Elite runners from across the globe will descend on the Yorkshire village of Horton in Ribblesdale this weekend.
Ian Holmes of Bingley Harriers will face a challenge for top veteran
The town will host the 5th World Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge, awarded this year to the annual Three Peaks Race. The event, normally tackled by the super-fit fellrunners of Britain, moves up a notch with the status of an international race.
The Three Peaks Race, not to be confused with the controversial challenge to knock off Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon in one go, has been on the go for 54 years, and is one of the top events in the long-distance fellrunning calendar. But this year, organisers have faced a much bigger task, to accommodate some of the best high-altitude, long-distance racers in the world.
grough spoke to Dave Hodgson, president of the Three Peaks Race Association, who explained how the race had had to step up a gear this year. “For a start, we’ve got to flag the whole course,” he said. Otherwise, overseas competitors would be at a disadvantage on unfamiliar terrain. Volunteers will flag the route on Wednesday.
Mr Hodgson continued: “A lot of overseas competitors are coming and they have to be accommodated, most of them in Ingleton and Settle and a few in Horton in Ribblesdale. There are also airport pickups to be arranged.”
Some top-class names have been tempted to the Dales. “Last year’s Jungfrau women’s winner Anita Haakenstad Evertsen of Norway, the current mountain long-distance champion, will be taking part,” he said. “Anna Pichrtova, the Czech world-trophy holder will be challenging her. Although that’s a shorter race, she does do marathon road races.
“Jon Tvedt, the 40-year-old Norwegian orienteering and mountain champion, should provide a challenge to home-grown veteran Ian Holmes, who was third overall in last year’s race and first over-40-year-old.”
Fellow Bingley Harrier Rob Jebb of Staveley, in Cumbria, winner for the last three years, will face tough competition from the race’s record holder Andy Peace, whose 1996 time of 2 hours 46 mins 03 seconds will come under pressure if race conditions stay favourable.
The 24-mile course traverses the Three Peaks of Yorkshire: Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. An innovation for this year is the introduction of stage prizes. There will be a £100 award for the runner who completes the fastest ascent of Pen-y-ghent, the fastest ascent of Whernside and the quickest descent from Ingleborough to the finish in Horton. It’s a feature learnt from the race committee’s visit to the Jungfrau event, last year’s host.
Understandably, Mr Hodgson is anxious the event should be a success. “There’s an enormous amount of work gone into it. We have got a lot of sponsorship. We want to make sure we don’t let people down; we are just hoping for the weather.
“Dope testing is another thing we have had to introduce this year.
“A good point that many people are missing is that we have got the same prizes for both men and women.”
The fastest man and woman in the Three Peaks will be £1,000 richer at the end of the race – a huge increase in the usual first prize of £100.
The prospect of top prizes and the unusual ‘mountain’ venue – the highest point, Whernside’s summit, is a mere 736m (2,414ft) above sea level – are tempting elite runners from across the globe, including competitors from the USA, Russia, Ireland, Switzerland, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Spain, and even Chorley.
Despite the fells’ relatively low altitude, it’s a tough course, with unpredictable weather, lots of running on slippery limestone and energy-sapping bogs.
The Three Peaks Race 2008 has attracted 900 entries – twice the normal number, and home places were filled within 36 hours of the online register opening. It’s a far cry from the very first Three Peaks Race, when six runners entered. Early races started from the Hill Inn, Chapel-le-Dale, which is still a favoured spot for spectators.
Other good vantage points are at Ribblehead, as the runners take the path alongside the famous railway viaduct. More adventurous supporters and spectators can hike up one of the peaks to catch the runners ascending to the summits.
The cost of staging the 54th Three Peaks Race, and 5th World Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge, is £58,000 so far. Mr Hodgson says the local authority, Craven District Council has been great: “We have had tremendous support from them.”
The race starts at Horton in Ribblesdale at 10am this Saturday, 26 April. Full details are on the Three Peaks Race website.