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Living on a prayer on the Stairway to Heaven – Wayne Boardman reports from his debut Grizzly

The Grizzly, a race I’ve heard many SJers talk about over the years. With tales of hills, mud, and more hills and mud, it’s always been a ‘to do’ race for me – and so the 30thanniversary run was the one I would be running.

I’m no novice when it comes to running along the coast, with in-laws who live in Mudeford, and having ran many training runs in the Bournemouth/Poole/Swanage areas, I thought I knew about coastal inclines. Confidence in my ability to run uphill was riding high, so I didn’t even bother researching The Grizzly. As the advance parties starting arriving in Seaton and sharing on Facebook the hilly delights they’d encountered, I decided it was perhaps good preparation to read the race info I’d been sent a few weeks earlier. Upon reading the info I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading….“The Grizzly has over 3,500’ of ascent in its 20 miles”, and “Beware if you suffer from vertigo”, when referring to the Stairway to Heaven, and also “two energy sapping bogs, where runners are often up to their waists in water and mud” – as a man who is somewhat vertically challenged I was probably more worried than others about this particular piece of advice! Would I need to take my snorkel with me?

SJs on start line

And so race day arrives, I meet up with the happy smiley SJ crew on the start line, and after some very weird chanting (what was that?), we’re off. For anyone who’s never done the Grizzly be warned, they do not lead you in gently! Within a few hundred yards of the start line we’re running along the pebbled beach, which is surprisingly difficult underfoot; this was quickly followed by Richard B narrowly missing being covered by the deposits of a very large seagull. There was no mistake, the Grizzly had begun and I knew it would be a fun race.

Wayne & Cub crew

I broke away from the group of SJers I was with at the start and enjoyed the first few hills of the course, although the constant running quickly downhill, followed by the slow uphill run that eventually resulted in a walk, took some time to get used to. By surprise I then find myself running alongside Paul A, Sarah H, Richard McC, Jane C and Vicky R, and thoroughly enjoyed running with who I refer to as ‘the fast ones’. After a few selfies with the scenic views behind us, and after taking in some advice about the route ahead, it was time to go our separate ways as the ‘fast ones’ were doing the Cub.

I saw Sarah A was not too far ahead of me and so I decided to catch her up and run alongside her for a while, but it took me until mile 11 to catch her up, I found the terrain made it impossible to put any really effort into my run. I caught up with Sarah at the perfect time, just before the really muddy, boggy part of the course, and it was great having a friend to enjoy this special part of the course with. It was hilarious, Sarah was running slightly ahead of me and I couldn’t help but think how drunk she looked. She was all over the place, slipping and sliding, catching her balance and then going over again. We were having such a laugh; I can’t remember ever laughing so much during a race. Sarah powered on shortly after exiting the swamps and I simply didn’t have the energy to follow.

drunk Sarah

The race continued and it seemed relentless at times, just as you think you’re at the top of the tallest hill you turn a corner and there’s even more to climb – when will this end? Worse than the uphills was the running across the hilly landscape at a ridiculous angle – I honestly thought I was a goat for most of Sunday morning. As for the downhills, they were simply quad crushing at times!

Quad burning downhill

Finally at around mile 16 I find myself back down on the pebbly beach where Ian W flew past with a cheery hello and words of comfort, that’s when I noticed the Stairway to Heaven. At reaching the foot of the cliff I decided my strategy was to just take each step as it comes, dig deep and get to the top as quickly as I possibly could. At about 20 steps in my quads decided they’d had enough and starting cramping up, I knew it would be tough, but I had no choice, I had to reach the top. Half way up I was met by a priest, I wasn’t sure whether to ask him to pray for me or whether I should repent my sins. I decided a prayer would be more useful and so onwards and upwards I went.

the priest

The relief at reaching the top was tangible, and after a quick stretch of the quads I trudged on across the cliff tops, with the view of Seaton (and more importantly the finish), in front of me. The final few miles went by surprisingly quickly and I soon found myself on the downward slope into Seaton and across the finish line, but not before high fiving all of the awaiting SJers – you lot are simply the best (and loudest) supporters around!

Wayne at finish

As I sit here writing this review with sore ankles (I wonder how goats strengthen their ankles?), and reflecting on The Grizzly I have to say the race is by far the hilliest, muddiest, and funniest I’ve ever had the pleasure to run. I feel privileged that I’ve been able to experience The Grizzly, and I can’t wait to return next year. If you’ve never done it, please consider it, it could be the race of your life!

One comment on “Living on a prayer on the Stairway to Heaven – Wayne Boardman reports from his debut Grizzly

  1. That final photo says it all! Great bloggage


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