‘Brutal’ was how one runner described the race, after 8.1km and 760m of ascent, in temperatures in the upper 20s. I’ve known it hot enough in the past, to need to stand in the shade while waiting for the start, but not this searing heat. A much reduced field of 42 set off along a pleasant grassy field, then we abruptly hit the first slope, with shade from a hawthorn hedge for the first 100m or so, and then we were out into the sun, on the slippery (any soil was powdery, vegetation brittle) dry slope up to the summit of the Ashlet. From there it was a run along a sheep track following the contour, but my left foot suffers on such a left to right slope. Soon we were descending into Townbrook Valley, down a steep path with little grip on the loose stone, then up the valley till we turned left up the Yearlet. I was now beginning to labour in the heat, and taking sips of water. From the top we plunged back down into Ashes Hollow, with no obvious route but much gorse and bracken to contend with. Twice I slipped, once spinning several times before I was able to regain control. A quick drink at the water station at the bottom, and then on up to the next summit, through the bracken on the lower slopes and then out into full sun again, aiming for the source of the drum beats at the top, where the marshal had thoughtfully carried water (and a drum!) with him for toiling runners. From there there was a narrow path through mercifully short heather this year, before we dropped down to Callow Hollow and a short stride across a trickle of water, onto a narrow sheep track twisting and turning (where one unfortunate runner lost his footing, and ended up in gorse by the stream below) down to the start of the final climb up to the Callow itself. This was the brutal bit. South facing and steep, with little shade, though I did promise myself a short lie down in the mottled shade of the last hawthorn before the top. This was the first time I’ve ever stopped on a climb, but 20 seconds gave me the strength to reach the top, without succombing to dehydration. The run down to the finish was accompanied by sheer relief to be completing the course, rather than any enthusiasm to catch others in front or ward off those behind. From the finish I headed straight back to the car for water, and then spent ten minutes in the stream, desperately trying to cool off. Of the 42 starters, 4 retired, so out of 38 finishers I was 28th, but in a slower than planned time of 92.37. Jack Agnew (under 23) was first, about 2 minutes slower (understandably!) than last year’s winner, in 59.38. The morning after, rehydrated, I have recovered, apart from sore feet – largely a result of ‘braking’ on the steep downhills where there was so little grip.
To set this in context though, it was only an hour and a half’s running, and only 760m of climb – it was not as if it was the 3 Peaks, with 20 hours of competing, and probably at least three times the amount of ascent, and all in this heatwave!