3 Peaks Fell Race, my 10th on the trot!
Each year on the last Saturday in April, the Yorkshire Dales are the home of The 3 Peaks Fell Race. It’s described as the ‘Marathon with Mountains’ so that should probably give you some sort of clue about what to expect.
Since it’s early beginnings back in 1954 with only 6 starters and 3 finishers, the race has grown in stature and popularity, these days leading to a cap of 1000 runners registering for the race.
The race route plots a similar path to the walk although in a much more direct fashion, often cutting cross-country and climbing steep inclines. It’s certainly a tough bugger, over 23 miles long, with more than 5,000ft of ascent, climing to the summit of each of the Yorkshire 3 Peaks, Pen Y Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. The route includes tracks, trails, rocks, bogs, moorland, streams, and as a special addition for this year – snow, and plenty of it. You’ve also got to get to various checkpoints within a certain time otherwise youre timed-out and have to withdraw from the race. This year myself, Matty Hayes, Chris Adams, Adrian Kamis, Richey Buckle and Mike Vinegrad had entered so there was a few of us to fly the red flag, enjoy a great race and hopefully do the club proud, fingers crossed.
Most of us have done this race a few times so we knew what we were letting ourselves in for, Richey was the only 3 Peaks virgin, but been the calibre of runner he is I was sure he’d just take it in his stride. From a personal point of view I definitely had to do this years race as it was my 10th in a row, first doing it back in 2007, so I just had to get round, even if it was just inside the cut-offs, but my training had gone reasonably well so I was thinking maybe a pb could be possible. Over the years my times have varied from just under 5hrs to my pb of 4hrs 21mins. However, in a long fell race like this anything can happen, and things can often go drastically wrong at short notice, like it did last year, so I didnt want to count my chickens yet.
Leaving Hull at 6:30am, massive thanks to our driver Dave Anderson, and Dave Gowans who came along as chief photographer. We arrived in Horton in Ribblesdale in ample time for the 10:30 start. It was a pleasant suprise to be greeted by decent weather, quite cold but with clear blue skies, thankfully no sign of the rain/sleet/snow that we’ve had in the week building up to the race. That was to come later. But looking around at the surrounding peaks covered in snow we knew we were in for a tough race, thoughts of a pb were diminshing by the minute.
Made our way to the cottage that Ali, Matty and the boys had hired for the weekend and while we got changed and sorted our kit out Ali kindly got the kettle on, nice one Ali. After registering in the marquee and meeting up with the rest of the Harriers gang we made our way over to the start area along with about 800 other hardy fellrunners. Looking around its definitely a who’s who of fellrunning, with some of the best in the business lining up today.
After a quick briefing over the loudspeakers we were soon counting down to the start, 3 2 1 a blast of the cannon and we were off, out of the start field and onto the road winding its way through Horton. Off up the track leading to Pen Y Ghent, this is the smallest of the peaks yet its still hell of a climb, but as were all quite fresh it does’nt seem too bad, taking it steady and enjoying the beautiful scenery. I’m running with Ade at this point, Matty, Richey and Chris are further up the field looking strong, we don’t see them again until the finish. I was still a few hundred yards from the summit when the leaders come past on their descent hurtling down like gazelles, how they go so fast I’ll never know, especially with underfoot conditions been well dodgy to say the least. I dib in at the summit checkpoint feeling not too bad. The run across the top is great along a thick covering of snow, with views to die for. Begining my descent I’m quite a bit slower than the leaders but still doing ok for me, taking care not to go over on my ankle on the slippery rocks and large tussocks of moorland grass underneath a blanket of snow.
Far in the distance, about 6 miles away, I could see Ribblehead Viaduct against the backdrop of a snow covered Whernside which was where we were heading next. This section is a long undulating drag, sticking mainly to the path its easy to get carried away, Ady catches me up here, and soon pulls away. We plough on through High Birkwith, need to reign it in a bit, still a long way to go.
