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Tales from the Trails – SJ Members Grizzly Highlights

Sunday 10th March 2019 saw 21 hardened Sandhurst Joggers’ take to the coast of Devon for the renowned ‘Grizzly’ event, along with its little sister the ‘Cub’. Strong winds proved a test and led to a slight course alteration, but that didn’t stop the positive reviews from flowing in. Members relive their experiences below, starting with Jess Metcalfe discussing her experience of the Cub…

Jess Metcalfe: Having only run on road prior to the Cub, I had no idea what to expect. Even up until I arrived, I was just thinking ‘Only 9 miles, how challenging could it be?!’. I had covered a reasonable distance and started taking on the Plymouth hills every day as training (if you can call it that!), but just had no idea what to expect. Being on placement in Axminster during January, my educator drove me round bits of the course where possible, and the whole department openly called me crazy – but that’s why we do it!

Nice and early departure from Plymouth, the excitement was setting in. The wind was furious, slightly heavier than usual in the South West. Grizzly HQ was buzzing, Seaton was covered in Grizzly related signs and excitement. I met some of the SJs in HQ and then was immersed into Grizzly excitement. We all approached the start line like penguins with the long road ahead.

And wow! What a race! The hardest first mile I’ve ever done – not a fan of pebble beaches now. Beer road lived up to what everyone said, how anyone can run up hills like that is unbelievable. But that didn’t matter, being surrounded by people who are just happy to be there and knowing everyone’s in this together, you can’t help but forget about the wind, hills and mud and just smile! And I’m definitely not a fan of the stairs leading up the cliff face! Mud, mud, glorious mud!

Crossing the finish line, I was over the moon. I have never had a run where I have felt amazing all the way through, maybe it was down to all the jelly babies! Words honestly can’t describe the experience and the feeling I had, and still have now. Looking to next year and I may have been persuaded to step it up a notch and complete the full 20 miles. Either way, I will be back!”

And now we have the various reviews of the ‘Grizzly’, starting off with Patrick Wadsworth…

Patrick Wadsworth: The Grizzly is a permanent fixture in my calendar. It is a great event and usually run in sunshine, showing off the Devon countryside in all its glory. This year was no exception. I picked up my fellow day travelers and we had left by 7 for the drive down. We parked easily and wandered onto the seafront for bacon butties, tea and chat with other SJs who were down for the weekend. Bag dropped eventually at the town hall and I tried to squeeze into the start to hear the Town Crier’s humorous welcome. Then we were off. Along the front and back along the beach before passing the start again and heading out to Beer and Branscombe. A mix of raid running, open fields and muddy paths followed and a wade through the river. More hills and muddy paths, muddy knee-deep bogs and vertiginous ascents. A beach run and a stairway to heaven up the cliffs followed by a run to the finish. Throughout there are superb marshals encouraging you and plenty of water and nibble stations. If the going gets tough just look around you at the scenery or start a conversation with someone next to you. It’s not a race but a collective event. Time does not matter, it’s about getting around, enjoying Devon and being part of something big. If you haven’t done it before give it a try.”

Vicky Rice: This was to be my 4th Grizzly – I realised that I haven’t returned to any race for a 4th time – what was it about the Grizzly?! We headed to Seaton on Saturday early evening to be greeted with rain and high winds confirming that the course would be muddy and tough as always. The weather Sunday morning was really mixed – 1 minute it was raining and cold, the next it was sunny with clear blue skies but very windy – more layers, less layers, sunnies, hat? The usual dithering about what to wear! We headed to the seafront to meet the rest of the Sandhurst gang – there is always such a great atmosphere with everyone excited and/or apprehensive about what awaits. The sun was out so I ditched a layer and the hat and opted for sunnies!

I headed to the pen with Darren and Sarah H – we listened to the usual address from the Town Crier which is always entertaining and then we were off. First mile over the pebbles, round the sailing club and up out of Seaton. Me and Sarah H had planned to run together but heading out over the first hill Sarah was like a coiled spring and I didn’t want to hold her back so told her to crack on and chase Darren down! It was so warm so I was glad I’d ditched some layers already. So, there I was at mile 2 and the realisation that I was running solo for the next 18 miles! I’m not great at running solo and I didn’t have my usual wingman (aka Jane) with me. But it allowed me to run at my own pace and I wanted to see what mental strength I had. I knew the course and I knew which hills I could run and which I had to walk. Over the headland at miles 3-5 there was a massive headwind which made it feel like we weren’t moving – I tried to tuck into a pack to take shelter but we were really battling the wind. We headed down to the beach and through the water, said goodbye to the cubbers and then headed inland.

