What else but a glass of Wainwright Pale Ale to set up the three Mourne Runners for the epic challenge of the ‘Marathon with Mountains’, the Three Peaks Fell Race. Somehow it seemed appropriate to honour the legendary fellsman as they contemplated the 24 miles and 5279 feet of climbing that lay in store the next morning. Just one though, enough challenges awaited.
The masses gathered at Horton in Ribblesdale bright and early and the wise heeded the organisers’ advice not to attack Pen-y-Ghent too vigorously. The first climb took the runners along the gradually steepening climb and half way up the leaders on their descent came into view with Tom Owens 20 seconds ahead, clearly a man with victory on his mind. From there the long undulating path to High Birkwith, the day cool, the cloud high and the friendly Northern runners free with their advice and encouragement.
But what is it with Mourne Runners and young women – is it the blue vest, the accent or perhaps the physique? As Richard Hanna strode towards the Victorian masterpiece that is the 24 arches of Ribblehead Viaduct his eye was caught by a young brunette.” Hi Ricky”, she fluttered and the normally unflappable Hanna, no stranger to admiring glances from the ladies was momentarily nonplussed. Who is she? How does she know my name? How can I get her number? The mystery later solved by a combination of Sarah’s Facebook page and the race commentator.
Fifteen minutes later David Bell arrived at Ribblehead in the company of Wendy Dodds who did her best to chat about how she had enjoyed the Donard Challenge race a few weeks previously but the best the Mourne man could manage in response were a few incomprehensible grunts as the crossing of Force Gill and the steepening climb onto Whernside took their toll. Clarke Browne arrived at the viaduct hot on Bell’s heels just over three minutes adrift.
Some hands and knees ascent led eventually to the Whernside summit at 736 metres and the rocky run off towards Chapel le Dale, the forbidding menace of Ingleborough-or was it Mordor- looming large on the skyline.
At this stage the sharp end of the race took a dramatic turn. Tom Owens, a minute ahead at the top, took a wrong turn on the Whernside descent allowing Murray Strain to reach the Ingleborough summit in the lead and come home in a superb 2.49. Victoria Wilkinson took the ladies prize, smashing the record held by the Czech Republic’s Anna Pichrtova since 2008 with a time of 3.09.
From the Hill Inn the run towards Ingleborough was fast at first, through the pastures and along the solid Yorkstone flags but the gulley knocked the notion of speed out the field and as the slog up the face and along the rocky ridge unfolded the organisers’ words about the canny start echoed in the ears of the runners as they gratefully dibbed at 724 metres.
As Hanna completed the steep descent of Ingleborough then sped across the Sulber Nick crags he glanced up and spied the finish marquee in the distance. A check of the watch showed 3.54 and a helpful marshal encouraged him onward with, “Eeh lad, if you really go for it, tis 10 minutes to ‘t finish from ‘ere”. AAAAARGHNEOOOOO! came the anguished roar in response as the marshal cowered, the sheep scattered across the Dales and Hanna moved up two gears, nothing but the four hour target in his head. The birds fell silent, mothers shepherded their children inside, pulled the curtains and hid under the beds, fathers locked up their daughters and the crowds looked on in awe as the man in blue, as if possessed, stormed off the hill, the oaths and profanities reaching a terrifying crescendo as he was confronted by the steep incline after the railway underpass. Would he make it….the spectators held their breath as he crossed the line in 3.59.17 and the sigh of relief was audible from Horton to Aughnahoory.
Clarke Browne was dashing off the final summit over the treacherous limestone terrain when the dreaded cramp struck him down but once again the Mourne magnetism worked wonders as two Yorkshire masseuses came to his aid. As one offered water the other set to work on the locked calf. What was the attraction you may well ask, was it that blue vest again although a group of onlookers was overheard to remark that in this case it perhaps wasn’t the smouldering film star looks or the rugged physique that enticed the girls but maybe they needed their boiler serviced. Whatever the motive the lasses soon had Clarke back on his feet and after politely declining an eyebrow wax and pedicure he was off again to finish in 5.27.
While Richard Hanna was searching the First Aid tent and ringing the local hospitals David Bell finished, miraculously in one piece, on 4.44.
Celebrations that evening were informative with the trio now convinced that, when the knees finally give up, they will have an exciting new hobby in speed sheep shearing following a lengthy monologue on the subject in the Lion from a local farmer and father of the world champion. The sheep on Bignian might now have another reason to feel nervous.
Most certainly an event on the bucket list for any mountain running enthusiast with the combination of steep climbs, both gentle and technical descents, tracks, roads and lengthy undulating sections providing a real challenge. The event is a masterpiece of organisation, supported by Innov8, there were 200 marshals on duty from clubs all over Yorkshire and Lancashire with the dibber data fed back instantaneously by Raynet to Race HQ, allowing supporters to follow the action on large screens in the marquee. With the large and enthusiastic crowds providing food and encouragement all the way it’s a memorable and manageable trip for anyone from Mourne.