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The Polar Bear – Stephen Casey reports back from the Grizzly’s snowball throwing little brother

Peer pressure can be a terrible thing.  When it was combined with one of those mythological events, repeatedly mentioned at club runs, I found myself having won a “lottery” and with a race number for 20 miles of running up cliff and down beach at the iconic Grizzly race in Seaton, Devon.  Then I forgot all about it.
About a month ago having been reminded of my winning entry, probably at a club run, I hastily planned to join the regular Sunday run with Dick, Emy and Caroline’s Lookout “long” runs to get some miles in.  I wasn’t sure if the landmarks and paths of Swinley Forest compared to Devon’s Jurassic coast but it’s certainly a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday morning.
With B&B booked, GrizQuiz team name agreed (The Quizzly Bears), transport organised, training done (kind of) and legs slightly wobbly a week before the race everything looked well planned.  Then the weather struck.  In the days leading up to race Sunday, big events were falling by the wayside.  Although it looked like a light dusting, the Met Office was warning of Yellow Snow over the whole of England and we all know to avoid that.
met office
As those yellow warnings turned to amber, Fleet and Reading cancelled and Axe Valley Runners announced that the full 20mi was being cancelled but that the show would go on with the Cub run going ahead.  Apart from thinking that they missed a trick in not calling it the Polar Bear but encouraged by other Joggers committing to go ahead (mostly those who’d already paid for their accommodation), I stuck with the plan and a few of us drove to Seaton on Saturday afternoon.
The great thing about races that make up the lore of the club is the traditions that come with them; fish’n’chips led to quiz’n’beer and everyone who came down had a great night chatting about races past and future.  Although bitterly cold only enough snow settled to turn the smallest of country roads white.  I woke to much the same weather, a great breakfast in a lovely B&B and drove into Seaton to meet everyone.  Then, while waiting for the race to start, the snow fulfilled the met offices’ predictions and quickly covered the shingles that made up the first 1/3rd mile and hid anything further than 150m away in a white fog.
Undeterred, we donned gloves, hats and any other layers of clothing we could find and, leaving loved ones behind put toe to start line and awaited the off.  After some safety notices, a few jokes from the race director and many chattering teeth from the participants we were off.
The race itself was tough.  Starting with a 1/3rd of a mile of shingle beach, my legs silently thanked me that they weren’t a prelude to 20mi of tough running.  Anyone who knows the Devon and Cornwall coast knows its rise and fall from beach to cliff and back again.  The course designers made sure that every contour line was crossed as the course went back through Seaton and onto Beer before heading into the wild coastal paths.  At least I assume so, all I could see was white, white snow covered hills.  Through the towns the locals and other supporters came out to cheer, hand out sweets and thoughtfully set up a stand of slush puppies.
ians water stop
Although the legendary “Stairway to Heaven” was missed out, there were several tough climbs that brought everyone around me to a walking pace.  Even a Shakespearean Henry V, in full fighting armour, belting out a rousing speech, couldn’t convince us to run back from the furthest point up an incredibly steep incline, but he did keep spirits high and legs moving.  Running back with eyes scorched from constant blasts of horizontal snow, the hills actually seemed to give some shelter and respite!
Then, as Beer came back into view with the sight of a kindly local brewer handing out drinks, the bitterly cold peaks turned back to slippery tarmac paths; but the end was in sight.  Forgetting about our safety and with the goal in sight everyone put on a last dash to finish line.  In the end, the baby brother of an epic race that had grown up to present it’s own tough challenges.
Finally, but worth a mention, the goody bag included a very nice t-shirt which I’m sure you’ll see on those few Joggers that braved disappointments and blizzards to finish the 2018 race.  The organisers have promised guaranteed entry for all those who missed out on the full experience next year.  I suppose that means I’ll be lucky again next year.

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