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2018 Three Peaks - Unfinished Business


After deciding to run in 2016 with barely three weeks of training after injury the predictable missed cut-off at Hill Inn was still very hard to take. That unfinished business meant that this was my no1 race for the year. Me, Chris Plews, Paul Nelson and Andy Walsh gathered in the huge Marque at the field in Horton at around 9.00 collected our numbers activated our dibbers and queued up for the mandatory kit check. Unlike most here I’m not one to spend a fortune on a super light jacket that I’ll probably never wear so a rather old Gortex with obligatory taped seams plus Mark Foster’s borrowed over trousers crammed in to my callback made for a rather heavy pack. With map food gloves hat etc the pack was straining up the seems whilst other runners were obviously in receipt of tardis like bum bags.

On the whole we were all looking just to get around, Chris and Paul had run London the week before so could hardly be considered fresh. Andy was on the comeback trail and knew he’d not put the miles in and I was still haunted by my failure of two years sooner and simply couldn’t even think about anything but getting to Hill Inn before the 3 hour 30 cut-off.

This race attracts a quality field and I fully expected to finish in the bottom dozen. Strict cut off times ensure that there is no chance to take it easy up to the two thirds point. With those cuts offs written on my hand front and back, plus Chris’s estimation of where I needed to be on each Marshall point to hit the all important final cut off - I was all set.
10.30 came around all too soon and we shuffled up to the starting line, no sooner had I turned my Garmin than the flag dropped. Leg it!! With Garmin still trying to find some spec of metal thousands of miles up. Never mind as long as my time of day was working that’s all that mattered.

After a short run down Horton High Street, we headed straight onto the rocky track up PenyGhent. The crowded path demanded full concentration to avoid the bigger stones and I didn't really look up until we hit the steeper section of the ascent and the pack thinned out a little.

As I neared the steeper part of the climb there was a murmur of appreciation ahead and suddenly the race leaders literally flew past. For me this would be the only chance to see the fell running elites, it’s quite humbling seeing how the top guys make short work of the terrain. At this point Ricky Lightfoot was in front withTom Owens on his heels, Tom went on to win in 2.49.08. Respect. A modest 46 mins to the top for me but one minute outside of Chris’s instructed time. Mild panic, although I knew not to go too fast at this point or I’d pay for it in spades later.

The next section from PenyGhent to Ribblehead was my favourite part soft ground, a rarity on this race, with chance to seek out a few runners who look like they know what they’re doing and then hang on to their coat tails. I’m not ashamed by this, on fell races in particular the amount of time you can save by been aware of the route that more experienced folk are taking can make a big difference. I was pleased and a bit surprised to make it to Ribblehead in 1:56,14 mins ahead of the 2:10 cut off and seven minutes faster than my last attempt. Time for a big slice of Chris Smedley’s home made ‘black??’ Flapjack, Chris had made a bumper batch for his Hardmore efforts. It really hit the spot.

Experience tells me that once I’ve started I will pretty much never stop to get food out of my backpack, so I’d stuffed my pockets with love hearts (which Anne Foster swears by), flapjack courtesy of Chris and also Jo Ranking all packed in with a buff to ensure I didn’t lose all my fuel if I took a tumble. A few runners where using this checkpoint as time for a stop and a drink but I was too scared that I’d bonk on the climb to lose precious minutes, Whernside now loomed large ahead of me on the other side of the Viaduct.

You start the journey up on the walkers path and then just as you near the signal station the marshalls direct you under the railway and down towards the a wide stream that you need to cross as best you can. A few runners were making hard going of the stones but I knew my feet would get sodden in the forthcoming bog so I ran through the stream. Bit of a mistake that as reaching the bank my X talons now had zero grip and one minute I was placing a well sighted foot on a rock to leap up the river bank and the next I went A-over-T and landed with a thud. Shouts of ‘are you alright mate’ (not to be the last!) came from behind me as I popped up trying to regain lost dignity and praying that I’d not done too much damage, fortunately a bit of bruised elbow but nothing to worry about.

