Three Peaks Fell Race 2019: the tale of a cut-off chaser

Remind me why I am doing this. Well, I did have a half decent spell last year and made the cut offs in

a number of races including credible qualifying races like Howtown, Exterminator and Tour of

Pendle. So now or never, or just no particular reason.

A fall into an icy pool during the Stoop in December led to a decision to take a break from running

and, apart from trotting round the Chevin Chase on Boxing Day, the next run out was the Ilkley Fell

race two months before the 3Ps. Not my best idea to start with that. I don’t seem to be able to

speed up with new legs of lead. Rare for me to time myself at all, but I have, on mapmyrun, and my

km times appear to be the same as my old mile times. I am in trouble, and I can’t see how I can

make the cut-offs. Not even Ribblehead. Shame on me and with the Fellandale marshalls there to

witness my humiliating wait for the Bus of Shame to take me back to Horton.

Training plan: er um, fit in as many runs as possible over the short time I have, try to speed up, get

some big hills in, and ideally trot round the whole route once.

Test run 1, 11 th The plan is Pen Y Ghent - Ribblehead. Complete fail, freezing cold snowy climb with

wind and icy hail up to Pen-Y-Ghent. One other person out that day, a nutter like me, but kind as he

offered me his hot black tea. Weather worsening, especially to the north, so I bailed and trod back

to Horton via the Pennine Way. Ok for time to Pen-Y-Ghent given the weather and snow, but would

probably put me just on the cut off at Ribblehead, a bit tight.

Test run 2, 24 th March. Race route to Pen Y Ghent, and Whernside to Hill Inn, with cheesy chips in

the surprisingly cosy pub after, and hitching back to the start. Bad weather put me off continuing up

Ingleborough. Inside the cut off at Ribblehead but outside at Hill Inn, longer walker route up

Whernside though. Whernside is a stranger to me. Hard to believe, but only two previous visits, and

both over 20 years ago. Back then, the paths were much less cultivated, none of these yellow brick

roads and stone slabs. I don’t remember many way markers and I remember much more bog. And

no people. The 1994 walk coincided with this race and the only other people I saw were a load of

skinny fell racers wearing next to nothing, carrying next to nothing and moving ridiculously quickly,

and admirably. I stepped aside to cheer them on as they reached the top.

Test run 3, 31 st March: last chance for a long run on the route. Aiming to do all bar the Pen Y Ghent

loop, c20 miles, but knowing I’m a hill short by Ingleborough. Inside the cut-off at Ribblehead,

outside again at Hill Inn. Need to add some time though as I started nearer the lane in Horton.

Ingleborough in 48 mins and just over an hour trot down to the car. Conclusion: Bus of Shame.

A two week break in the French Alps, practising in the mountain air. Lots of hill climbing including

one really decent run which replicated the hill climbs with two visits to Falconnier at 1675m, a name

I would repeat to myself at least twice on race day to remind me. My last long run, showing strong

climbing, leaving me optimistic. Little voice in head then says “ah but the bits in between the big

hills are where it goes right or wrong and have you practiced for that?” No.

One week to go. An easy, and a confidence boosting Parkrun. Local, short, flat, fabulous to be part

of a run which everyone can take part in. The opposite of the 3Ps. Now for the research, the

desperate move of a marginal checkpoint chaser. I dig out my old trusty The Competitive Runner’s

Handbook, marathon training guide. I should be running c10 miles though, not a park run. I head

out to Ilkley Moor later to add some mileage, to get caught up in the big fire and give up after too

few miles too slow.

Six days to go: Race day looming, a nice little Wharfe valley run, counting my steps, trying to

replicate the in between bits, but also timing it to imagine how it feels to get up to Pen Y Ghent in

that time. Actually exhausting doing that, and I came to a halt before 50 mins, 8000 steps later,

deciding enough was enough. I’m tired, and going mad.

I’ve now resorted to looking at past results to see what I need to do at each check point. I’m also

looking at videos and blogs of previous races and even a fly-through. Oh yes and I also came across

a bit of information that tells me that at the rate of my steps (160/min in the above example), I’m

definitely a recreational runner. How can any of this help.

