I once ran a 20K race in India, when Delhi was in the middle of a heatwave. A heatwave in the UK is high 20s to 30C. In Delhi it was 50C. So the race started at 5am, and even then it was stunningly hot. I survived though I can’t quite remember how. I do remember the camel though, and the pleasure of running with a bunch of Indian strangers who became Strava friends.
I don’t quite know how I managed Ingleborough Mountain Race last weekend, either. It’s a summer gala race, and I always love those, especially when the gala field contains at least one source of ice-cream. But I wilt in heat, apparently a physiological inevitability: your body tries desperately to cool itself by shifting blood away from the core to the skin, and making you sweat more. Essentially, working out in heat is twice as hard as it should be. Give me 6C and overcast and I’m happy. Compared to how I feel about running in blazing sunshine, I’d be happy in a Tour of Pendle blizzard, or a hailstorm on Whernside.
Did I mention that the race starts at 3pm?
I have form with this race, too. The last time I ran it, the weather included a big lump of dense clag over the summit. Although it’s an out and back, I managed to get lost by drifting over the footpath on the way back down, then quickly losing the sound of voices. I added about a mile to the route, and was only guided back to the route by Neil, who was spectating, trying to tell me which way to go. One memorable instruction: “Do you see the sun? Follow that.”
There was little chance of me getting lost today but I was nervous. I’d done an easy 5 miles in shady woodland a couple of days earlier and felt heavy-legged and totally lacking in energy. I actually looked up the symptoms of heat exhaustion because you never know.
The race is organized by Settle Harriers. Until race day, they were still requiring full kit, but at registration there were signs saying the kit was waterproof top and hat only. Nothing about a compass or whistle but no way was I setting off without mine. There was another sign warning of HEAT EXHAUSTION.
We were set off in five waves, each five minutes apart, once we’d found the start, which wasn’t where we expected (we knew it wasn’t in the gala field but at the foot of the moor, but we still had to do a big loop to find it). I suspect they put the start where it was to replicate the steep climb of the usual route, because it did. We set off and by the time we reached the road I thought, oh dear. Further, up and over the moor to meet the track and I’d already walked a bit. That was going to be my strategy anyway to get up the mountain: walk 10 seconds, run 20. I mostly stuck with that though the proportion reversed the higher I got.
In the first mile, I thought seriously about dropping out. I felt awful and overheated and I’d only just started. But I had a word with myself and trudged onwards.
Neil had alerted me to a good grassy trod that I could take instead of the rocky footpath, and amazingly I remembered it. I was drinking but still didn’t even finish one 500ml flask, which was nowhere near enough. But I drank as much as I wanted on the way up and on the way down there was no chance.
I am more used to arriving at Ingleborough from the Three Peaks route side, and as the last time I’d done this race I couldn’t actually see the mountain, I wasn’t prepared for how many bloody false summits there are. After the third, I went all John McEnroe. You can’t be serious. By now I’d been passed by lots of people from the fifth wave, including Ruth from North Leeds, who made up the other half of our club representation. I could have been demoralised by all this passing, but I was too hot to care. Who the hell runs up a mountain in a heatwave, for fun?
I passed Pat Wardle on the way up, who was supporting his wife Laura. He wasn’t racing, probably because he finished a Bob Graham Round recently, but he still ran up the mountain. He got this nice pic of Neil which ended up on BBC Breakfast News, after Neil responded to a request for images of what people had done in the heatwave. He was the only one running up a mountain, oddly. Pat thought he’d photographed everyone he knew but he forgot about me. I got one of Laura though, who later said she didn’t even remember me taking it, she was in heat delerium.
Finally I reached the summit, and was instructed to loop around a marshal rather than the trig, as the trig was busy.
Neil had also suggested I come down to the left, down some steep grass shelves, and I remembered that too. I love descending and after a year of knee troubles, I think I’m getting my descending glee back, and I took places, though this was probably irrelevant as they were probably from the wave behind. A bit more rocky footpath, then I remembered the grass trod again, and followed a Settle Harriers woman along it. I managed not to fall, and even managed a sprint of sorts on the road down to the finish. Had I been more alert, I’d have noticed how many people were crashed out, but I needed water and more water: to drink and to pour over my head. I joined Neil, and my mates Marion and Louise in some precious shade provided by the van belonging to the Cave Rescue folks, one of whom came over to check we were OK.
It turns out there was a lovely leafy path back to Ingleton that we’d missed on the way up, and this lovely leafy path led directly to an ice-cream shop. I didn’t win anything, finishing in 1:27, though I inevitably got a PB by simply not getting lost. But it definitely felt victorious to have a vanilla cone in my hand.
— Rose George