I’m not sure whose idea it was, or how it came about, but, on Saturday 27th April, 9 Hyde Park Harriers found ourselves in a marquee in Horton in Ribblesdale about to embark on the 2019 Three Peaks Race. It hadn’t been an easy journey to get there. Apart from the 1.5 hour drive through the Dales at 8am and missing parkrun, we’d all also had to do at least 2 qualifying Fell Races over the last year. These had to be both long, and fairly hilly, so by no stretch were they easy or was this race accessible to all. Most of the group had spent their last few months doing recces and countless long runs in preparation and we all had backpacks filled with maps, kit and snacks so we were rightly all feeling smugly like a group of elite mountain goats.
The race itself is famous in the fell running world and is attended by numerous huge names of the community. This year, the 65th running of the event, saw 11 past winners on the start list. The record for the 23.5 mile, 1600m ascent course is 2:46, set in 1996, which I hope you’ll all agree is total madness.
Anyway, a few kit checks, a race briefing, several trips to the portaloos and plenty of faffing (to be called ‘fell-faff’ in the future) later, we were all lined up on the start line. At the bang of a gun the run up the first peak, Pen-Y- Ghent, began. It’s the smallest of the 3 Peaks and the most ‘runnable’. Ha ha. The amazing element of this part of the race is seeing the first few runners coming down past you, as the race follows the same route up and down the fell. The cloud of top of the peak and the silence of the runners (no chatting here, just serious fell runners) made for eerie conditions as most of us ‘dibbed’ in at the first checkpoint and headed back down again.
The next section is fairly flat and fast, down through the flat lands between the peaks. For me, this was where I came into my own. I’m lost in a land of fell running and have often been described as looking lime a ‘baby elephant’ when running down hills. So, I used this part to my advantage and passed a few runners, knowing full well I’d see them again when the ground had any kind of minor incline. Another quick ‘dib’ in at the next checkpoint and we were on our way again through to Ribblehead and the lovely view of the viaduct and great crowds at the next checkpoint. On the way, the Garratts and Sarah Underwood were camped out in a lay by on the road and were a welcome sight: armed with jelly beans and full of excitable cheers. It wouldn’t be the last time we’d see them along the route.
Next up was the roar of the crowds at Ribblehead including the Rogers family: thanks for your cheers, guys! Then a quick wade through a stream before the climb up Whernside. Seriously, this is a sight that has to be seen to be believed. The ‘race route’ up the second peak is one you can’t recce, as it’s on private land. Essentially it’s a 1.5km long, 45 degree slope with no path. People just use their hands and clamber up. The megaphone-like cheers of Tilly and Emma spurred me on almost from the bottom, and seemed to slow others down (thanks guys!) so I was soon at the top. Another quick dib and a bit of banter (something about needing new legs!) with the cheer squad and the running recommenced. The path along the top of Whernside is nice and runnable, so I made some time back along h there. The next few minutes went by in a bit of a blur when I witnessed a runner in front of me slip on the descent and hit his face really hard. Adam Nodwell of Kirkstall Harriers and I happened to be the first there, so quickly wrapped the poor runner in my emergency blanket and put my luminous yellow Percy Pud hat on the poor buggar’s head whilst we called the services. Hope he gets more use out of that hat than me – it’s atrocious! Quickly, marshals and paramedics arrived on the scene and myself and the other runners removed ourselves before we got too cold. It’s safe to say my descent of Whernside was sheepish, to say the least. The runner was airlifted to hospital with a fractured cheek and released on Sunday, he hopes to run again next year – crazy (read: amazing) man!
All in a blur I was then at Hill Inn, another checkpoint where I dibbed, grinned at some Roundhay Runners out supporting (thanks!) and started the long Ingleborough climb. Another quick high five and cheer squad (the Garratts/Underwood had now been joined by Paul Ramsden in his new dress) gave me a bit of a boost for the last part. Ingleborough was tough. It’s a climb of three parts: a long slow climb through a big; the ‘slippery wall of death’ (yup, exactly what it says on the tin!); then another short steep rocky climb. Then, like gorrillas in the mist the runners surrounding me and I all headed to the final checkpoint where the incredible marshals were a cheery bunch, dibbed us, cheered us and sent us back on our merry way, back off the plateau and into the valley. Seriously, these marshals not only had to hike up there but also stand for over 3 hours in the freezing cold wind. They deserve legendary status.
The last part of the race is a long, slippery, rocky descent down back into town. Thankfully I was pleased to see that the old, misleading signposts (2 x ‘2 miles to Horton’, a mile apart) had been fixed, which was kinder on the old noggin after 22 miles. Thanks to Matty and Robin for the cheers on the way through. Finally, 6.5k from the top of Ingleborough, the marquees of Horton were in sight. Before I even entered the field I could hear the cheers of the HPH (and friends) squad on the finish line and couldn’t wait to join them! Hyde Park Harriers really showed that crowd what cheering was (and probably gave a few of them some ear problems!) for a good hour whilst the rest of the crew came in.
Everyone raced absolutely brilliantly, particularly given that the weather conditions were far from ideal. Well done, especially to the ladies, who were both 5th and 10th ladies team (3 to a team!) beating Wharfdale, our nemises at PECO this year.
This time again next year, anyone?