After 2016 I’d had nightmares about the stile at the bottom of Whernside which I’d had to queue to get over but this year there was a lovey gap in the wall and we sailed through. There’s no easy way through the next bit of bog you just have to hope that you don’t lose both thighs simultaneously. I nearly made it clean across but then disaster I felt my leading leg disappear up to the thigh and I just hurled myself face forwards across trying not to sink too deep, which would have been knackering to get out. I was now a nice builders tea colour head to toe but I’d got across pretty quickly so was happy. Whernside’s climb is unique in the race, no path no steps. It’s impossible to get to the top without using hands and feet, and even the pros resort to a four limbed scramble. I was trying to use the Paula Radcliffe, count every step technique to take my mind off how hard my quads and calves were burning. My pack now took on corset like tightness as I struggled to get some breathing rhythm. I was aware that I was taking on a lot of water from my camelback and knew that it had to last pretty much another three hours yet, it was warm going though and the sweat was streaming into my eyes. I knew that Chris Martin was planing to be at the summit and I was hoping to cadge a drink. I’d put a heart attack enducing amount of salt on my porridge that morning to try to stave off cramp which is almost inevitable to less able runners at this point. One minute feeling ok the next my calf felt like it was going to bend forwards unnaturally, pain, scream, followed by paralysis. Fortunately just the one leg this time to stretch, not easy on a 60 degree slope but I managed it. I could now hear the raucous Marshall’s shouting encouragement and then Chris Martins dulcet tones ‘cmon Rich your doing great! Some 50 mins after passing Ribblehead, having covered just 4km, I hauled my burning quads up onto the top of Whernside, dibbing in at 2:47. a big hug for Chris who told me I was inside the cut off and now had a hole 45 minutes or so to get to Hill Inn. Also just as importantly Chris handed me a bottle of isatonic which I downed in a oner. The only thing that could stop me now was a crash or the dreaded cramp. So I decided to go for both.

The descent from Whernside is quite tough, the rules are very strict now about following the path with disqualification the prize for running down the much kinder fell. The path is crammed with walkers and as the rain was holding off it was a very busy place to be. One minute I was aware of some walkers ahead and made mental note to steer clear of them and their poles, that bit of forward thinking cost me dear as my foot found a rock and down I went, no bones broken but the fall had brought on bad cramp in both calves, I couldn’t move my legs for a few frightening seconds. A marshal pulled me to my feet and being verticals brought some feeling back to protesting calves. A big thank you to the Marshall and another runner who’d stopped and I was off again. I reached the Hill Inn checkpoint at 3.17, elated to have made the cut off with 13 mins to spare well inside my target. I had stashed a drinks bottle here, and whilst I drank Andy Walsh hobbled towards me saying that his legs were shattered and he was pulling out. I tried to persuade him to jog the last bit with me but he was adamant. I stuffed some more miraculous flapjack in my face, before stumbling off up the approach to Ingleborough with great encouragement from the crowds at the checkpoint.

All thoughts of failure had gone, but I realised that if I bonked that would be race over so I was determined to respect the race but make sure I don’t overcook myself. So I relaxed and ran / walked the long drag on the approach, the final climb up Ingleborough is steep and is all stone mostly fashioned into uneven rocky steps, single file, step, pull and step again. I reached the top of Ingleborough in 55 minutes, the flat summit fortunately well flagged to aid navigation.
Three climbs done and heading for home, a realisation dawned on me that I had a good chance of being inside 5 hours 30 which would be unbelievable.

So I made a pledge no more walking. The last 4 miles to Horton are a real pain, but you have to get all the way back to civilisation at Horton. By now I was picking off a few runners especially as randomly the guys in front would pull up with cramp and need to stretch out. The ground was quite soft, which was a luxury after all that running on stones but the mud stretch didn’t last long before we hit limestone pavement which may look nice on a postcard but it’s a bar steward when your feet are starting to let you know that they hurt after kicking one loose stone too many. Coming to a gate the Marshal said only two miles to go and their all downhill, music to my ears.

My run in was a pretty good pace, after the seemingly endless moor, you crest a hill and finally catch a glimpse of the race marquee and the finish.

The race route diverts from the public path before reaching Horton. It heads under the railway line and through a very kind persons back garden before crossing the main road and into the finish field. Sprint finish, but would there be anyone to witness it - thankfully yes as Liz and Cris Martin and Jo Rankin were there to see me cross the line with a wave to the Wetherby Flag flying next to the finish. It was emotional I’ve got to say, a lot like finishing your first marathon. Handing over the money for my race t-shirt that I didn’t dare pre order was a sweet as any post race pint.

Race done, job done; 5:13. First home for the Mighty O was Chris Plews 4:22 (321) followed by Paul Nelson 4:28 (354) and then my good self.

That’s my report told, a bit of an epic essay for an epic race; three mountains just short of 6,000ft of climb and little over 23 miles.