The infamous and glorious East Devon running race has now raised over half a million pounds for local causes and charities, and the 2024 edition is just around the corner, writes Pat Kinsella.

Listen up… can you hear something roaring? That’s the sound of 2,000 runners getting ready to go on the rampage as they take on the 36th version of The Grizzly.

This year the South West’s premier mixed-terrain running race will take place on Sunday, March 17, St Patrick’s Day, with stout-hearted runners once again tackling the trails, tracks, fields, lanes, roads, pebble beaches and thigh-deep bogs of East Devon as they negotiate a mean, green and genuinely grizzly 20-mile course from Seaton to the furthest reaches of Branscombe and back.

The official race name for 2024 is ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. The weather in the build up to this year’s race has been both bad and ugly (and the notorious bogs will be deeper than ever), but one of the many good things about this extraordinary event (entirely organised and staged by volunteers) is that it has now raised over half a million pounds for local, regional and national charities.

Since it began in 1988, the Grizzly has raised more than £500,000 for good causes. This year, once again, the race will financially contribute to dozens of community groups, who volunteer on food and water stations along the route, as well as making a sizeable donation to the SWCPA, and charity organization that maintains the South West Coast Path, which features large in the race route, and provides a challenging training ground for many local runners as they prepare for the event each year.

The South West Coast Path stretches 610 miles around the salty edge of Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, from Poole to Minehead, and it costs a staggering £1,400 per mile to maintain the trail each year.

The major event in the calendar of Axe Valley Runners (AVR), the Grizzly – and a shorter, 9-mile race called ‘The Cub’ – attracts competitors from right across the region, country and world. Clubs from as far afield as Germany and the Netherlands regularly send groups of runners. Competition for places can be intense, and this year’s event sold out in under an hour.

Artwork has already begun appearing on the windows of local cafes and businesses in Seaton as they prepare to welcome runners and their supporters, who visit the town from all over Britain and much further afield to take part in one of Devon’s most famous challenges.

Once voted the third best running race in the country by Runner’s World (with the London Marathon in top spot), The Grizzly has as well-earned reputation as serious challenge, but it also puts a smile on the face of competitors and spectators alike, with thousands of people lining the streets to cheer runners on through Seaton, Beer and Branscombe.

Drummers, singers, bagpipers and bands provide much-needed encouragement along the route, which even goes through the beer garden of the Fountain Head pub in Branscombe, where there’s a carnival atmosphere on the day.

One of the most poignant parts of the race route is the Memory Tree, which is annually set up on Branscombe Beach. Here, in a serene setting, runners can pause for a moment and tie a ribbon on the driftwood tree to remember someone close to them who has passed.

On Saturday, March 16, the Grizfest will take place in Seaton, with 11–15 year olds taking on the 4km Junior Grizzly, over 8s tacking a 2km course and people of all ages doing a fun run. Then, on Sunday, runners doing The Cub (a 9-mile race) and the full Grizzly will get going from Seaton seafront at 10.30am.

The Grizzly is a special event in the East Devon calendar, let’s make the 2024 edition the best yet.