As part of my Wadi Rum Ultramarathon training last year, I decided to have a weekend up north doing the Yorkshire Three Peaks as I was already heading up there to see some friends. In my crazy optimism I decided to run it on the Friday, and then walk it again on the Saturday. Not strictly in the training plan but I figured it was all time on feet and back to back days, and something different as by that point I was in danger of going a little bit stir crazy (plus Sunday was then spent eating cake*).
The (just over) 24 mile route takes in the three most well-known hills in the Yorkshire Dales; Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside, are part of the Pennine range, has the equivalent climb of Ben Nevis and pretty good views (if you get good weather) and goes past a viaduct that I remember staying near on a QEGS school trip.
I’d walked the route the year before so I vaguely knew where I was going (and had the OS maps app on my phone as a back up) but had never run something like this before, and although I lived in the Cotswolds and ran up hills every now and then I’d not consider myself a great hill runner, so it was a tad daunting. I had no idea how it would go, but I just decided to get on with it and give it a shot. At the very least it would be a chance to see how I did being out running for a fair few hours and I could try out all the types of food I planned on taking to the desert with me, and if the worst came to the worst, I could just walk it.
I camped at Holme Farm campsite in Horton-in-Ribblesdale which is pretty much opposite the start of the route. It’s a great little campsite – basic facilities, but cheap (less than a tenner a night if I remember right; you pay per person, per car and per tent) with hot showers and ran by a characterful chap with a penchant for knick knacks and flags. There’s a pub pretty much next door (the Golden Lion) which serves a carvery Friday and Saturday nights for £9.95 until about 8.30pm which is really handy when you’ve finished the route tired, ranvenous and ready to eat your own arms and don’t want to walk any further ever again.
The route is a popular ‘challenge’ route (the challenge being to finish the walk within 12 hours) and as such can be pretty busy; nice for chatting to lots of people but not so good if you’re after solitude. It also means the route suffers badly with erosion, with some areas becoming quite boggy and tricky to navigate, and other areas having flagstones, steps and boards instead of a path with a constant need for maintenance, so it’s worth considering supporting the Friends of the Three Peaks or donating to the BMC’s Mend our Mountains project for the Yorkshire Dales if you fancy giving a bit back.
You can start the route from a few different places, but Horton-in-Ribblesdale is the most popular, so avoid real early starts unless you want to join the masses. I set off at about 9am because I
faffed around A LOT figured running it meant I should be quicker. I also put off starting, because I knew once I got going I had to keep going, which was a bit of a scary thought, so stretching out eating breakfast was obviously much more appealing.
Kit wise, I wore the stuff I was going to wear in the desert to see how it performed, with the exception of my trainers (I wore my trail trainers because of it being rocky/uneven). Of course the conditions weren’t exactly the same (no sun or sand, for example) but trying out kit before an event is pretty crucial. I also took some extras like my rain jacket, a buff and gloves and an extra layer (similar to what I’d take hiking) because the weather can change pretty quickly and it can get cold on the top of hills, or when stopping to eat or in case I had an emergency which meant I was stuck out in the elements. It did mean my pack was the heaviest it’d ever been (or would be), but again, I just figured it would be good training.
Food wise, I took snacks and actual food (one of those pre-packed tuna quinoa salad things – you know, the ones that look like congealed cat food but taste kind of OK but you’d never really actually choose to eat) because you can’t be out running up and down hills all day and not eat. Pretzels, wine gums, nuts and raisins, peanut butter sandwiches all crammed in the pockets like a mobile tuck shop.
Backpack all loaded up I headed out of the campsite and off down the path near the church and started jogging slowly after giving myself a little
kick up the arse internal motivational talk. The first hill is Pen-y-ghent, short but steep and I switched to a fast march up the hills rather than a full out jog, at this point wondering if I’d bitten off more than I could chew but also in surprisingly high spirits. Novelty and naivety in full swing.
I soon got in to a rhythm, jogging along at a nice slow but steady pace, switching to a fast march on the uphill bits that felt just that bit too much to run up. I stopped to eat food and look at the views, and chatted with lots of people along the way, feeling slightly awkward but a bit proud when I’d tell people I was running the route, because in my head, this was still stuff that other people (i.e. proper runners) did, not me. I didn’t stop for too long at any one time because I’d get cold (it might have been August but it wasn’t that warm) and didn’t want to start getting stiff or seizing up, and also because frankly I didn’t want to be out any longer than I had to. I had just got to a good bit in a book I was reading and was hoping to get through a few chapters while having a late afternoon lie down rather than still be out prancing about on hills.
The running was just bloody glorious. Not sure I expected that. My legs felt pretty strong all the way round, and I enjoyed the change of terrain and elevation. It’s a bloody long way, but I enjoyed [nearly] every second of it. I’d had no idea whether I’d be able to do it but I realised I was more than capable, and that I just had to go at my own pace and listen to my body and do what felt comfortable. The views were spectacular and even though it was cloudy overhead, I got a view of the beautiful Yorkshire countryside from every peak. I marvelled at the limestone scenery, the lumpy hills and the viaduct.
There was rain, of course. But not for very long (thankfully, as running in a hiking jacket isn’t fun or breathable). It was boggy in places and I got wet feet but didn’t fall over (#win). I was blowing out my arse on the ascent up to Ingleborough (the last hill) and seriously flagging, mainly because I hadn’t eaten enough food. I’d try to say words and they wouldn’t come out properly because my brain had given up a little bit.
The last section, after Ingleborough, is pretty soul destroying. It’s the home straight, only a home straight that is long, flat and a bit non-descript, and all I wanted to do by then is be finished and laying down with that book. I was pleasantly surprised though how good I felt physically, and so just used it as a chance to work on the mental challenge of keeping running when you don’t want to run anymore. I think I sung a bit too (there was no one around at this point). I had a moment where I thought I was nearly finished, only to realise there was still further to go than I thought which was a tad on the annoying side but at that point I was just cruising, I think I was probably just numb. Seeing that railway line when coming over the final field was a moment I’ll not forget though, and I stopped for the traditional photo under the sign before a last little jog through the village.
I completed it in just over 6 and a half hours. I guess that’s a fairly long time for what is effectively a marathon but it had 3 big hills, a good amount of faffing and slow running for endurance training thrown in, and I wasn’t doing it for a time.
I learnt what worked (slow running, all my kit, a positive mental attitude), and what didn’t and where the chafing occured (not eating enough, bra buckle) and how I felt (pretty damn awesome, badass and proud). I also set a new personal record of using a Buff 3 different ways in one activity.
I felt so bloody proud of myself, you have NO IDEA. I’m sorry to the people in the campsite who I couldn’t help but blurt out about it all, I was so amazed that I’d actually gone and done it. When I started that morning, I didn’t know whether I would finish, but if you never have a go, then you’ll never find out. I’d never run that distance before, let alone with hills. I finished with a stretch in the car park, a spaghetti bolognese rehydrated meal and then a beer later in the pub. Don’t tell me I don’t know how to celebrate. I was fucking knackered but went to bed more chuffed than Chuffy McChuff-Face.
Feel free to get in touch if you’d like to know anything more about what I did, where I stayed or what I took.
*this may have been a reason for doing it in the first place