The Three Peaks Fell Race is a 23.3 mile run in the Yorkshire Dales with 5279ft of climb. The route takes you from Horton in Ribblesdale up the smallest of the 3, Pen-y-ghent, with a fast flat section to Ribblehead, followed by a double dose of mountain climbing up and down Whernside and Ingleborough, topped up with a couple more miles of flattish running back into Horton.
I did the Yorkshire 3 Peaks walking challenge a few years ago because my mum decided she wanted to do it for her 50th birthday (you can see where I get it from now). It took us 11 hours and back then I couldn’t of imagined ever running it. We were out all day in windy, rainy conditions, we didn’t get a view off any of the mountains and having scoffed at my entire family for using walking poles I found myself unable to walk properly for about a week afterwards while they were all fine.
The thing I love about fell running is the fact there is usually no pre entry, you don’t have to decide months in advance whether you want to enter you just rock up on the day pay a few pounds and run. Three peaks is very different. Although it doesn’t usually sell out, to get in you have to meet some minimum requirements and apply. You have to complete an entry form proving you are capable of completing the challenge by having done 2 pre-approved races, these races are either long and hilly or very long and hilly! This is why this 30 list goal came about by accident.
Last summer I did ,at the time, what was one of the hardest races I have ever done and completed Helvellyn and the Dodds. This is a 15 mile race with 4386ft of climb up Clough Head and over several peaks onto Helvellyn and back. This race was my first every category AL fell race. A=bloody loads of climbing L=bloody far. Not surprisingly this race is a qualifying race for the three peaks. This race also has a tight cut off point, if you don’t make it through a certain check point in a certain time you get turned around and have to suffer the DNF (despite doing about 80% of the race). I did manage to make it through the cut off and finish with a time, mainly due to the company of Nichola getting me round. This was on the Sunday. The following Saturday I decided to do my favourite fell race Pen-y-ghent. Favourite due to the cheap price (£5), the leisurely start time (3pm) and the humongous slices of cake at the end. This had, that year, been reclassified as an AM and became another qualifying race. So having never even planned to do the three peaks I had accidentally qualified in a week. It seemed like a sign to enter and a good challenge to add to my 30 list.
This is not a race for every runner, not only do the qualifiers make it less accessible than other races but also the organisers set challenging cut off times for the check points. If you don’t make it in the allotted time you are not allowed to proceed. This year 81 of the 751 runners were unable to finish the race showing how challenging it is given that everyone who entered has a good amount of experience in these type of races. This meant doing loads of off road training with plenty of hills and a couple of trips to the dales to recce the route, all to make sure I was fit enough to make it through. It was great as a number of runners in my club decided to do it also which meant many a weekend running around the Yorkshire countryside with friends, good views and of course delicious food afterwards. Below are some photo’s of the training runs I have done to prepare.
I was feeling fairly confident that I had done enough to get me round until a few weeks out when I started to get the usual niggles in my calf. I spent the last 2 weeks of training panicking, trying to keep myself ticking over and going back to my neglected stretching and strengthening routine.
Then before I knew it, it was race day! The weather forecast had been checked, checked again, double, triple, quadruple checked and no it hadn’t changed from rain, more rain, 50mph winds and possible sleet at the highest points. My bag had been packed with all the FRA kit essentials; full waterproofs, compass, whistle, map, gloves and a hat. No buff substitutes were allowed. The pockets of my bag had been filled with all the mini soreen loafs I could carry, I was ready! We arrived in Horton in plenty of time for the usual 17 pre-race nervous wees, a kit check and to listen to the safety brief which included the phases ‘preservation of life’, ‘people have died’ which did not help much with the nerves. Then we were off.
The first section is a long 3.5mile slog uphill to the top of Pen-y-ghent. After 2 miles of trudging up I saw my first glimpse of the beautiful Matty and Rob cheering wildly, with Rob waving his HPH vest as a flag giving me a push to get up the rest of the first climb. Then to the bit I was dreading most, the 7 miles of actual running I was going to have to do to get to Ribblehead where I knew my parents would be waiting for me. I set off down Pen-y-ghent and to my surprise I was actually overtaking people on the down. This gave me a massive confidence boost as I am usually pretty poor going downhill and am usually left for dust on the descents. I tried to set myself at a comfortable pace on the run to Ribblehead, advice given to me by my fell running guru Colin was to not go too fast on the run to Whernside or risk hitting the wall with 2 mountains to go. Actually this was my favourite section of the route especially when I was surprised by more Hyde Park Harrier support, Sarah, Richard and Laura, then seconds later being handing some snacks from my mum!
Now came the time for Whernside. I had actually been looking forward to this bit as you can’t recce it due to it being on private land, it sounded epic basically scaling the side of Whernside not on the path. First we had to cross a stream, I tried to keep my feet dry by scaling the rocks but ended up with both feet fully drenched. Then came a long section of boggy horrible ground before the hands and knees climb up Whernisde. A fellow runner managed to fully go into the bog waist height right in front of me and I wasn’t sure if it had happened to me I’d have the energy to pull myself out. This section was only made bearable by bumping into fellow harriers Paul and Nichola and also hearing the amazing shouts from support crew Emma and Tilly. Little did we know that these cheers were echoing down the mountain. Robin and Laura further down the mountain having heard these cheers sooooo loudly thought they were almost at the top! This was a tough climb and it took all I had to convince my legs to try and run again. So off I went on the descent of Whernside to the final cut off checkpoint at Chapel le Dale, once I was through there I knew I was finishing! Having my new found confidence that I could descend like a pro I made my way down the mountain that finished up with a steep grassy section. This is when I slipped and skidded on my bum and just kept on sliding until I was almost at the bottom, that’s how the pro’s do it right? Back up on my feet and off to Chapel le Dale to get the last the boost from the Rogers clan and the Hyde Park support crew before tackling the last mountain just 18 minutes before the cut off time.
There was 7 miles left, 2.5miles up the mountain and 4.5miles from the summit to the finish, the end was in sight. This was probably my toughest moment of the entire race, climbing up the endless flagstones to get to the top, I couldn’t even muster the energy to run the flat section to the trig. By this point I had started to feel a bit dizzy and my stomach was rumbling, I thought I had fuelled well but had obviously under estimated how much energy I had used . With another 4.5 miles to run and being safely within the cut off I decided to have a little stop, have a little snack, have a little word with myself and set off again trying to just keep moving enough to get me to my next goal, Matty and Rob. 2 miles from the end I heard some loud whooping and saw the faint outline of a red and white offset striped vest swinging round in the air, I tried to stop for a chat with the boys but was ushered on by Matty. ‘Why are you stopping? Get going Becki’.
2 miles later I came over the final crest of what was a teeny tiny hill but the marshals kept me going with ‘last climb’, ‘have you ever seen a more beautiful white tent?’ By this point I was grinning from ear to ear as I ran through the back gardens of some Horton residents and heard the shouts of the cheering harriers at the finish line. I had done it!
I finished in a time of 4hours 48. That was definitely the toughest race I have done to date but the atmosphere and support on course was incredible and what was an accidental bucket list item has been one of my favourites.