Monday, 30 April 2012

The Three Peaks

The 3 Peaks race is one of the classic races of the English fell running calendar. At a little over 23 miles and 5200ft of climbing the route takes in the summits of Pen y gent, Whernside and Ingleborough as well as landmarks such as the magnificent Ribblehead viaduct and the geological wonder of the limestone pavements, over open moorland and along well made tracks and trails.

The race has a history of over 50 years and the list of past winners reads like a whose who of British distance running but not only fell runners, British marathon great Ron Hill was a former winner. This year the race was an English Championship “counter” and nearly 750 runners set off from the start line in Horton in Ribblesdale. My last attempt at the race had been in 2008 and so I really wanted to make an attempt on my pb but the conditions were maybe not favourable with a strong, cold wind and the ground was a lot wetter and more boggy than I remembered from four years previously due to the recent rainfall. Lisa was struggling with injury and was less than confident as we lined up to start the race. However it looked like the weather was to be dry for the race and we were both looking forward to it in an apprehensive kind of way so I made the decision to go for it from the start and got to the summit of Pen y gent a lot quicker than I had anticipated.

We were met by the race leaders storming down the hillside whilst we were still climbing and so I was aware that fellow Trotter Joe Symonds, running the event in his team Salomon colours, was in about 5th place. Needless to say that this was the last I would be seeing of the leaders until their photos appeared on various websites after the race. I didn’t spot Lucy Colquhoun or Sarah O Neil up ahead and I didn’t realise that another fellow trotter, Dave Fulton was competing until after the race as it was a big crowd of runners making their way up the hill that morning.

The descent from Pen y gent was uneventful and although I was aware my pace had slowed it felt like no time at all before I reached the section of road leading to the Ribblehead viaduct checkpoint. I checked in and didn’t hang around at the checkpoint, clambered across the river and started the steep slog up to Whernside – only to find that my legs were refusing to work. It slowly dawned on me that I had been so focused on beating my previous time for the race that I had neglected any refuelling strategy and had eaten nothing since the start of the race. I shovelled down a few jelly babies but it was probably a case of too little, too late.

I plodded up Whernside slowly, being overtaken all the time, but hopeful that reaching the summit would be a little morale booster and I made a big effort to run from the summit but only succeeded in twisting an ankle and landing in a tearful heap on the rocks only a few metres into the descent. I gave myself a good talking too – words to the effect of “Man up, you fecking pansy”, ate a few more jelly babies and distracted myself by watching the mountain rescue helicopter which had landed on the ridge, hopefully mountain rescue were only there as a precaution or using the event for training. I picked my way more carefully down the path and lost far too many places and a lot of time in the process. On nearing the next checkpoint at Chapel-le dale there were a lot of supporters out on the course and they were only too keen to yell that I was in serious danger of being timed out and that I should speed it up a bit. I did my best to go flat out along the track and managed to check in with only 2 minutes to spare. I bet the members of Team Salomon don’t get that kind of adrenaline rush in a race!. The marshall told me that I was the last runner that they were going to let continue and that anyone behind me would be timed out although I found it hard to believe that there could actually be anyone behind me by this stage.

I took the opportunity to munch a fudge bar and then trotted off determined to overtake some of the runners who were just in front, after all it isn’t over until the fat bird sings (or crosses the finish line) is it? As I started the ascent of Ingleborough I reflected on the wisdom of my eyeballs out effort to get to the checkpoint, after all I was feeling pretty sorry for myself and could have got myself timed out and been in a nice warm car on my way back to Horton with a legitimate DNF couldn’t I? Instead I found myself staring at the summit of another mountain with at least another 1 hour of running ahead of me and I use the term ”running” in the loosest possible sense of the word….

As I marched grumpily up the wooden board path over the bog I pondered the possibility that the event sponsor Salomon might have put up a nice wee prize for the last place finisher…..hmmm……
Happily it didn’t seem too long before I checked in on the summit of Ingleborough having passed a few runners and by then I had taken a more closer interest in my fellow competitors and I was pleased to see that I wasn’t the only one suffering. There were some very sorry sights crawling up the hill that day. It was cold on the summit but I took my one and only chance of the day to admire the view before starting the long descent of Ingleborough through its famed limestone pavements and to the finish in Horton in Ribblesdale.

On finishing the first person I met was Sarah who had a storming run to win the womens title. Joe had followed in his fathers footsteps – Hugh Symmonds has won this race 3 times, I believe, in 1985, 86 and 87 – so only 2 more to go, Joe! The course has changed several times since the inaugural race in 1954 so there is little point in comparing times.

Lisa had been injured going into the race and had retired early so she had quite a wait for me to finish and I was very near the back of the field although not last. I felt marginally better when I discovered that there were over 100 DNF’s though and concluded that I had just set out at a pace that I was unable to maintain and had paid the price.
 We headed quickly back to the youth hostel in Ingleton where we stayed for the Friday and Saturday night and it turned out to be ideal, a lovely picturesque village with a good selection of pubs but discovery of the weekend was most definitely the tiny Italian restaurant with its fabulous food and wine. Lisa and I thought we were pretty hard core attempting the 3 peaks – until we met 3 other runners staying at the youth hostel who were doing the 60 mile fellsman race on the same day. I felt sorry for anyone planning a quiet weekend hill walking in the area as that weekend the hills would have been hooching with runners, marshalls and race supporters.

 Thanks to Dave and Eileen Woodhead for letting me use some of their photos (

The start and finish at Horton in Ribblesdale with Pen y Ghent in the background

On the climb

Ribblehead viaduct
Limestone Pavements

Lodge hall - a fascinating ancient landmark on the race route - one day i plan to have a proper look at it rather than just run past it!

      These were i the race goody bag from race sponsor Salomon. Simon pointed out that it was an awful lot of effort just to get a pair of socks....

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