After a short road section the Viaduct comes into view again, another checkpoint dibbed, 1hr, 44mins, looks like storm clouds are gathering ahead. A quick drink and a mouthful of overipe gooey banana and now onto the toughest climb of the day, up the steep face of Whernside. The walkers path goes the long way round but the fell race is straight up the direct route. First we had to negotiate a dodgy river crossing then a strength sapping bog before even starting the climb. Thighs and calfs are working overtime on this section, and it seems to go on forever, even on all fours as we near the top, gloves now soaking and fingers freezing. Eventually I make the summit, just in time to be greeted by a driving sleet and hail, freezing and blowing a gale up there, need to get off the top as quick as possible. A short run along the ridge before we drop off and start heading down to the next checkpoint, very slippery on the wet rock and grass, nearly face-plant a few times. Catch Ade back up, we run together for a while before he pulls away again on the decent. Thankfully the terrain gets a bit more forgiving as we get further down. Left knee is giving me a bit of jip, but keep plodding on. Good to see the two Daves, Ali and the boys on the country lane offering words of encouragement.
Soon were at the next checkpoint at Chapel le Dale, just under 3 hrs. A quick drink and a flapjack then off again, running past the 17th century pub Old Hill Inn, sadly no time for a pint.
Onto the final climb up Ingleborough, starting to struggle now. First part of the ascent is fairly gentle but ‘cos my legs are knackered I’m struggling to keep a decent pace. I can see the steep rock face we’ve got to climb in the distance, seems a long way off. Eventually reach the base of the last steep climb, zig zag our way up onto the summit ridge, still a quite a way to go to the true summitt though, good to see Steve Coates up here, dig in for the last few hundred yards and I’m finally there. Dib in at the checkpoint and turn to make the last final decent.
The final summit out of the way, all that’s left is to drop back to the start/finish at Horton-in-Ribblesdale. “All downhill from here pal” someone shouts, “Cheers mate, I’m bolloxed” I mumbled back.
It’s often this part that catches a lot of us out. Despite having ticked off that final summit there is still a long undulating descent of around 5 miles to conquer before the challenge is done. Its this section of the race last year where everything went tits up for me, and I bonked big style. The first part coming off the summitt is very rocky, large boulders strewn all over the place, finally I got past these its onto a good path all the way back to Horton. The path might be good but the rocks protruding out at all angles certainly are’nt, need to really concentrate otherwise I’d definatley be coming a cropper here.
This last section may be all down hill but bloody hell its tough going, legs have pretty much gone by now, just digging in to keep going. Through the slippery limestone paths of Sulber Nick, and onto the last stretch is a right slog. Can see and hear the finish marquee in the distance now, thank God nearly there. After what seems like an age I finally make it onto the playing field where we started and make a mad dash to the finish line. YES! Finished, tired doesnt describe it, absolutley knackered, but also elated at the same time, and even though I feel shattered its not a patch on how horrendous I felt last year.
My 10th 3 Peaks Race on the trot completed, 4hrs 28mins, not the pb I was after but nevermind, still pleased with that time in those conditions, and dead chuffed to get round in one piece unscathed, and happy I can live to fight another day.
Made my way over to the finish marquee to meet the rest of the gang, everyone did great, especially Richey on his debut breaking 4hrs, but unfortunately Mike, due to a back injury resulting in hardly any training, missed the last check-point by 4 minutes and had to retire, but at least he turned up and gave it a go, good effort Mike. This year there was a high drop out rate, with almost 100 runners failing to complete the course, either through been timed out, injury or just generally been knackered and unable to carry on.
Everyone was in good spirits though in the beer tent as we all recall our own experiences in this epic race, with the usual EHH banter, some things went to plan and some things did’nt, but thats the way it goes, thats all part of the challenge, but I’m sure we’ll all be back next year to do it all again, I know I will.
- Matty Hayes 3hrs 41mins
- Richey Buckle 3hrs 56mins
- Chris Adams 4hrs 12 mins
- Adrian Kamis 4hrs 25mins
- Gary Forrester 4hrs 28mins