A year seems to have flown by since I wrote about the Grizzly 2014 race being the hardest race I’ve run but here we are looking back on another great weekend racing along the cliffs and through the countryside and bogs of Devon.
Since last year, I’ve run 3 ultras placing 3rd, 4th and 4th and took part in a 2 day event along with another 24 hour race (and shorter races in between) and I think I can still say that nothing breaks the body quite like the Grizzly!
Coastal running is brutal and 20 miles is a tough distance because it’s long enough to be a real test of fitness and strength but also short enough to race “properly” at a high intensity level and going into the race until the last couple of weeks I’ve had a good block of training getting ready for London Marathon but my knee has recently been painful and a trip to the physio last week wasn’t exactly what I’d been hoping for as prep for this race.
The Grizzly is a massive race, 1,421 finishers this year and to get a feel for the scale of it, this is the start – half a punishing mile along a pebble beach!
I’d hoped to better last year both in time (2:56) and position (69th) and had a very ambitious goal of 2:45 for this year which I felt might be possible on a perfect day but I knew I’d have to have a truly spectacular day for that but aim big right ..
Ally and I joined the massed ranks ready for the traditional start poem from the town crier, and then it was off onto the beach. I knew immediately 2:45 wasn’t going to happen. The stretch along the beach left my legs feeling utterly pounded after only half a mile and I’ve not dreaded the remainder of a race quite as much as this in a long time! However, it’s back round onto the road and under the start line again for the first mile then up a decent 2 miles of road climbing as we head over into Beer.
It’s fairly uneventful until you pass out the top of Beer and onto the cliff path towards Branscombe although the crowds through Beer are always great both at mile 3-4 ish and 17 as you loop back through on the return.
Once onto the cliff tops, it was pretty windy this year and cooler than last year but pretty perfect running conditions although I took a gamble on conditions and went for Salomon SLab Sense 3 shoes instead of the Fellraisers I wore last year which I found uncomfortable on the harder trails and road sections but I knew in the Sense 3’s I’d probably slip around more on the trails and not be able to descend as quickly and it turned out to be quite a lot muddier than last year but overall I don’t think I lost that much time with less grip to be honest.
The loop of doom
Once you descend to Branscombe beach at about mile 6, the race loops you through a small river feeding down to the sea to make you uncomfortable with wet feet for the rest of the race (although it was nice and cool on the legs) and then you head upwards around 9 or so miles of massively undulating country trails with short and steep climbs and descents through fields, bogs and the many amazing drink stations manned by cheering marshals, musicians playing live music, the Fountain Head pub in Branscombe where you run through the beer garden to cheering crowds and much more.
It’s tough going though but eventually you loop around and start descending back to Branscombe beach for what has to be one of my least favourite bits of any race ever – back through the small river, then 2/3 of a mile then 200ft almost straight up the cliff face on a single track path. My quads were screaming long before that anyway but that’s a real kicker.
The final kick
Once back on the cliff top it’s reasonably pleasant finishing (relative to the middle loop anyway) with a nice descent back into Beer through the crowd at the bottom of the hill, a beasty little climb back up out of Beer then into Seaton for a .4 mile descent to the finish.
I comprehensively lost a sprint finish to the guy I’d been following for the mile previous but I’m not that gutted, the clock read 2:51:34 in the end and I figured I was somewhere around 50th (47th as it turns out!) so I’m delighted with that and with a knee I wasn’t able to move much and calves that have felt like glass every morning recently I’m glad to have got it done without too much pain beyond the normal effort of racing.
In the end, I think I ran about as well as I could have done. I don’t think I can claim any real performance problems from my knee and on the day 2:45 was perhaps just a little optimistic but I don’t feel it’s out of reach another time. Happy with my time and actually even more chuffed to be inside the top 50 of such a massive race.
Congrats to Mark Perkins who it was nice to catch up with briefly at the start who finished 4th overall in a short race for him.
I’ve not specifically trained for the Grizzly, I’m concentrating on road miles and speed for a try at 2:59 at London Marathon but I do think recent road 10k PB’s (36:34 and 36:25) helped here just by being faster on the even parts of the course. It does feel like I’m moving up a small step where my comfortable distance pace is 30-50s/mile faster so this definitely helps on longer races.
As those few brave regular readers are sometimes aware I seem to suffer from stomach issues necessitating a trip into the bushes in races where I’ve either thought I could get a good result or where I’ve set a very ambitious personal target so I tried a couple of new things this time – I didn’t have any coffee or tea on race day and for the first time I decided I’d give immodium tablets a go.
Glad to report absolutely no issues this time around although to be honest I think like last year I’d be fine in this race – despite the time target and racing it seriously, it’s still a run race for me but I’m going to stick with this “safety” precaution for future races anyway.
Not much to report really, as I mentioned earlier, I traded the cumbersome Fellraiser shoe with big mud eating lugs for the lighter and less grippy Sense and lost some downhill speed and fell over once traversing a field but other than that, wasn’t too bad and I preferred the road sections in the Sense. I took both pairs and if were raining I’d have worn the Fellraiser again.
Apart from that, shorts and a tech tee. I used 3 Torq gels at 7, 12 and 15 miles and knew there was plenty of water around the course and that the forecast for rain was after I’d be finished (Ally wasn’t so lucky finishing in downpour!).
Stunning as last year, this is a total community event and Seaton, Beer and Branscombe and every twist and turn on the course has music, marshals, local supporters and it’s epic fun and extremely well organised. 1,800 people do this race (and the shorter “Cub”) and I’m sure not one person could complain about a lack of support or not enough marshals! Thank you to all of you folks.
We’ll be back next year ..