people finish with one shoe.
I got to see my Mum and Dad at a couple of points which was nice. I managed to grab a gel from my Mum. All in all, I went through 3 gels – taking them around 7,12 and 15 miles. That worked fine for me. I tried to grab water whenever it was offered and tried not to slow down for the drink stations. I find it’s more fun if you imagine the bottle of water is a baton in the 4x100m. The only time I slowed down was on the really steep climbs. I found that near the end of some of these I couldn’t run much quicker than I could walk and at those points I chose the walk option, particularly when it came to the steps from the beach up the cliff. From 15 or so miles (perhaps earlier),the downhills were starting to hurt as my quads got sore. I still think I ran them ok but not the same zippiness I had at the beginning. I zig zagged to take some of the steepness out of a few. My legs were pretty relieved when I got to the finish. I was happy to come top ten, for 9th place in 2hrs .33. What’s the best thing to do when you finish a race covered in mud. Get hosed down, obviously ! Such is the good organisation of this race, that the fire brigade were casually hanging out on the esplanade to hose your legs down; the cold water felt pretty good. I grabbed a flap jack, banana and made my way to get a massage; always the best part of the day.
I thought the Grizzly was a great race. Really tough. More steep climbs than I expected but so many good points of support around the course. I enjoyed my run but as I expected, my legs were pretty beaten up afterwards. I’m sure had I gone a bit easier on the downhills they would have faired a lot better but where’s the fun in that. The rest of my week went like this: Monday: 30min indoor bike, stretch, Tuesday: nothing. My legs felt terrible on Monday and Tuesday and my resting heart rates was about 8 beats higher than normal. Wednesday: 4k morning swim and slow 7 mile run in the evening – both done at a really easy pace. The morning swim helped loosen the body. The evening run/shuffle really got the blood flowing back to the legs. By Wednesday night my resting heart rate had dropped 5 beats and I felt a lot better. Thursday: 3k swim in the evening and an hr bike on Friday. My hamstrings are a little tight and I skipped any intervals until the following Tuesday. Otherwise I can’t complain with the recover time. I wouldn’t want to race 1 week after but 3 weeks will be fine. Roll on Taunton HM.
*NB Thanks to Stewart Bondi for this pic