I don’t think there’s anything sweeter than seeing the horizon. The blue sky filled me with a sense of purpose, re-energizing my depleted body and spurring me forward. As I staggered towards the end, the pain of the last hour and four minutes faded away. The juice was worth the squeeze, if you will. And later, as I shared a post-Grind beer with Tommy, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment. I had done the Grouse Grind.
You don’t walk it. You don’t hike it. You do it.
The Quarter Mark
Crap. People warned me about the quarter mark. They told me the sign would be disheartening, and even though I had mentally prepared, it still hit me like a right cross to the temple. It felt like I’d been doing this forever. My breathing could charitably be called strained, my calves were on fire and I was sweating profusely. Self-doubt began to creep in. Was I going to make it to the top? If I couldn’t carry on, how would I get down? I felt okay now, but there was still so much further to go.
The Halfway Point
A crippling sense of self-loathing had settled in. I hated how weak I felt. I hated my stupid yellow running shoes that I was forced to stare at step after step. I hated myself for suggesting this stupid story idea in the first place. Senior citizens and kids do the Grind all the time, so why was I struggling? I was pathetic. I felt like I was going up the wrong escalator, taking steps but never gaining ground. But I laboured on, with the help of a few timely “C’mons” and “Knees up!” from Tommy.
The ¾ Mark
I can do this. I was miserable, but this latest sign had given my spirit a much-needed boost. I was almost at the top. Who cares that my legs were trembling, or that the steps had taken on a severe verticality? If I could make it this far, I could finish. One, two, one two, I counted in my head. Every step taken was one closer to the end of this experience. One two, one two.
It’s Grind Time
Once stretching was over, it was time. In the weeks building up to this exercise, I mock-boasted to friends that I wasn’t afraid of the Grind, and that I would, in fact, run up the hill. They looked horrified. “Don’t run,” they warned, faces suddenly gravely serious. Pacing yourself is the name of the game, they advised.
So when Tommy took off like a shot up the hill, I was slightly horrified. “C’mon!” he shouted gleefully, as I stumbled up the hill after him. My brain told me this was a mistake, using up precious energy before I’d even begun, but my pride told me to keep pace. I’m a man, damn it, and if Tommy Europe can run the Grind, so can I. Maybe. I hope.
Luckily, Tommy was just messing with me, and after 30 seconds he came to a halt and waited for me to catch up. Thirty seconds, and the sweating and laboured breathing had already begun. Things just got real.
Any hopes of keeping up a sustained conversation with Tommy quickly died, and I soon fell into my own head. Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot. I focused on the sound of my breathing and footsteps. I was marching to the beat of my own drum. Things were going to be okay.
Beforehand, people were all too eager to share how much I was going to hate the Grind, how it would chew me up and spit me out for the soul-killing hour(ish) it would take me to traverse the mountain. Grind survivors take a perverse pleasure in scaring GG virgins.
So it was with some trepidation that I stood at the foot of the trail, waiting for my cheerleader/drill sergeant to arrive. When he did, the knots in my stomach only worsened. Tommy Europe is even more of a physical specimen in person; he looked like a terminator sent from the future to make my day miserable: model T-EU.
After a brief greeting, Tommy had me run through a series of body-contorting stretches to lessen the chance of a cramped or pulled muscle halfway up the hill. Stretched calves and limber hamstrings are great, but as Tommy warns, “your lungs might cramp halfway up.” All the sumo squats in the world weren’t going to get those ready for the climb.
Tommy Europe's Grouse Grind Tips
Start by stretching
Perform two to three dynamic stretches, then go for a static stretch (reach and hold) and pat yourself on the back.
Have a light snack
Eat something like a banana and peanut butter, or throw down a protein shake, about two hours before you start hiking.
Water is the best thing, and you can add some BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) or electrolytes to it for extra zip.
Wear the proper footwear
Your footwear always matters. A running trail shoe works best for this kind of terrain. I like the new Reebok all-terrain shoes.
A Grouse Grind rookie shares his experience of conquering this Vancouver institution
Length: 2.9 kilometres
Number of Steps: 2,830
The Grouse Grind Trail was completed in 1983.
Official Course Record: 25:01 by Sebastian Salas of Vancouver
Try telling someone that you’ve never done the Grouse Grind. The incredulity is similar to what you’d expect if you told people you thought Mike Gillis was a great GM. But for many of us, the Grind remains unconquered. This is one man’s tale of triumph.
The Grind is quintessential Vancouver: a gruelling challenge of outdoor exercise that people do for pleasure. (People here are crazy.) And if you haven’t experienced it, you haven’t truly earned your VanCity stripes.
So after nearly nine years as a Vancouverite, I decided it was time to suck it up and get to steppin’. And just to make things more interesting, I invited fitness trainer Tommy Europe (The Last 10 Pounds Bootcamp, Bulging Brides) to come along for support by way of yelling and intimidation. Great idea, right?