I have to admit I was worried about the 3 Peaks. I knew that even though I’d put the running miles in during the past few weeks, the week before the event wasn’t ideal in that I’m in the middle of training for a 24 hour MTB race (well, two or three 24 hour races) and I’d justifiably spent a fair number of hours on the bike.
I kind of assumed (or hoped) that it’d be fine. It was going to have to be. It’s not as though I’d be trying to win the 3 Peaks or anything – nope, I’d start off steady and just get round. I’d also never run anything like 25-ish miles in one go before, let alone 25-ish miles that included three mountains, 1600 metres of climbing and some of the toughest terrain in the country, so I really didn’t know how I was going to do or what to expect. My bread-and-butter running is usually local woods stuff, about 10 miles at a time, quite a high pace and “hilly” rather than “mountainous”.
So yeah, I was a bit worried.
I lined up at the start with fellow worriers (Hi Jenn) and once we started up the long, first climb of the day along the familiar trail to the top of Pen Y Ghent, I realised just how far from the front I’d started. Very far back. Oh well, I was feeling ok so I upped my pace a bit and started to move up the field.
The climb to the summit of Pen Y Ghent went really well and I reached the checkpoint well ahead of my uneducated estimate. I was thinking “hey, this is so much easier without a bike on my shoulder”, inevitably comparing the experience so far with my five rides in the 3 Peaks Cyclocross race.
Once the descending started, I started to make some mistakes. Buoyed by the relative ease of the ascent, I started to bomb down the hill. I made it down in a few minutes and started the long undulating slog over towards Ribblehead and Whernside. The fast descent had battered my thighs and by the time I reached the Ribblehead checkpoint (where Dave was waiting, offering me a Clif gel like he could read my mind) I was already feeling some discomfort.
I pressed on and felt marginally better when climbing, in spite of the silly-steep wall of scree that had to be climbed to reach the summit of Whernside. It was when the terrain went downhill that the shenanigans started. My thighs were pretty ruined and I was finding it difficult to stay light on my feet – instead of hopping and skipping down the broken, steep and rocky hillside I was clump, clump, clumping my way down, every step making me wince as my legs grew stiffer and stiffer. I stopped and stretched.
The ascent of Ingleborough was ok, some of the pressure and impact removed from my now lactate-filled quads and I settled once again into a much-needed rhythm. I reached the top and instead of looking forward to the remaining six miles of descent to the finish line, I was dreading it.
It was torture. I should have stopped. But I didn’t. “two miles to go” said the marshal. I glanced at my watch and saw that I had 20 minutes to run this last bit before reaching 4 hours. I tried to lengthen my stride. Went past a couple of lads who were also suffering but I lost count of the number of other runners who were running past me. 40, maybe 50 others went past.
“just this last little climb lad, you can still do the 4 hour from here” said the marshal with about half a mile to go. It felt like 10 miles…nay, 100 miles. I could have stopped right there and given up, the pain in my legs was now almost unbearable. I put in one final effort and ran across the line in 3 hours 58 minutes.
I’d sort of aimed for anything less than 4 and a half hours, so I was well chuffed. I was in a world of pain though, my lack of experience at this distance and running in terrain such as that taught me a few lessons, but I’ll be back next year.