Three Peaks fell race

I’ve got a valid excuse for the delay in posting about this race, which took place last Saturday. I had my Master’s project (effectively a lengthy dissertation) due in last Monday and the first of my exams today (in Advanced Relativity and Gravity, and Advanced Particle Physics – scary stuff!). I thought I’d take a break from the work this evening and so I’ve finally got a chance to write about what was one of the most enjoyable days out I’ve had this year!

The Three Peaks fell race is in its 58th year, and attracts people from all over the globe. The entry limit for the race is 1000 and it also sells out without a few weeks of entries opening. And rightly so, as I personally think it’s one of the best, and indeed toughest, races out there, standing at 23 miles and with about 5000 ft of ascent. Ironically, it’s not the height gain or mountainous terrain that make it tough, but more the relentless pace and long flat sections that you have to pace perfectly – go too fast and you’ll end up in agony by the end, go too slow and you’ll miss the cut off times! They’re quite severe cut off times as well, many people get “timed out” each year.

The record for the current course is an incredible 2:46:03, set by Andy Peace of Bingley Harriers in 1996. The fastest ever record was set in 1974 by Jeff Norman, in a time of 2:29:53, on a considerably different course. The race has gone through many permutations in its rich history, and the start was originally at the Hill Inn. The first race, back in 1954, attracted only six competitors!

Last Saturday was the second time I’ve done the race, the previous time being the year before when I hit “the wall” big-time on the ascent of Ingleborough (affectionately know by competitors as Ingle-bugger) and was in agony for the whole of the descent. I finished in 4 hours 48 minutes then, and my aim for this year was simply to beat that time.

Joe Symonds

Joe Symonds from Hunters Bog Trotters, the overall winner, ascending Ingleborough.

The weather was somewhat similar, very windy but with sunny spells. However, this year, it was much colder and conditions underfoot a lot boggier, making the overall pace slower. Nearly 800 of us set of from Horton at 10:00am and after a run through the village, spectated by a surprising number of people, we were off up to Penine Way towards Pen-y-Ghent. It always gets me what an amazing atmosphere there is at the start, there are always loads of people out in Horton and along the Penine Way to Pen-y-Ghent.

I set off faster than last year and arrived at the summit of Pen-y-Ghent nearly 5 minutes up. By Ribblehead I’d gained 10 minutes and was still feeling great. I started to struggle a bit on the ascent of Whernside (the race goes straight up the side, which is horrendously steep at the top), but felt great again descending and running through the checkpoint at the Old Hill Inn, in exactly 3 hours (still 10 minutes up). Lorna and family were waiting just past the Hill Inn with some water and I took the opportunity to take a quick break. By this point, a lot of people I was running around had started to slow down and a group of us (including Wendy Dodds, who won the race back in 1983) went on a bit of an overtaking spree all the way up Ingleborough.


Taking a well-deserved drink on the way up Ingleborough, kindly provided by Lorna!

Notice the windshirt and gloves in the above photo. It was unbelievably cold for the time of year on the summit of Whernside and I was still warming up back in the valley! With the wind chill it definitely felt below zero, and in fact the Fellsman race (a 60ish mile event through the Dales) that was taking place the same day had to be cut short with numerous entrants suffering from hypothermia.


Me at the finish. Notice Wendy Dodds a few seconds behind!

I got much further before I hit the wall this year, and that eventually came about a mile after the summit of Ingleborough. It was my own fault really – I always misjudge how long the descent from Ingleborough back to Horton is and set off far too fast from the summit. I finished (in slightly less pain than last year) in a time of 4:22:57 and a position of 276 (out of 660ish finishers), nearly half-an-hour up on last year – which I was pretty chuffed at!

The race is just fantastic, the atmosphere around the course is electric and it has a real special feel about it that not many other fell races I’ve competed in have. The aim for next year is sub 4 hours, watch this space!

Mud, wind and rain

What a weekend!

Saturday – Parbold Hill Race

I decided on a spur midweek to sign up for Parbold Hill Race on the Saturday, with a group of guys from the Running Club at uni. I’m very glad I did as it was a fantastic race. A great course, on a mix of road, track and muddy fields, with the odd stream thrown in there. The organisers have done a brilliant job of picking an exciting and fun route which made sure – especially with the recent rainfall – that we all returned caked in mud. I was very pleased with my result, 47th out of around 450 and in a time of 50 minutes. Next month I’m in the Edale Skyline Fell Race so this acted as a bit of a warm up (albeit a very small warm up) to that.

Sunday – Haweswater

On the Sunday I went up to Haweswater with the Hiking Club, an area I really haven’t been to much. The reservoir sits in the valley of Mardale and its controversial construction saw the flooding of the two farming villages of Measand and Mardale Green. In times of drought when the water levels in the reservoir are at a low, the remains of the village can still be seen.

The original plan was to walk the whole ridge from Harter Fell up to Wether Hill but no one else wanted to come on my walk so I tagged along with a group with the intention of Harter Fell and High Street. We headed up the Gatescarth Pass before branching off over Harter Fell and down to the Nan Bield Pass. However we had a rather slow member in the group and the progress was so slow and the weather so terrible that no one apart from myself and the two other leaders on the walk wanted to carry on, so we decided to head back down.

The clouds started to clear a bit on the way down and I managed to get a few photographs of the very swollen Mardale Beck.

Haweswater in the distance

Haweswater in the distance

Mardale Beck

Mardale Beck

Walking down the Nan Bield Pass

Walking down the Nan Bield Pass

It really was very foul weather, even my GoreTex jacket didn’t withstand the downpour and in fact my boots are still drying out, nearly a week later (and that’s after being stuffed with newspaper). I think a good Nikwax-ing session is in order.

We stopped off at Bampton in the lovely but quite eccentric Mardale Inn – you’ll understand the “quite eccentric” part if you ever frequent the gent’s toilets in there! Next week (or, as I write this, tomorrow) we’re off to Grasmere and at the moment I’m rather tempted by the snow sitting on the top of Helvellyn, but we’ll see.