Running hydration: water and Tango

Settled, warm, dry and sunny weather coinciding with a bank holiday weekend? Surely not. The weather deity responsible has probably been hauled before his superiors and given a thorough dressing down – the “don’t let it happen again” conversation. Britain is supposed to be soggy and unseasonably cold most of the time. Dare I say that you quite like it that way? We understand that sort of weather. And, given you’re about to run an off-road half marathon in unseasonably hot conditions, you could well have something to worry about – like the way the combination of sweat and sunscreen stings like mad when it runs into your eyes. 

But hey, you’re not stupid. You’ve trained, and you’re starting early before the temperatures climb. You’re carrying plenty of water, you’ve slathered on the aforementioned sunscreen and hidden behind sunglasses with UV protection. 

With your fellow trail runners, you set out along the banks of Hollingworth Lake, where a couple of sculling boats are gliding across the flat calm water. Running past a few early birds out with their dogs, under the clearest skies is rather special. You are strong, fit, full of beans and raring to go. Bring it on! 

Still, it’s hot, and as days do, it’s going to get hotter. 

This is an LTR run. It’s going to get hillier too.  

Three hours later, you return to the shores of the now busy reservoir, weaving your way past the pushchairs and scooters, the strollers and the toddlers. You are boiling, crusted with salt, bearing a few minor battle scars, dyed orange (more about that later) and dreaming of a long cold drink. In other words, a tough one, but let’s blame the weather gods for that. 

As always, the route has bags of interest. You wonder who it was who dug the railway sleepers into the earth, leaving them pointing skywards, and why?  What’s the history of Clegg Hall and how is it possible to almost miss it? Your head is swivelling around trying to take everything in – the canal, the cobbles, the blossom on the flowering cherry, the field filled with hip-high buttercups and delicate Lady’s Smock. There is dew on the rolling pastureland. It’s pleasant and cool. 

Now, nip through the houses. People are just emerging into their gardens and blinking at the brightness of the day. Trot past while they question why anyone would be running on a day like this.

You know why. It’s because it feels amazing. Because you’ve run in the snow and the hail and the rain in gloves, buffs, hats and layers. You’ve done the freezing feet and the battering wind, and this is fabulous. The sun on your skin feels sublime.  

It is good to find a patch of shade, though, so you go along a path that looks a little overgrown, but why not explore? Below you, barely visible, is a small reservoir, the sunlight just catching it, but you need to concentrate on the trail. Mind your eyes, your feet, your legs, your arms. Crouch, ouch, almost on hands and knees. Has anyone brought secateurs? Is anyone carrying a machete? Emerge at the other end, cursing the brambles, recover across some fine gently sloping fields, turn into a pretty bit of woodland and start climbing.

Yes, start climbing. The going has been too easy. You’re three miles in and you’re at roughly the same height as where you started, so get up those hills (or sweat up those hills) the moorland is waiting. While you go, listen to the tantalising sounds of cold, clear streams. You’re out in the open, and a herd of Dexter cattle is hogging the only stand of trees.  You can take a break where drystone walls shelter a small rocky outcrop, and you can cling to the small amount of shade those rocks afford. The vertical faces have been carved with wise words. Not one of the carvings says, “Don’t run up here when the weather is hot.” It’s obviously fine to carry on. 

And you are, more or less, at the top, so keep going. Someone has chalked orange arrows onto the track – there’s a long-distance horse ride in progress and we’re on the Pennine Bridleway part of their route. Only another couple of hundred feet to go, and then you’ll be able to see forever, way into the distance.

And you can. You’re on Rushy Hill. Whitworth on your left, and a seemingly gentle descent on your right. Nestling in the folds of the land are reservoirs, bright and glistening in the sun. Lambs and their mothers are tucked into the shade of rushes. In the far distance is the M62 viaduct, and more moorland beyond. Somewhere there is a breeze. There must be – the wind turbines are turning. 

You drop off the hill and discover the simplest way to a fake tan. The bog you cross has a habit of swallowing legs. If you go down into the water, you come out Tango orange. It dries, and it stains, but it’s good for a giggle. 

By the time you get to Watergrove Reservoir, the shade of the nature reserve is so, so welcome. Trees have never looked more fabulous. This early in the year, the canopy is thin, the sun is still cutting through, but its hot enough that even the partial shade is a relief. You’re slurping water, keeping on top of the hydration, but it’s still hot work. 

On the hills that surround Watergrove, there’s a memorial woodland. Every young tree bears a small plaque engraved with someone’s name For a moment, just for a moment, you reflect on love and loss. 

You follow the tracks away from the reservoir, cross a field littered with the dry stalks of last seasons thistles, and cross a stream cutting its way down a gully that looks so inviting. By now there’s a tiny bit of cloud. Just puffs of white cotton – useless. Where is the shade when you need it? 

You don’t find it for a good while. First there are fields that are steeply banked and churned up, slow to cross and exposed. There’s another bog to squelch through and a lane that’s softly carpeted with chipped conifers and which smells divine, and just when you don’t want it, there’s another hill. 

Whoa. Stop at the top, just look at that! The wind turbines are already so far away, it’s hard to believe you were just there, that you can run that far, in these temperatures and still be feeling okay. And look, if this really is the last hill, it would be a shame not to roll down it, wouldn’t it? Your knees won’t take it, so you don’t, but somebody else can’t resist. 

Once at the bottom, you find that longed for shade. You find a river to stand in and attempt to shift the Tango tan. You leave the tricky terrain and tree roots behind and find a path that becomes increasingly busy. Families and kids, paddling in the water and loving this glorious day. There is another climb. Steps take you into the trees proper, through bluebells and then out onto the waterside which is now teeming with people. 

This can’t be Britain on a bank holiday … bank holidays are huddled and grey, wet and windy, not pavement cafés and guaranteed sun. Well, not normally, which is why we go a bit crackers when the sun arrives. Running a half in that heat only counts as a tiny bit crackers, but you’re not ashamed to say that when you get to the Olive and Pickle Café for an excellent breakfast, even though you’ve been enjoying a brilliant outdoor experience, you choose the cool spot indoors.

Kate Woodward