> 2009 race reports
25/04/09 Three Peaks - from John Telfer

"... really it was this big" John descends Pen-y-Ghent - photo: Pete Hartley

24 miles / 4,500 feet of ascent : April 25, 2009

Apart from having shredded my feet on the rocks of Coledale the previous week my main concern was whether this much vaunted race would live up to the hype and aura that surrounds this race. I was not to be disappointed although as is so often the case the pleasure was not gained without some pain along the way.

Allon Welsh (although technically entered to run as a Morpeth Harrier) and myself were joined by another 687 non NFR’s for this classic fell race. Two other NFRs present were Allon’s wife, Sally, and Jane Saul who was marshalling at the start and at Hill Inn.

Weather conditions were pretty much perfect, clear throughout with sunny spells and whilst quite breezy “up top” it was more on our backs than in our faces. Having stood in the River Ribble for a good five minutes in order to ensure some lubrication to my feet, I optimistically took my place in line.

The initial cavalry charge out of the playing fields in Horton continued through the village and up and through the lanes until we reached the main path up to Pen-y-Ghent. Along the way I was joined and passed by fellow Allendale Challengers Louis Coles and Colin Dilks from Claremont Road Runners. Colin and I swapped places on a regular basis throughout the race but Louis was long gone before the real slog up Pen-y-Ghent had got underway.

Twenty five minutes in and as the main crocodile file wound its way up to the first summit the leaders appeared back down with Rob Jebb in the vanguard never to be overtaken. Twenty minutes later I too was on my way back down, the descent being a pure joy, plenty of fuel in the tank, good ground (if you came off the path and ran in the grass) and a following wind.

The following six or so miles to Ribblehead is undulating without ever being particularly steep, either up or down, and continued to be a case of follow my leader. The most exciting part of this section is when a stile is reached and this being Britain, saw the sight of thirty or so combatants patiently taking their place in the queue to get over in the order in which they had arrived at it. Most of us were just glad of the breather, although reports have been made of certain individuals climbing over dry stone walls to avoid the orderly queue. A curse on the lot of them.

I arrived at Ribblehead to be greeted by Sally, who unfortunately I didn’t  recognise having not met her with Allon at the start. I just smiled back assuming there was someone behind me who shared my name. By the time I saw her again after Whernside I had remembered who she was and had come up with the excuse that her hair was longer the last time I had seen her. Pathetic I know and she must have thought I was a right miserable so and so.

Energy saved up until now was soon to be called into service. Having passed the most awesome Ribblehead Viaduct and the trot alongside the railway, one’s date with destiny and the killer climb of Whernside cannot be avoided any longer. It just goes on for ever and the last four hundred yards appear to be near vertical and reduced many to turf clutching movements.

Emerging on to the summit plateau, one is greeted by the sight of numerous runners literally collapsing in a heap as cramp takes revenge. The rocky, and often steep, descent seems to galvanise some but for others it is merely the catalyst for more lactic acid to go to work.

Fortunately I emerged reasonably unscathed and trundled along at an even pace and arrived at the second cut-off point with plenty in hand, with Sally and Jane to offer encouragement and a jelly baby or two to keep me going with over eight miles still to go.

I then witnessed the rare phenomenon of actually overtaking people as the gradual and then ever steepening ascent of Ingleborough took hold. On the final rocky and blustery approach to the summit, a young girl who could have been no more than ten ran alongside me and literally thrust a carton of apple juice into my hand, saying that I could have it because she didn’t like it. It was sickly and it was sweet but it was wet and it was a wonderful act of kindness which probably made more of an impression on me than anything else that day. Even more so than the man a little further back who offered me some water and just as I was slaking my thirst said “Of course it’s got vodka in it !”. Ten yards on I heard him repeating this to the runner behind me and it still seemed as funny the second time around.

The descent to the finish is widely acknowledged as the longest six miles in fellrunning but miraculously I still felt good and was able to make up places as we got ever closer to home passing through the limestone pavements. Even the first brief shower of the day was a help rather than a hindrance.

With almost a slight twinge of regret it was finally time to cross under the railway, run through somebody’s garden (yes, really) across the road and into the field for the finish in just under four and a half hours.

Although a mere wimp compared to the Highland Flingers who were going twice the distance, I was able to reflect that the hype that surrounds this race is not actually all hype. The camaraderie amongst the runners, especially to those ailing along the way, and the crowds who seem to more or less line the whole route and offer support, drink and food make it a day to remember.

For once, at the start my brain had registered this was a twenty four mile race and that saving energy for later may pay dividends. For once, I listened and whether coincidentally or not made up nearly 100 places from Pen-y-Ghent summit to the finish. Having told this to someone who regularly trots around the Northumberland races, he congratulated me on my new found tactics but did mention how much he himself enjoyed starting off slowly, fulsome in the knowledge that at some point he would overtake me irrespective of how much I had drunk the night before. I think there was a compliment bursting to get out somewhere in his response!!

I thought this was a race to do once and then leave it to the masses, but I’ll be back next year even if only for the high quality pubs in Hawes where I perfected my pre-race preparation the night before and watching the trains cross Ribblehead Viaduct.  


John Telfer

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