I have a love hate relationship with fell races. I love races themselves and being in the mountains, but I hate the fact that I’ve never ran a fell race where I’ve felt like I’ve done myself justice. I’ve just never been able to translate my road speed onto the fells and I struggle with technical terrain, especially steep descents.
The 3 peaks has been looming large in my calendar for a while now and I feel like I had unfinished business from last year having not ran particularly well, especially in the latter stages of the race.
My mate Dave was also running – he was a bit apprehensive beforehand, the longest he’s ever ran before being 16 miles.
As we drove down the weather steadily deteriorated, turning into heavy showers & poor visibility as we pulled into the picturesque village of Horton in Ribblesdale, the site of the race start and finish.
We had a bit of time before the race so I asked Dave if he wanted a map reading 101. He had asked me before the race which scale to print off – 25000 or 50000. 25000 I replied – it’s more detailed.
“But I don’t know how to read a map anyway”
“Well I guess it doesn’t matter which version you print off then”
It always amuses me how many runners don’t know how to use a map and compass given that they are mandatory requirements for most fell races.
Ok, so first question – where are we on the map now? Errm, is that the first hill there asks Dave pointing at Horton? Hmm, think the map reading tutorial will have to wait for another day.
As the race was about to start the usual question reared its head – jacket or no jacket? It was fairly cold and a little breezy but the rain had stopped and it’s pretty much uphill from the off so I decided to put it in my pack.
Then the start had arrived and we were off. I had a target in the back of my head that I wanted to run under 4 hours, but I decided not to get hung up on it and put pressure on myself and run on feel as much as possible.
The first peak, Pen-Y-Ghent was summited in very similar conditions to last year – cold, misty andl & windy on top, except this time it didn’t clear on the way down so mercifully I couldn’t see Whernside far off in the distance.
There was no bottle drop at High Birkwith this year so onwards to the next checkpoint at Ribblehead. It has started raining by now but I felt strong along this section and was able to pass a number of people, although I had to keep having to tell myself to not go too fast as there was still a long way to go. Then it was upon me again, Whernside – the hardest ascent beginning with a knee high ford of a stream and bogs galore.
I started to get really cold at this point so first the hat went on, then gloves & rain jacket. I was soaked to the skin by this point but at least it was another layer & it kept the wind off. You know when you’re on a steep ascent when your Garmin auto pauses because it doesn’t think your moving which it did a number of times.
Finally I got to the top – thankfully no cramp this year, although there were a few runners not so lucky. Then it was time for my old friend – the steep rocky descent, my weakest link. I was passed by a number of people on this point, but thankfully not too many and I managed gain back a few places by the time I reached the next checkpoint at Hill Inn.
I think it’s always an advantage having competed in a race before as you can remember how you were feeling at different parts of the route. Last year at this point I was starting to suffer – my legs were tired, I was exhausted and I was getting periodic cramps. This year, although I certainly wasn’t feeling like a spring chicken, I felt much stronger and started to overtake people on the ascent to the final peak, Ingleborough.
It actually started to snow at this point and visibility was still poor but it was now that I started to think about my finishing time. Last year it took me 53 minutes to run the 4 and a half miles from the summit of Ingleborough to the finish – I felt pretty sure that I’d be able to beat that as long as I didn’t get any cramp or have a nasty fall (which I nearly did on the stony summit). I reached the top after 3 hours 17 mins which gave me 43 mins to play with.
Now it was time to take a chance – no more holding back, I was going to put everything I had into this final section. What a difference to last year, those last miles were probably the best part of the race, I felt unstoppable and overtook quite a few people on this section – completing in in just under 37 minutes and crossing the finish line in 3:54:49 – 45 minutes faster than last year.
I now finally feel like I’ve put in a decent performance in a fell race. I definitely think that not having the pressure of being too hung up on a specific time allowed me to hold back in the early stages of the race and finish strongly.
Dave had a great race too, finishing in 4-39 which I’m sure he’ll be back next year to beat despite apparently cursing me at various points round the course.
Will I be back next year? Of course I will!
As a footnote, here’s my race report from last year