Completing the circuit of Yorkshire’s Three Peaks is an achievement. Pitting yourself against some of the UK’s best fell runners and setting a record time in what may be winter conditions is an epic performance.
But athletes young and old, male and female, return year after year to challenge themselves on the Three Peaks Race over Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. The first race in 1954 started in Chapel-le-Dale with six starters and three finishers. Fred Bagley, of Preston Harriers, won in 3hrs 48 mins.
The race record over the current course was set by Andy Peace, of Bingley Harriers, in 1996. His time of 2hrs 46mins 3secs remains unbeaten despite an international field in 2008 when the Race hosted the World Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge.
Another Bingley Harrier, Victoria Wilkinson, trained for months to knock five minutes off the women’s record set by Anna Pichrtova (Strakova), of the Czech Republic, in the World Long Distance event. Victoria cut it to 3hrs 9mins 19secs in 2017. She claimed a £500 bonus prize, which is on offer to male and female winners who set new records. Victoria finished 13th overall, the highest race position by a lady.
Today the race starts and finishes on the playing field in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, near Settle – its home since 1975. It will probably still be winter in the Yorkshire Dales on the last Saturday in April, but more than 800 runners will set off to complete a punishing 37.4k (23.3 miles) with 1,609 metres (5,279ft) of ascent and descent.
It owes its origins to three teachers from Giggleswick School, near Settle, who claimed to have completed a walking circuit in 10 hours in 1887. Gradually it became an accepted feat of endurance and times of between five and six hours were claimed during the 1920s and early 1930s.
After the first race in 1954, it grew in popularity until 251 competed in the last race from Chapel-le-Dale in 1974. By then it had outgrown available space and was moved to Horton-in-Ribblesdale. The record circuit from Chapel-le-Dale was 2hrs 29mins 53secs by Jeff Norman, of Altrincham and District A.C., in 1974.
This remains the fastest recorded traverse of the Three Peaks, but the current course is longer. Ladies competed for the first time in 1979 with Jean Lochhead, of Airedale and Spen Valley, winning in 3hrs 43mins 12secs.
Following a tragedy in severe weather conditions in 1978, when Ted Pepper, of Blackheath Harriers, died, revised safety regulations and race control procedures were applied and minimum experience qualifications were imposed on all entrants.
There were further changes when the World Mountain Running Association invited the Three Peaks to host its race in 2008. Race day changed from Sunday to Saturday. Organisation was upgraded and on-line entry was introduced. Although the entry limit was increased to 1,000, the need to protect the environment and ensure safety standards will prevent any further increase.
The popularity of the Three Peaks – billed as “The Marathon with Mountains” - makes it a high-profile event that receives considerable media attention and the Race has been featured in several television documentaries.
Today the Three Peaks has the inov-8 all-terrain specialist equipment company as its main sponsor. But there have been other long-term supporters, including the Daily Mirror, which sponsored the Race for 28 years, the Hanson quarry company and Pete Bland Sports.
Sponsorship enables a generous prize list, including men’s, ladies’ and veterans’ team prizes, as well as an abundance of trophies. A special award is made to runners who have completed 21 races (men) or 15 races (ladies).
After a volley from shotguns heralds the start, some runners will reach the summit of Pen-y-ghent, the 694m mountain overlooking the start, in around 28 minutes. Then it is downhill to High Birkwith and some road running to Ribblehead checkpoint, hoping not to be timed out by the 2hrs 10mins cut-off.
A section parallel with Ribblehead viaduct takes runners under the Settle-Carlisle railway before climbing straight up the face of Whernside (736m). A rocky descent to Hill Inn checkpoint, which must be reached in 3hrs 30mins to avoid the cut-off, can catch out many runners, particularly in snow and ice.
Ahead, the towering bulk of Ingleborough (723m) dominates the skyline. A deviation to the summit checkpoint near the trig point and then it is a long descent to Horton, through the rocky cleft at Sulber Nick and downwards, through private gardens, only used on race day, to the roar of spectators at the finish.
Mike davies 1933 - 2012
It is with deep regret that we record the passing of one of the true greats of Three Peaks racing. Mike Davies died at the age of 79 from a heart attack early in October 2012.
Race Winners from 1954 to date
Click below for a full list of Race Winners from the inaugural race in 1954 to date
Competitors with multiple completions
Click below for a full list of Competitors who have completed 21 (men) or 15 (Ladies) from 1954 to date.