Start list issued: 914 racers, 759 men, 155 women. Not many women, which says a lot about those

cut-offs and who it excludes from trying. 18 WV50, which is quite a big % . Most have track records

and are really good. I’m listed as a novice, which may be my undoing, and I’m not really good.

One day to go: niggling back pain, started a couple of weeks ago and has become severe in the last

two days. I can’t breathe in fully without it hurting, been unable to run and can’t bend over. This

should make me drop out before the start, but I won’t. Hot bath, pain killer and tape.

Race day: husband was ill so doesn’t have the strength to resist my plea for him to drive me there

and play race support, so I take full advantage. I register and am dibbed. Can’t drop out now. Then

I try a warm up jog. Owwww. I decide a painkiller will be needed and

pop a couple of spares into my pocket, and plan to see how it goes

getting up Pen Y Ghent and drop out them if it’s impossible. Not ideal. I

am hoping that all the other pains of running this far over all those hills

will take over and make me forget this one.

My race plan prepared in the car on the way, ignoring the back pain,

would I be so lucky?:

Dave Woodhead pic of the start The race. The classic, important race, honoured to be part of it at

last. It is such a fantastic event, and superbly organised. The women’s changing tent is a

brilliant bonus, enough loos, massive resgistration / hospitality tent. A tribute following the very sad death of one of the organising committee, meant a quick dash after to the start pens and no time to think. Dave Hodgson, honorary VP and veteran Three Peaks racer, herding all to the pens. Lovely to line up with the best of them, or behind the best of them in fact, and knowing the best have done this challenge over the last 65 years. 6 starter back in 1954. I really do not deserve to be here. 6 Fellandalers on the start list this year, four men and four women, though only six start on the day. I am expecting to be last and was expecting this before the back pain. Paul Heeley, Simon Franklin, Alison Wilson, amazing, who beats all the men and is nearly as old as me, Louise O’Brien and Tanya Shepherd, and me. We three should be fairly similar but I think I have probably slipped into last place over winter and I am hoping I can hang on to their slip stream and for them to drag me past the cut-offs. I need to pee but it is too late, we are off.

Starting at Horton. Unintuitively, the races heads the wrong way out of the field and adds to the

worry about the time to get to Ribblehead. Maybe it’s so we can’t see how high up Pen Y Ghent is

as we are facing the wrong way. It took me six minutes to get to the lane which goes up to Horton

Scar. Help. This lane is an old stony track, walled in, and winding its way up slowly with lovely

glimpses of the target hill if you remember to look, which I didn’t. Arrived at the junction of paths

going left to Whitber and right to PYG in just over 24 minutes, two minutes slower than my plan. I

am just following Alison and don’t want to speed up as she has tried and tested not going too fast

too early. I can’t speed up anyway as I don’t feel on form. Louise has escaped and is out of site. No

sign of Tanya as yet. The route up to PYG is yellow brick road. The front runners pass me on their

way down at 33 minutes, the fastest man having reached the top in under 28 minutes. Victoria

Wilkinson passes me at 37 minutes in the top 30 overall at that point, and she reached the top in

under 33. How amazing is she. They pass me before I have reached the stupid indirect route with a

wide bend to the left with a totally unnecessary fingerpost pointing to PYG. Where else would this

path lead? After this bend it’s up an old rutted path (which shows why they have had to stone flag

all the paths here). I’m guessing I won’t get to cut the corner off before the final stretch to the

summit. I’m right. One smiling marshall on that corner getting the brunt of all the wet and windy


3.75 miles to PYG by my paper map measure. 50 minutes, two minutes slower than my plan. I put

that down to the extra time from the field to the car park, so more or less on target, but better dash.

The next bit I decided in my race plan is a whole new 10k race to the road, and includes the lovely

run down towards Whitber, and then meadow (after meadow after meadow), undulating. Tanya

passes me along here, looking very happy and strong. High Birkwith in 1:31, with enough energy to

smile and wave at Steve Carter marshalling this hidden away checkpoint. Three minutes behind my

plan, but feeling ok. Ribblehead a welcome sight ahead, Whernside, big and broody and not quite as

invisible as I thought it would be, but big black sky looming just to the north of it.