It then dawned on me that the course looked very familiar but we were going the other way – so those that know it – we ran up through the zig-zag woods and round the farm in reverse – the hill in the middle of the farm you usually come down was a killer going up! My glute niggle started to hurt about 8 miles which was affecting my stability in the mud – I was slipping, sliding and tripping over everything – it was a miracle I didn’t completely stack it! The next good few miles were really tough – so much mud, the downs were getting really painful worse than the ups. But I kept ticking off the miles and it helped I knew what was coming next. Through the bog and water delights at 13 miles – which they had extended and went on forever, then up the steep bank – I couldn’t get near the rope so used the footprints to crawl my way up. I was really feeling it by this point so the Triathlon club food station was a very welcome site – I loaded up with flapjack and told a guy with an Ironman France jacket on – give me Ironman any day!! Next milestone was the pub which you run straight through the middle of – everyone cheered and I was on my own so I had my moment of glory! Back up through the woods and I caught up with John T. We both knew the pebble beach was nearing! I pushed on and caught up with some Honiton Runners who I would play cat and mouse with over the next few miles. My legs were working a bit better now and I was feeling mentally strong.

On to the beach and having had a dark moment here before I was in a good place and knew I could run the whole length of the beach to the stairway to Heaven. Mission accomplished and I overtook my Honiton runners to climb the Stairway. Half way up the stairway I saw an SJ vest…Darren!!!! I was surprised to see him, but was glad to hear he’d had a good first half before the usual cramp had set in. Not bad effort on 1 training run last Thursday! He suggested we run the last 3 miles together but when I got to the top he wasn’t with me, just a Park Run to go and I knew this would be a strong bit for me. I pushed on knowing the end was in sight. One guy got a bit grumpy with me as I wanted to push on but he was walking – I heard him say, it’s not a race! Well…actually it is again my own personal time! A strong finish and down the home straight….and then the Honiton runners came past me – ‘Guys, how could you?!!’ Fair play to them! Another Grizzly done! Definitely the toughest race in the calendar for me!

Dave Bartlett: “Grizzly, well having waited in excess of 18 months having been successful in the 2018 ballot, 2019 never disappointed. A little apprehensive at the start following my desire for a portion of chips on West Bay (Broadchurch) beech with my travel and weekend companions, Nigel & Liz Ujszaszi Evans. Why you may ask, well the chips were lovely and the seagulls friendly. Unfortunately, my knee never took a liking to the shingle and I honestly believed I’d be lucky to run more than a mile or two. In defensive mode we got into town early and ensured parking close to the start, started our recce of the promenade, beech and hill that led out of town to the west and finished asking ourselves why. Suddenly surrounded by a good number of Sandhurst Joggers we took on advice from the seasoned runners around us and headed to the start. Run walk is definitely the philosophy and taking it just as easy going down as we did going up paid dividends. Roads, trails, hills, valleys, streams, swamps, forests, cliff faces, shingle beaches and 50mph winds what more could you ask for. By far the best event I’ve ever entered, fantastic organisation, fantastic aid stations, fantastic marshals and amazing support throughout I’ll be in the 2020 ballot the day it opens (if it does?). Huge thanks for all the encouragement from this amazing club that travelled in strength, Richard for his words of wisdom through the first 6 miles and my pilot, Nigel (top gun) Evans for sticking to the plan. If you’re looking for a pressure free challenge this is one you simply have to do, see you on the Jurassic Coast in 2020!”

Sharon Burfield: “The grizzly was good fun, with great company and scenery! I enjoyed the hills, the sea and even the pebble beach, but I really did not like the cold water!! Even the ‘bog of doom’ was better than the freezing cold water!! I’m glad I’ve done it the once, but not sure I will do it again!”

Wayne Boardman: “I first ran The Grizzly in 2017 and loved it so much I decided it had to become an annual event. I returned in 2018, and as I’d arrived before the weather turned, I was one of the lucky few who ran a unique shortened version of this great race. This year’s race was all part of my spring marathon training, and although running The Grizzly is never about times, but more about the experience, I still wanted to achieve a better time than my previous (4.23), and was really hoping for a sub-4. Race day arrived, the sun was shining and a dry day was forecast, all we had to worry about was the gale blowing through Seaton. After the obligatory SJ coffee shop photo, and with the gloomy tones of the Town Crier, we were off. My 18-year-old nephew was running the event for the first time, and I’d joked with him that he wouldn’t be able to beat this old man, but I lost him on the beach as he went off like a rocket; I assumed that race was over.

The first few miles through the Seaton and Beer went smoothly, and it was only when we popped our heads above the caravan park that we realised the true strength of the wind – it was strong for sure! After that the race is quite simply a relentless obstacle course of hills, mud, ice cold streams, bogs, slurry, more mud, more hills, pebbles, even more hills, oh, and more mud. Alongside all of this is some remarkably stunning coastal scenery, generous local residents offering home baked goods, and quite simply the best marshals you’ll ever have the pleasure of running with. I had a great race on Sunday, there were tough moments when the inclines were getting too much and cramp wanted to set up, but generally I felt strong and was encouraged to keep moving forward by all my club mates I saw on the course.

