Race Date: Saturday 29th April 2023
The Yorkshire Three Peaks Race – Pen-y-Ghent (689m), Whernside (723m), Ingleborough (722m), and 39km of unrelenting hardwork. “The marathon with mountains” is the race’s tagline and I think the vertical mile probably makes up for the fact it isn’t quite marathon distance.
After a quick kit check of the FRA basics, the field of just under 700 athletes (3 of those being Striders) congregated in the marquee for the pre-race briefing. The weather was much better than forecast – warm with a little drizzle and arguably as perfect as you can expect for the start of a hilly fell race.
Starting in the village of Horton-in-Ribblesdale, the first part of the race is a quick blast through the village before the initially gentle and pretty runnable first few miles snake around the foothills of Pen-y-Ghent, before the climb starts in earnest. From where I was in the field, the front runners had already started to fly back down the mountain past us at break neck, brain off, legs on speed. I was using this race as my final long run prior to an Ultra in a few weeks, so I was conscious of pace and didn’t want to stretch myself too thin (find out in a few weeks whether running the Y3P was hubris or great training).
The first dibber point was at the top of Pen-y-Ghent amidst the cloud that clung to the tops throughout the race, I found myself a little out of puff but ready for the long descent and even longer trudge to Ribblehead viaduct at the base of Whernside. One peak down, two to go.
I passed Laura (my wife and fellow Strider) who was spectating and cheering with a friend who caught a photo and supplied me with sweets (Walter the Worm from Aldi, pleasant flavour, nice acidity and a pleasing two bites per sweet). The space the race covers is so vast that it’s quite tricky to pick a spectator spot but the base of Pen-y-Ghent provided two cheerleading opportunities and a nice walk for Laura, who had a leisurely stroll up Pen-Y-Ghent after seeing me and then managed to get lost on the way back to race HQ.
Once off Pen-y-Ghent, there’s a relatively flat 7ish miles on the approach to Whernside. But flat doesn’t mean easy, whilst relatively quick in the grand scheme of the race the terrain was still challenging over grassy farmland and rocky paths but plenty of sheep to look at. The route has changed slightly from previous years to avoid a field or two and no doubt the ire of the landowner. This added a kilometre to the route and also approximately 5 mins to the target record times for those at the pointy end of the race. But for everyone else toward the back of the route it has become a little bone of contention, in terms of cut-off times. These can be quite tight and also for the first year with the new ones quite confusing for some runners.
Next came the most difficult climb of the day for me. Taking a route reserved only for the race, the climb up Whernside was unrelentingly brutal. From peat bogs that occasionally reappeared over the 2.5km of false summits, inclines that needed hands to grasp at the clods, and rocks to scramble up. By the final push to the summit, my legs were jelly, I was getting a little bit of vertigo and my brain deprived of oxygen I was a-swirling. But I made it into another cloud and another dibber point.
While the up is tough on the quads and lungs, the clamber back down on wobbly legs was tough in a different way. Technical, rocky and steep, littered with walkers on their own challenges, the descent was good for the over confident and I ended up overtaking a few people before the check point at Chapel-Le-Dale, hoping for a little top up of water at the stop only to be greeted by a queue of a dozen people and not enough water to go around. This was the second cut off point where people could be timed out and it’s probable that dehydration played a part in some being unable to continue.
I pushed onward up the final climb of Ingleborough past cheery marshals and spectators. I’d slowed at this point opting to run/walk to just keep moving and grind out the last runnable bits before steps akin to those at Cirith Ungol. So, like Frodo and Samwise, I trudged upwards eating jam sandwiches and energy gels instead of lembas. Eventually reaching the top of the rocky climb (with a 39% incline) I was gifted some water by a spectator, buoyed by comradely support I eventually reached the grim plateau of Ingleborough.
After the penultimate dib, returning part the way down veering to the right toward the glorious sight of a beer marquee back in Horton-in-Ribblesdale where the finish awaited. The final few undulating miles were peppered with sharp rocks, uneven surfaces and bedraggled runners, and were really tough. With no let up, always requiring concentration on the terrain for trip hazards (mental fatigue joining in with physical exhaustion), the course finished where it started, although I was in more of a heap than 5 hours previous.
After a quick debrief with Abbie, who had run a blistering time of around 4 hours for a top 10 finish (she described it as more difficult than running a Sub-3hour Marathon) I decided I’d still rather run the Y3P again than run on closed city centre roads for 26 miles, even if it was the most difficult race I’ve run.
Overall it’s well organised but relatively low key, marshalled by a generally joyous bunch (including the race director’s 10 week old granddaughter in the tiniest Hi Viz I’ve ever seen) and a large team of mountain rescue medics. Issues with lack of water for those toward the rear of the field took the shine off a little. But it really felt like taking part in a prestigious event, with so much incredible fell running talent on show. Being able to participate alongside the best in the country all vying for places on the GB Mountain Runners team was humbling and something I was proud to be able to be involved in. All runners have to qualify to enter, so everyone on the start line has proven themselves more than capable, but the mountains show no mercy and there were over 100 DNFs on the day (including, notably, there being no WV70 winner due to just missing a cut off) plus a multitude of finishers crossing the line with bloody knees. No medal, optional tshirt purchases, but all finishers got a Snickers and a voucher for some bean stew.
There were 581 finishers. The 68th edition of the Three Peaks race was won by Thomas Roach (Lewes AC) in 2.53.28 and Catherine Taylor (Black Combe Runners) in 3.34.44.
102 Abbie Pearse 4.01.58 (10th female, 8th FSen)
435 Jim Rangeley 5.09.31
Ribblehead – Chris Walker 2:20:29