Friday, 4 May 2012

Yorkshire 3 Peaks Race

I didn't enjoy the last half of this race at all. I got the stuffing knocked out of me and at times was thinking about packing in running all together! But as I write this on the day after the race I am already looking back on the race as a hugely positive experience.

Last year I walked the Three Peaks with my father-in-law and enjoyed it so much that I went back a couple of months later with Dave to run it. We cruised around at a steady pace in 5:10 and I decided that I had to enter the race in 2012 and go for 4:30. After damaging my Achilles in October I spent the winter wondering if I’d be fit enough by race day and even as recently as a month ago, when I was only managing a small volume of low intensity running, I could imagine getting around the race but not running at any sort of pace. But, then came a perfect month of running. It started with the Lakeland 100 Pooley Bridge – Ambleside recce and was followed by some good quality sessions. I felt like I was flying and couldn’t wait to get to the start line of the Y3P.

On race morning the weather could have been worse…but it could have been better. Strong winds in the valley and clag on the tops promised a cold day. All the talk amongst the runners was of how many layers to start in. There were three other Spartans in this race, Nick, Jason and Andy, and we settled for long sleeved tops under t-shirt, hat, gloves and I even had a buff around my neck. Kit check was done in the marquee to keep runners warm then we were herded out to the start line and the guns sounded right away.

The run through Horton-in-Ribblesdale was stunning. There must have been at least 600 runners ahead of us running down the narrow main street. What an amazing view! We turned off and started the climb which began on the wide, stony Pennine Way before turning off onto smaller paths to the summit of Pen-y-ghent (where the gale force wind was peppering us with halestones). Climbing is not my strong point and I was worried about pushing too hard so I drifted back and let the Spartans go ahead.

With tight calves the summit was a welcome sight (45mins). Brief queue for the dibbers then a run down hill. At least that was the idea but the head on gale force wind prevented any forward motion faster than walking pace. It was so strong that it was very difficult to breath. After a while the path turned and we were able to get running again. I was really stupid here and blasted the descent. It was tremendous fun but by the time I reached the bottom my legs were feeling very heavy. On the descent I caught up with Jason and Andy and learned that Nick was out of the race! He had gone over on his ankle quite badly at the summit and was waiting to be helped down. I was really disappointed for him. This had been his main A race of the year and he’d been focusing on it for the past six months.

Me, Jason and Andy with Pen-y-ghent in the background
The three remaining Spartans ran together for a while up the valley then Jason dropped back. Andy and I had a great run up the valley, probably a bit too fast but enjoying every minute. We made it through the Ribblehead checkpoint in 1:54, with 15 minutes to spare before the cut off. Andy dropped off to pick up more water and I carried on. I must admit I felt pretty pleased to be the leading Spartan…but that was not to last for long! I was tired but ok passing the viaduct and cutting under the railway line. After wading through the infamous stream we started the ascent of Wernside and this is where it all fell apart.

Even on the gradual climb at the bottom of the valley I began to feel cramp in my quads. I slowed my pace to try and preserve my legs as much as possible but I knew it was too late. This was going to hurt! The final climb was incredibly steep; hands and knees in places. Andy and Jason passed me, both looking strong, but I topped out not far behind them. I dibbed, turned to start the fast run down hill but my legs just did not work. I’m usually very strong on descents but my legs felt like lead and runners were streaming past me. I decided to walk for a bit and eat a pack of salted crisps to see if that would help. It did and as the path got steeper I was able to start running stronger and passed a few people.

I stopped for water and jelly babies at the final CP at Hill Inn then began the slow, painful climb up Ingleborough. I was being continuously overtaken but looking back I didn’t actually loose as many places as it felt like. I was fighting cramp the whole way up (for this entire climb my whole left quad was locked) and I had nasty pains in my inguinal ligament, my left hip and the inside of my right knee.

As I reached the summit plateau I passed Andy on his way down. I made it to the summit in just over four hours then turned to begin the final descent to Horton. Again the gale force wind was blowing straight into our faces and running was pointless so it was a walk until we could scramble down onto the good paths. I wasn’t in a happy place: in addition to the aches, pains and cramp I was now starting to feel quite sick. I passed a few people but was passed by many more than I overtook . At this point all thoughts of times and position really didn’t matter. I just wanted to get to the end, stop running and burn my running shoes!

The finish was great. You come over a rise, about half a mile out and there in front of you is the finishing field with the marquee and you can hear the runners being announced in. I somehow managed to find a bit of a spurt at the end (probably due to all the clapping supporters) but it was such a relief for it to all be over. I finished in 4:57 and Jason and Andy were about 15 minutes ahead of me.

At the finish, looking considerably stronger than I felt!
I was very negative at the end of the race. I have a soft spot for the 3Peaks and it was really disappointing to have such a miserable time out there. However, within an hour or two I was already starting to feel more positive about the whole experience. This race showed me where my fitness really is and where I need to work in order to improve. I might be getting back to strength but my hill fitness is not there. So, I'm going to start getting as many hilly runs in as I can. I am also going to swap my flat, six mile lunchtime runs on a Monday and Friday for gym sessions, working on the stepper and weights to try and get some strength into these legs.

Well, the race was a bit of a shocker but in terms of my larger goal, the Lakeland 100, it probably came at just the right time to show me how I need to alter my training. It could well turn out to be the best outcome I could have wished for.


I stayed in Horton-in-Ribblesdale for a week after the race. My legs were shot for days and I wasn't able to go for a run until the Wednesday. Mich dropped me off at Hill Inn and I ran over Ingleborough and back to Horton. It was a wonderful run. I had the hill to myself and felt strong. The following morning I ran over Pen-y-ghent and had another superb run. It was great to get back out there and make friends with these hills again. It won't be long before I'm heading back to Yorkshire to run this route again. 

1 comment:

  1. Great read Steve, brought it all back for me from 2010. Whernside is something else isn't it? I was super cautious on PyG and the road and took loads of people on that climb. I reckon that's the way to do it if you can hold back - much easier than being passed! The Ingleborough descent still went on for ever though and my guts were playing havoc by then:)