King of the fells Rob Jebb today made it three Three Peaks wins in a row as he took the crown in the one of the country’s toughest fell races.
Bingley Harrier Rob beat 509 other runners to complete the course in his fastest ever time.
Rob, 32, completed the 24-mile course in 2 hours 51 mins 49 secs, nearly 2½ minutes less than his effort last year. John Heneghan of Pudsey and Bramley Athletics Club was second and another Bingley Harriers man Ian Holmes came in third.
Rob Jebb crosses the Three Peaks Race winning line
First woman was Mary Wilkinson, (right) 26, also of Bingley Harriers, in a time of 3 hours 30 mins 22 secs.
The Three Peaks Race is run over Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough and involves more than 5,000ft of climbing and 24 miles of running. Ian Holmes led the field as far as Ribblehead, losing first place on the climb to Whernside. Jebb led from the summit to the end.
Speaking to grough after his victory, Rob said: “Ian went hard at the start. He was about 20m ahead at Ribblehead. For me, my race starts there, once you get into the climbing.
“Conditions were good today with a nice cool breeze on the tops.”
In addition to his three wins in the race, Jebb has won the Three Peaks Cyclo-Cross Race six times. Training to get to the level where you can win a race like this is punishing.
“I’m out training every day. I’m a bit different to the lads who just run. I do a lot of cycling too. I won’t do the mileage these lads do, but I still do the long runs.
“I think the cycling helps the fell runner. It wouldn’t help if you wanted to be a cross-country runner or road runner.
Rob said he intends to defend his title next year, when the race will form the world long-distance mountain challenge, the first for any UK race.
He said: “I’ll come back, hopefully, as long as I’m fit, for the world championship.”
Winner of the women’s section, Long Preston-based Mary Wilkinson, bagged the title on her first attempt, having only decided on Friday to enter.
Runners climb towards Pen-y-ghent summit
Mary told grough: “I’d been toying with the idea for about a week, then on Friday I said ‘I’m going to do it’.
“I’d trained up for London [marathon], but felt I hadn’t quite done the speed work, so I thought I might as well use my distance work on something I really enjoy. It’s practically on my doorstep: I do a lot of my training up here.
“It was brilliant!”
The Three Peaks Race is a major organisational challenge. There are 15 committee members, 100 marshals, 28 radio operators, plus ambulance cover provided by Yorkshire Ambulance Service. There are three doctors on duty, five ambulance staff and a further five from the St John Ambulance service.
The Clapham-based Cave Rescue Organisation provides mountain rescue teams in three vehicles and the Yorkshire Air Ambulance is available should the need arise.
Ambulance staff say most treatment is for cuts and bruises, with the odd sprain and strain and, on a day like today, dehydration. There have been more serious injuries: two years ago, a runner was involved in a collision with a motorbike after retiring from the race and making his way back to base. Now all retirees are brought in by minibus.
Sponsors Hanson and Northern Rail make it possible. After a few years of decline, the race is on the up.
Paul Dennison, chairman of the Three Peaks Race Association, said: “After the foot-and-mouth year, we had our 50th year back in 2003 and that was televised. After that, it’s just grown and grown and grown.
“This year, we reached our limit before the closing date. The limit was set when we were running a different safety system and the [Yorkshire Dales] national park was a bit more wary about erosion. They’re not too concerned about that now because they’ve done so much work on the route.
“So next year, we are hoping to extend the number of runners to 700.”
625 entered this year, with 510 starting.
Paul said: “We start planning in January. We ask farmers out of politeness if we can go on their land. We then invite them to the farmers’ social, which quite a lot of them attend. It’s a little thank-you.
Paul breaks off to check on a runner who’s gone missing on the computerised system and is causing concern. The electronic system sends data by radio, giving constant updates on runners’ positions.
He explains that runners have to qualify for the event: “They have to do either two long fell races or two more severe mediums. With weather like today, it’s safe, but we’ve been up here when the weather’s been really bad and you have to have some experience in what you’re doing.
“I’ve been involved for 31 years. We have had some hairy experiences. Four years ago, we had 50 hypothermia cases, with two hospitalised. That was just with the weather.
“Today, there should be fine. There’s lots and lots of water at Ribblehead and the Hill Inn. We’ve got the MRT [mountain rescue team] and radio operators all around the course.”
There’s a great camaraderie among the runners, even though they’re rivals. As runners climbed towards the Pen-y-ghent summit plateau, the leaders were already starting their descent at breakneck speed. There were shouts of encouragement from the ascenders for the leaders going in the opposite direction, urging the top runners on.
Two-way traffic: ascenders and descenders during the early stages of the race
And it’s a family occasion. There’s a free play area and mobile climbing wall for the kids, along with a miniature train trundling round the site. There were even tongue-in-cheek suggestions the train could be used to ferry retirees back to the base, as an added incentive not to drop out.
Horton in Ribblesdale is now returning to something like normality as the racers return to their homes, but tomorrow, the Rob Jebbs, Mary Wilkinsons, John Heneghans and Ian Holmes will be out on the hills again, as will many of the 510 who pounded the paths of the Yorkshire Three Peaks today.
So if you hear panting and the sound of gravel being kicked up as you walk the fells, step aside and let the kings and queens of the mountains pass. There’ll be another race soon.
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