I finished around 45-mins quicker than in 2017, and was surprised to find my nephew was on the finish line at the same time. It turned out he beat me by just 24-seconds, about the time it took me to drink the free beer (yes that’s right!), at mile 18. If only I hadn’t been so weak. For anyone who’s never done The Grizzly, please do, it’s just the best race, and my favourite of the year. See you there next year?”

Richard Boese: The Grizzly is a 20 mile very hilly, very muddy mostly trail event the starts in Seaton, Devon and heads over to the villages of Beer and Branscombe before looping out into the countryside to the north and returning to the coast at Branscombe and back to Seaton by a different route. 

I got a lift with chauffeur Patrick and Paul and Sarah from the club, pick up at 7am, so almost a lie in. I thought this was quite a relaxed start and I had everything sorted for the run, but just on to the M3 realised I had left my race number at home! Shit. 

I got my wife to send me a picture of my number, checked the race instructions and it seemed I would be able to get a new number quite easily. My only worry was what time were would get there as Patrick’s sat nav was saying 9:20. I assumed it was a 10:00 start, so when we got to Seaton, I left my bag with Paul and ran to race HQ a mile away. 

When I got there everyone was looking very relaxed considering they were 30 mins from the start, but I found HQ and easily got a new race number. I found a few more club mates, who told me race start was actually 10:30, so I could relax for a bit as I was already in my running kit. 

grizzly patrick

At the start on the sea front we were packed in near the front and the start gantry for the briefing and then the traditional start sent on or way by the town crier. 

The stand out moments from the run and what make the Grizzly special are the first half mile run along the shingle beach, the run down into Branscombe with its wading through an icy stream to get into the village, the climb up through the switchback woods with the immense tall pines being thrashed about in the wind, the descent in to and hilarious traverse of the Bog of Doom, climbing the next hill so steep there are ropes to haul yourself up with, running through the beer garden of the pub in Branscombe, wild garlic hill, the Stairway to Heaven climb up Branscombe east cliff, free beer in Beer, the finish in Seaton and getting hosed clean by Seaton fire brigade. 

That is a lot of stand out moments for one race.”

Alison Jones: I entered The Grizzly last year and was treated to a fun run in the snow, so when I was told entries from last year would get priority for this year I bagged my place for 2019.

Sharon Burfield, Jane Bannister and I arrived in Beer and found the POD we would be staying the night in and then set off to find how long it would take us to walk to the start in the morning, after navigating our way up hills and down again we decided we would drive to the start instead, that way we might have enough energy to get around the course.

The morning of the run we met the rest of the mentally unbalanced Sandhurst Joggers in the usual café and after much jollity and photo taking lined up to tackle The Grizzly 2019!

After about 10 minutes I remembered what I hated from the previous year i.e. running along a pebbled beach, not a good start.  Sharon has been having some injury issues and did not want to aggravate these so decided she would take it steady, hence she ran with me, well I say ran, sometimes we even did.

After the beach I thought that’s the worst over, then we encountered the water, which was to become quite a feature in our journey, I won’t even bother mentioning the hills, that’s a given, but I will mention the squinty fields we tried to run across, with an accompanying side wind, all added to the fun.

Having only run a short course last year I was not sure when we would come across the “Bog of Doom” so when I saw a fellow nutter tightening his shoes I though “Oh Ho here we go” and it was indeed a muddy bog, not too bad so I thought this is easier than I anticipated, what a fool I was!

When we finally reached the “Bog of Doom” I was in no doubt where we were, it was a pleasure to get into the heat of the mud, the water was freezing, with just some more hills, squinty fields, streams, beach and the “stairway to heaven” to go the end was in sight and we finally finished The Grizzly 2019.

I can understand the attraction of this run and many people do it year upon year, I do not think I will be one of them since this will no longer be “trails of the unexpected” I know what is coming.”

Jane Bannister: This race was long awaited since it was snowing last year and you were only able to run the Cub event. 

I had agreed beforehand to run with Will Lucas and the plan was to run the flats and walk the hills, take plenty of photographs/selfies along the way and make sure we were well fuelled at the water/food stations. We successfully stuck to this plan 😂

The atmosphere is amazing right from the start by the Mayor and the Town Crier reading his Proclamation to all the marshals and supporters – we even had the Queen walking through the muddy waters encouraging us all along the way.

This iconic race lived up to expectations – lots of hills, amazing scenery along with some muddy trails as well as a chance to get our feet wet. What was there to dislike – nothing!

We still didn’t quite manage to do the full course as it was too windy – we were about 3/4 mile short – perhaps 3rd time lucky to run the whole course?!”

Can’t beat a team photo! All that’s left to say is well done to all SJs who took part in the Grizzly and the Cub, it seems as though it should definitely be on all of our running bucket lists, even if it is just for the free beer!

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