Grizzly 2002

Tom Woodman

I ran the Grizzly yesterday. At least, I ran, walked, fell, slid, staggered, spludged and lived the Grizzly. And I loved every minute.

Gale force winds at the start, and I wondered what to wear. Rule of thumb is that when stood at the start, if you feel a bit a cold you've got the clothes right. I was feeling a bit cold when I still had my coat and jeans on.

Before the start I wandered down to the crashing waves on the beach. The day before I had been stood on the beach in simultaneous bright sun and pouring ran, tying plastic tape to canes, marking out what passes for a course. In practice, the tumultuous charge of 1500 runners along the shingle is less of a "course", and more like one of those wildlife films of wildebeest crossing rivers. Only less graceful.

Stood by the waves, with the beating drums in the background, I found I was really looking forward to the race to come, which is an unusual feeling for me before races. As I walked up to the start I picked up a pebble and put it in my pocket.

Steady start. I'd sworn not to go off too fast, so unsurprisingly I began to find myself breathing heavily along the beach, with 19 miles left to run. I'd sworn not to get drawn into being competitive early on, so unsurprisingly I began to find myself thinking "I can't let him/her get ahead of me", and labouring to keep up.

3 miles, we've been running long climbs through warm and sheltered fields, unexposed to the wind, and I'm feeling good. 4 miles, and we're running circuitously up and down, along a path that looks like knitting on the map. You catch glimpses of runners a mile ahead and a mile behind, racing within 100yds of you. You don't need to travel far to go a long way. 5 miles, and there's the Bean in effigy again. He's put on weight! Be(an) all you can be.

Out on to the cliffs now. Woooo! Now the gales are there, now you know you're running. Your legs are being whipped into each other, my number is ripped off, I'm glad the wind is blowing off the sea and away from the cliffs. Hundreds of feet up, and I can taste the salt. Down the descent into Branscombe, let myself go, supported by the gale in my face, passing the more cautious/sensible. They'll see me again as they pass me on the ups. They won't shout "whee!" as they go past though. At least I don't expect so.

Trog up the hill, thinking with surprise that it's circa 10 miles and I haven't walked any hills yet. And then there's the bog. Less said about that the better. Think about the wildebeest plunging round that river again (have you heard the gnus?). Hauled myself out with the almost voluntary help of another runner.

Pass the shrine, all incense and bells, and up the same hill that I cramped on last year. Twitches round the calves, and history repeats. Now I'm walking. Less bad this time though, and I'm surprised to find that after a mile of stagger I'm beginning to get a normal gait again

Sharp descent into Branscombe again, and I'm flying down the hill. Will I make the right-hand turn at the bottom? It's looking close, but I only brush the gate post rather than actually wearing it.

And then there's the beach. Never liked it before, but this was just amazing. Running on the firm shingle by the waves, in the waves. Ankle deep in foam, knee deep in sea, I'm loving every minute of it. Running higher up the beach would have been less crampy, but this was something else.

Tear myself away from the waves, and up the beach to the hand-made memorial. I didn't know Grizzly runner Dave Wotton, although I've read what he wrote about running and friends remember him. I took the Seaton pebble from my pocket and put it on the memorial. It seemed right to pay my respects in a grizzly Way.

Up the Stairway formerly known as the one To Heaven. And my legs seem to have stopped bending in the middle. Blown by gales again, but I just want to lie down on the brambly grass. But I want to go on more.

Down into Beer, where I lost my shirt last year. Almost home, but I still need to force heart, nerve, sinew and cramp for a good ten minutes more worth of distance run. Oh, the steps. Oh, the steps. Down the hill, back on the beach again now, and I can see The End, which is right where The Beginning was. Running in the sea again, with faint hearted runners staying higher up the beach. Then suddenly I'm in the waves up to my waist, the undertow pulling out to sea, and slightly fainter-hearted I stagger soggily landwards to the finish.

© Tom Woodman, 2002