Race Report: Grim Challenge or Grin Challenge?

Oh dear, only 3 weeks late writing up my report of the race of the year. I ran, I waded, I crawled, I survived… the GRIM CHALLENGE 2009. This was a departure from the races I’ve achieved so far this year in being more of a X-Country style event; and for me, at 8 miles, the longest distance I would have covered to date on unpredictable terrain, was never going to be about doing a time.

In the event, I came way down the field, with a time of around 1 hr 49 mins, and a finishing position of 2464 – in contrast to my friend Mark who came an amazing 77th out of the field of 2800 runners. So no, this was NEVER about a time, for me it was just about getting round – and I MADE it!
So many of my friends and colleagues think I am crazy to have tried it and I have earned their admiration and respect. They can’t imagine how anyone would want to engage in such discomfort. The 10km races were one thing, training for my first half-marathon in 2010 another, but… freezing cold tracts of water, gooey mud, hills and cargo nets?
Miles of smiles
The clue is in the smiles. See the picture of me, here, taken by the official course photographer at around the 5-mile mark? Well, this time last year I was perusing the race pictures and website following my husband and two of his mates taking part. They had said how much they’d enjoyed the run, and I was struck by how many of the participants were laughing in the photographs. It was either the shared rictus of mass hysteria or else – gadzooks, these people were actually enjoying their self-inflicted torture and taking it less than seriously. I was also conscious that while husband, and his friends had all finished the course in respectable times under an hour and twenty, there were many, many other finishers still pouring (literally) across the finish line at times far in excess of this. It got me to thinking that, as a novice runner last year, there was a possibility I might be able to run 8 miles – or an hour and a half non-stop – by the same time this year. And if that were the case, maybe I should be buying into some of those happy, muddy, pink-legged vibes too?
Also – just look at how many people enter this thing year on year! The organisers run it over two days due to the sheer number of entrants (almost 6000). The 2009 event took place on 5th and 6th December.  We were glad we’d chosen the Saturday (5th) version because it bucketed it down with rain in the week running up to the event, letting up a bit for the Saturday, but re-soaking the already churned-up course for the Sunday participants during the night after we’d finished. The other reason, of course, being that by running on the Saturday we were giving ourselves and our mates time to go out and celebrate in time-honoured fashion with a proper session around the pubs of Farnham afterwards.
The shape of the race

There were six of us who’d registered together, myself and Geoff, Carol and Mark and Maria, and James who couldn’t make it on the day due to calendar blunders. Here I am with Maria and Carol before the race, looking cheerful, feeling nervous… a bit like that moment on a rollercoaster as it chugs to the top of the first apex and you’re thinking ‘Er…. remind me why I wanted to do this?’ It was a first time for all three of us. We all set off from our position towards the back of the pack, leaving the guys to forge on ahead. We’d agreed to run our own races rather than try and stick together – which was best for all of us, not least because Maria managed to finish almost twenty minutes ahead of me, and Carol ten minutes ahead! I much prefer to set and manage my own pace when running. Maybe I’d do better trying to keep up with other people but distance running has so much personal psychology involved – it’s much better run as a solitary activity. I did, however, spend much of the race believing I was still ahead of Carol which kept me going all the way, thinking ‘Crikey, I could come in ahead of Carol here!’ Of course, she had somehow edged ahead of me early on and I hadn’t seen her but it acted as great motivation all the while, thinking she was on my heels!
The course wended its way in a convoluted fashion around Aldershot’s Army tank training area, with a mixture of sand, rubble, leaf, mud and heather underfoot. The first section was varied terrain, with some gentle hills, and a descent towards the half way mark and the famous series of puddles and mudpits that the GRIM is famous for. The picture taken here is courtesy of Keith Baxter (
#GRIM09 on Twitpic
My favourite section, and it turned out, the favourite bit for many of us, was the 5 to 7 mile bit, which somehow, seems to be very fast-paced. I felt like I was flying along that bit, passing quite a few people and with sustained momentum. Almost like a long, gradual downhill with gravity on your side – although I swear it wasn’t all downhill. I shared comments and giggles with people all the way round at various points, and was grateful to a lady who gave me encouragement at around 6 miles as we hit a few uphill hairpins. We agreed that ‘what goes up must come down’ and were rewarded in due course. The big surprise was after 6 miles – where naturally, you are thinking ‘Woohoo! Only 2 miles to go!’…. and I can tell you this was the LONGEST 2 miles in the world! All of a sudden the course took off across a raggedly duned area with a series of ups and downs. This did well to counter the accusations I’d heard of the previous year’s course being monotonous for much of the final 4 miles. But it was a bit of a shock to the system to be kept physically guessing at that stage. The nasty steward at around 7 miles told fibs too. He said ‘Only about ten minutes to go, and it’s all flat now’. Groan. Right before the end in the Grim there is a section that looks like a swamp, with spikey thin tree stumps coming up out of the water, and a long gulley with water along the bottom to follow several hundred yards up to the final loop.  In the swamp was an abandoned St John Ambulance vehicle tilted downward in the mire – I can’t imagine what possessed the driver to think s/he should attempt to drive along there. It gave me something to ponder, anyhow, as I mentally grumbled the last two miles feeling distinctly longer than that. 
The last few hundred yards of the Grim take runners in a long loop past the spectators and waiting familes, through one last silly puddle before the finishline. 
Here I am wading through. I realised about here that Carol and Maria were waiting with the guys cheering me on to the finish, but 

what the hell, by this time I was exhausted, my 
knees were complaining rather a lot, and all I wanted was that dry towel I knew Geoff had in the rucksack for me.
Just why it seemed so long became quickly apparent when Mark told us his GPS watch had measured the overall course at 8.79 miles! No wonder the final few miles hurt.
Here’s Carol finishing the race, and with Maria waiting for me to finish. The smiling faces tell a story, don’t they? 
The sense of personal triumph, of being part of a community of nutters, and yeah, probably of relief of the whole thing being over, all contribute to making the GRIM an event worth attempting, in spite of the obstacles and hardships. I’ve already said I’ll do it again next year (instead of the Vegas Half Marathon which was the same weekend and which my friend Marjory completed and enjoyed this year, and sounds most amusing). Hmmm. GRIM 10, or Las Vegas half? Which would you go for?

December 27, 2009 - Posted by | Grim, running, X-Country

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