One of the serendipities of adding fell running to my original long-standing diet of cyclocross has been that the opportunity to compete in the 3 Peaks fell race has become available. Having ridden the cyclocross version on numerous occasions, I had been curious to see how the fell race compares to the two-wheeled version. This represents a reverse kind of cross-over to the invasion of the fell runners into the ‘cross race in the late 80s and early 90s (albeit with me lacking their considerable talent), a cross-over in which the likes of Andy Peace and his fellow Helwith Bridge Alers, and of course multiple ‘cross edition winner Rob Jebb brought fell running fitness and nouse and married it to an ability to pilot a patently unsuitable bike over their familiar terrain.
Since Christmas 2015, I had been harboring a desire to compete in both 3 Peaks versions in 2016, particularly having had 2 years out from the ‘cross race having broken my neck and back in 2014. This meant ramping up my running from its usual sub 5 mile distance and getting some fell races in. Preferable some longer, harder ones.
Of course, entry requirements proving requisite ability were not at the forefront of my mind and it was a bit of a shock when I had to actually prove my capability on the entry system with a couple of completions of recent fell races of sufficient difficulty. Not having those races under my belt I attempted to ‘talk’ my way into the race with tales of multiple ‘cross race finishes, and even pulling out my 1991 top 10 finish as evidence of intent, if not ability. It met with a polite and eminently fair ‘get your race counters in before 31 March and we’ll let you in’ response.
A cold and boggy 19 miles round the Wadsworth Trog, completed successfully in early Feb was one counter and the English Champs race at Black Combe in March was the other (though that was hardly a ringing endorsement of my navigational abilities). My reserve/backup race in this exploit was the tough local-to-me Heptonstall fell race, one which luckily I didn’t need as a cold struck just before that weekend. With these counters logged and my entry confimed, the only thing remaining was the small matter of continuing preparation for a 24 mile fell race with 4500ft of climb between March and the end of April. A ‘2 out of 3’ Peaks recce at nearly race distance with friend Rob ticked many of the boxes, namely that I could run the distance and was going well on the climbs before a further racing tester beckoned at the Cat A Donard Commedagh Horseshoe race in Northern Ireland.
The first round of the British Champs, this was also going to be a good hard race and although well short of the Peaks distance would give me a further grounding in super steep climbing and descending. Just without the long transition sections in between. I hadn’t run in the Mourne Mountains, or even visited for that matter, and was duly blown away by their rugged beauty, as well as their bitingly steep climbs. A hangover run on the day after the race confirmed their appeal as a stunning mountain running venue, compact and accessible but still feeling ‘big’ compared to my familiar Pennine and Yorkshire running grounds.
In all honesty there haven’t been enough long runs in my preparation really, simply due to slackness on my part. There has been a good amount of climbing on steep ground on the fell though, and I run fine on the flat which will help with the transition between Penyghent and Whernside. I’ve hit the gym too in recent weeks, in an effort to correct some weaknesses in my core and functional strength (and stop my knees from hurting) and it really feels like it is paying off. We’ll see how things go in the Peaks. Whilst some feel it isn’t a proper fell race, more like a trail race with 3 climbs, for me it would mark my graduation to fell runner in a nice ‘coming full circle’ kind of way given my history over the terrain. I’d like to get round efficiently, with some modicum of speed even, but it is a long way to race and with a reasonable amount of climbing so I am being realistic about making sure I simply complete. At least I don’t have to lug a bike round with me…