The last two times I’ve taken part in the 3 Peaks Race it’s been painful and in some respects a quite miserable experience but at the same time one of those races that’s so tough that it’s very addictive.
In previous years I’ve trained for it, in fact the first time I was under no illusions as to the magnitude of the challenge so trained quite hard for it. The second time I was far too distracted by cycling and was pitifully underprepared; as a result my first attempt was the time to beat.
I thought that this year I’d trained properly. I’ve run further in the first 4 months of 2016 than I’ve ever run in any year, ever. Ok, it’s only a few hundred miles and I’ve been fitting it in among all the other cycling hours I’ve had to do but it’s been ok. I’ve even managed three or four half marathons – one of them was quite hilly too! Perfect.
Or was it?
Not really. I reckon I’d put in the hours and the miles and my ‘marathon’ pace is quite quick nowadays, for me anyway. What last weekend’s race did expose however was my woeful lack of hours running in the ‘proper’ hills and my crappy descending technique (I already knew about that one to be fair).
After surprisingly starting even further back than I normally do, I got to the top of Pen Y Ghent quicker than usual. I’ve never been bad at running uphill (in fact the steeper and longer the climb the better), but my memories of intense thigh pain caused by trying to bomb back down again in previous years meant that I seemed to be subconsciously adopting a weird speed-limiting and eventually muscle-damaging disposition on the way back down. There was a lot of snow and slush near the summit and there was a weather front closing in rapidly but the first mountain passed underfoot without too much trouble at all.
Regardless, I soon made it to the bottom of the descent and across the moor – I still felt strong by the time I reached Ribblehead and the start of the second peak where Dave, Angela and Debbie all bestowed gels upon me.
I hate the term in a racing context but I reckon I SMASHED the Whernside climb (a friend who was watching the online split timing told me that I’d overtaken 80 people, in fact) and somehow found the spare breath to encourage a few other lads who seemed to be struggling. It was a near-vertical wall of snow and mud, to be fair to them. Once at the top I dibbed my transponder and enjoyed the high winds, horizontal hail, snow, ice, mud and near-darkness while I trotted along, trying to get my (by now, purple) legs working properly again, in shorts. Madness.
Things started to fall apart on the Whernside descent. It’s rough at the best of times and this time it was covered in ice, snow and wet, slippery mud- halfway down my thighs had started to get pissed off (but at least I didn’t slip and fall on my arse like a lot of other folk were doing). Reaching the foot of Whernside with lactic acid squirting out of my toenails I tried to ignore the pain until I met Deb again at the Hill Inn for another gel. “Don’t worry, you can have a chippy tea later” I thought to myself as I squirted the sickly goo down my throat and got cracking with the final climb to the summit of Ingleborough.
I like this climb normally. It’s a relief to my quads as they’re being used differently and aren’t being torn apart by my comedy descending. The trouble was, I was stuck in a fair amount of traffic now and due to the slippery, wet conditions there weren’t many safe opportunities to overtake. Where there was a chance to get past other people I did do, but mainly I settled into the procession. The descent was agony, as was the last 5 or so miles across the rock-strewn moor to the finish.
I crossed the line after 4 hours 15 minutes, 17 minutes slower than my previous best time in spite of training harder. Granted the conditions weren’t conducive to a record time (but that didn’t seem to slow the ‘proper’ runners down) but I know what to work on to get faster and in spite of my grumpy muttering as I approached the finish, I’m sure I’ll be lining up at the start of the 2017 race. Addicted, y’see.