The Good, The Bad and The Grizzly – Sunday 17 March 2024


Report by Iain Shepherd.

“Beep, beep…. Beep, beep” the sound that welcomed all the ambitious amateur athletes who have committed their souls to conquering, the not insignificant Devon countryside. To the sound of creaking bones and aching joints we prepare our choice of nutrition, the fuel that will carry us to the finish line. An important choice, surely one based on years of experience and dietary research; although the reality is somewhat different, with a mix of bacon, tea, porridge, fruit being consumed, or for some nothing at all.

The houses are quiet except for the occasional nervous giggle, anticipation builds as sporting uniforms, painstakingly laid out the night before, are shrugged on, blocks and gels secured, pouches filled at the tap. A roll of the ankle, a bend of the knee, a tattoo applied, a tiara in place on perfectly styled hair and with a final gentle stretch, almost reaching the toes, we are ready !!


The crowds gather on a glorious Devon morning, more nervous chatter and no sign of mud. The seafront is vast, an almost endless scene of individuals and tribal groups sporting colourful uniforms, all nervously smiling, chatting and soaking up the collective energy prior to the off.

Laces cinched, photographs taken, final jigs and farewells to loved ones complete, the ambitious athlete’s line up on the esplanade, shoulder to shoulder readying themselves for the challenge to come. “OYEZ, OYEZ, OYEZ !!” the sun is shining, “3”, the group is assembled, the training and preparations are done, “2”, the bagpipes play and in the company of friends, strangers, Wonder Women and assorted Super Heroes, “1”, we’re away.

The multi coloured flow of closely packed runners effortlessly move off to find the first hill, under the watchful gaze of a passionate and educated crowd gathered along the route to encourage this year’s athletes, here to tackle the Devon Challenge. Walking the hills is the accepted mantra, an opportunity to engage with fellow athletes and a time to consider the prospect of mud; surely not on a beautiful day such as this.

Off the track and across the field, yippee! Footing is not as sure as we would like, a strange squelching sound accompanies every step but why on this sunny day? Where did this mud come from? With a slip, a slide and a wobble we drop down again to the beach and an opportunity to clean the shoes. The crowd has gathered in their hundreds, the drum beats loudly as the split approaches. A welcome turn for many whose ambition is to tackle the shorter but no less daunting route but a critical decision time for some; “Is it long or short?”, “ left or right?”, “ Do I bow to a teammates pressure?”. Then in the blink of an eye they are off again on their chosen routes, embracing the pebbles, the mud, enjoying the cheering of the crowds, the mud, the hills and their own doubts.

More hills, more sliding, more cheering but its head down and push on across the Devon countryside to find more mud and even a Piper, a beer garden and a bog … or two. Remember the words of a famous Striders Coach “lift your head high as it helps you relax and remember to smile, after all you chose to do this”.

Pushed along by the ever-present sound of applause and cheering locals who line what seems like every step of the route and seem to be genuinely invested in the challenge and enjoyment of the athletes. Wading through a chilly river only to find a Life Guard in period costume sets you up nicely for the much regaled ‘sticky bog’; however, it has become more of a waist deep muddy bath, but not to worry there is mud and more mud and more mud and then a rope and a hill !!!

A downhill canter over more of the beautiful Devon countryside, marred only by more mud, but it’s down to sea-level again, and it’s to the sound of drums and the crunch of pebbles that the colourful flow of runners snakes across the beach and readies itself for the assault on the cliff, or to give it its proper name ‘The Stair Way to Heaven’. Walking is again the accepted method of scaling this latest challenge, avoiding groups of young ridiculously fit Tri-Athletes at this point is advised, as they tend to push the pace, just when you don’t want to.

Is it the end of the hills? Not yet! Back through the caravan park, some more mud and down into a village. Aware that you can never have too much of a good thing, here come some more hills and mud but we’re almost there.

Approach to Seaton is lined with the ever-present cheering crowd whose positivity has taken you through the day. It’s downhill run or hobble through the park and a gentle turn on to the esplanade. The running family is waiting with arms aloft, welcoming each and every one to the finish; it’s with a deafening, smiling cheer they get you across the line and home. This is the running family at its greatest and never more so than within Marlow’s premier running Family – The Striders.



at its



A playful wash down with the local Firemen, a stiff, achy walk to the house for a shower, maybe even a cold shower for the truly committed. In the welcome embrace of warm clothes, maybe even a signature hoodie, you bounce down to the esplanade to re-join the collective joy of the group, recognising the efforts of all runners and soaking up every last drop of positivity and collective achievement from the day.

The experience is complete; the kit is washed and once again dry, the merchandise has been secured, the aches have receded to distant memory but the wonder, thrill and deep-felt joy of being part of an individual and collective achievement will live on forever. Thoughts turn to 2025, the house, the mud, the group, the mud, the training, the mud, the fun …. Go on give it another go.