Saturday 26 April 2014

3 Peaks Fell Race 26/04/2014

This race is arguably the biggest in the UK fell running calendar with and entry list of 1000 hardy souls. 2 of those hardy souls (me and Jim) traveled down to the race on the Saturday morning (Keith had also entered the race but had to withdraw because of an ankle injury).

Originally this was going to be one of my 2 A races this year (the other being the Yorkshire Marathon) but the calf and ankle injuries I've had over the past few months meant that I've done no-where near as much preparation as I'd liked and so I was aiming to just try and enjoy the day rather than going for a specific time.

There was a fairly low cloud base which obscured Pen-Y-Ghent (the first peak) and it started raining at around 10 o clock so it looked like we were in for a wet day (at least the start of it anyway).

Just before the race started I had a bad moment when I realized I didn't have my dibber  and had to race back to the car to get it, just making it back with about 20 seconds to spare.

So we were off, snaking round the streets of Horton in Ribblesdale before joining the Pennine Way and the first ascent to Pen-Y-Ghent. By this time it had stopped raining and felt quite warm as there was also a lack of wind.

About half way up and it was hands on knees time. To be honest I could have continued running but I knew there was a long way to go and I had to conserve my energy. 40 minutes and I was in the mist on the summit of Pen-Y-Ghent, and turning round to race back down the path I'd just struggled up. About half way down there was a woman writhing in the ground in agony with what looked like either a broken or very badly sprained ankle which made me conscious of being especially careful with my own ankle injury which was still heavily strapped.

By this time the mist had cleared, which probably wasn't a good thing as I could now see the 2nd peak Whernside far off in the distance. As well as "The marathon with mountains", this race is also described as 3 fell races separated by 3 cross country races, or 1 big cross country race with 3 big hills in the middle. After descending from Pen-Y-Ghent I could see why as the next 10 or so miles until the next peak were very runnable and pretty flat as you can see from the profile.

 Its very easy to run too fast on this section, and it was also starting to get warm with the Sun making regular appearances from between the clouds. As the route approaches Ribblehead it takes you along a road for about half a mile and I have never seen so many cyclists and walkers in such a short space of time. Many of the walkers I would imagine were attempting the 3 peaks walk (walking the 3 peaks within a 12 hour period), and the Tour de France passes through this area later in the year which is apparaent by the many roadside posters and paraphanellia on display.

After picking up my water bottle from the checkpoint it was time for the seconds ascent. The normal walkers route snakes round to the far side of the peak before making a steady ascent to the top, but as this was a fell race there was none of that messing around - it was a beeline for the top.

After fording a stream which guarantees you have soaking wet feet for the rest of the race there is another boggy section as the gradient steadily increases before taking a brutally direct bearing to the top involving a fair amount of scrambling.

After eventually reaching the top i tried to start running again but cramp in both of my calves stopped me in my tracks and I had to stop for a couple of minutes to stretch. I wasn't the only person in this boat as there seemed to be quite a few other runners with the same problem.

Half way down the descent I went over on my bad ankle and had to pull up for a few minutes until the pain subsided. I was starting to feel tired now as well and the looming figure of Ingleborough ahead was a reminder of how far was still to go.

After picking up another drink at the next checkpoint it was uphill again and the tiredness was really kicking in. The ascent isn't as steep as Whernside but it isn't far off, especially the final section which involves a fair amount of scrambling.

It's easy to think that once you reach the top that its easy from then on as the last 4 miles to the finish are all downhill on a steady descent (at least that's what I kept telling myself). In reality though its probably the toughest part of the race.

By this time I was seriously fatigued, my legs were sore and although there are some nice runnable sections there are also a fair amount of rocky & stony sections, boggy parts and generally tough terrain which saps your strength. It took my 53 minutes to run these final 4 miles, getting cramp again on the way down and being reduced to a slow shuffle at points

Eventually I crossed the line in 4 hours 40 mins and 5 seconds, more than 40 minutes behind Jim who had a cracking race to finish in 03:58:04.

All in all I had a great day and will definitely be back  next year to hopefully run a faster time, unless I decide to do the Fellsman which is also ran on the same day.

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