Out onto the road and it’s 1.2 miles to Ribblehead. This road is such light relief albeit at my pace

now it is dragging by slowly. Over the grass and past the announcers, happy to hear my name. I

made it with three minutes to spare, after hugging Carl and Martin the Fellandale marshalls. A

minute well spent at this check point (but adding to the pressure later), getting food and drink which

my husband had ready for me, and leaving him with one of my two jackets. Nervousness at the start

about the wet weather led to the last minute decision to carry a spare. Not necessary in the end.

I’m more than half way. Untested terrain up Whernside. Wet foot in the stream. I am hoping the

straight up route will suit me better than the recce walkers route as my uphill ability is generally

better than anything else I do, especially if it is a case of using all fours. It did and I passed Tanya on

the way up way up. The summit came so much sooner than I thought, taking me 52 minutes, exactly

as planned for this section.

Sportsunday pic of Paul on course and looking wet

Tanya happy reaching Ribblehead.

A moment of being pleased with myself, until I realised I have only 31 minutes to get to the Hill Inn

check point. I call Tanya who isn’t far behind to encourage her up the last bit. Doubt she can hear.

From Whernside, into the wind and rain as fast as my legs and proprioception will go. Lots of walkers

here, every single one of them looking round, checking and moving out of the way for the runners.

Thank you three peaks challenge walkers. On the steep descent section, I hear a voice which is

Tanya having caught me up and both of us having caught Louise. Fabulous. They have both

overtaken by the gate and the track before the tarmac section. It is so tight to the cut off. I can see

Loiuse ahead, and Tanya not far behind, and me 100 or so metres behind. Only 4 or 5 minutes to go

from the bend in the lane to the farm. Carl is at the farm gate calling us all on. Oranges and lemons,

who will lose their head? I am almost crying with joy as I pass that check point at 3:28:21. It took 29

minutes, a minute faster than my plan, but overall 6 minutes outside what I was aiming for. Who

cares. All three of us through. Thank you Tanya and Louise, for dragging me through that last cut-off

checkpoint, almost exactly as I predicted! I am so relieved and stop for a couple of minutes to find

my drink and to eat some food.

Louise on course. Sportsunday pic

Time to take it a bit easier, in fact not capable of any more than that by now

given the nervous energy wasted chasing that last cut-off. A slow jog gently

up through the meadows and boards, seeing the steep winding path ahead,

passing a few others, including Tanya and Louise (age before beauty….) earlier

on as they were having a rest walk. I’m normally a master of straight up, and

planned to cut off the slalom sections of the steep. Except by the time I got

there I was too knackered and decided I’d be better on the path. Still

overtook a few more. Tanya caught up with me after the gate and we did the

last climb together battling against very hard hailstones. The conditions here

explain the strong reasons for the cut offs. The weather was absolutely

brutal and the marshalls had to stand in it for far longer than we have to run

through it. Still smiling. Hats off to them. Top at 56:30, three or so minutes

slower than the plan, and with Tanya now ahead and disappearing fast into

the distance; Louise just behind, approaching the checkpoint as I headed down.

The 4 or 5 miles down to the finish are just marvellous. Yes, it’s a bit rocky in places, but it is down

hill, and I absolutely know I can finish the race. Yee haa. This must be what the Three Peaks feels

like for everyone else who doesn’t have to chase the cut-offs.

A tiny unexpected up hill before the descent to the tunnel and then winding round to the famous

garden. I love the owners of this house who allow some 700 runners to tread though. I thanked the

marshall at the gate, who may indeed have been the owner. Into the field feeling weak as a kitten

and so tired, and looking like my back has broken, I feel like crying. So pleased with myself.

Definitely marginal, missed my plan by 12

minutes, but definitely a success and goes down

as one of my best ever fell race experiences.

The Wilson lesson well executed –