Ricky Lightfoot was second in last year's race. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Ricky Lightfoot was second in last year's race. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Runners in the Three Peaks Race face the prospect of snow-covered fells for the second year in succession.

The 23-mile (37km) event around the Yorkshire Dales fells Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough will take place on Saturday, and the forecast is again wintry.

Despite this, organisers of the ‘marathon with mountains’ say an attempt on the men’s 21-year-old record is possible. The time of 2hrs 46mins 3secs was set by Bingley Harrier Andy Peace but last year’s winner Swiss dentist Marc Lauenstein came within less than three minutes of beating the record on his first attempt. Lauenstein won’t be competing this year but a previous female winner thinks the women’s record, which also has a £500 bonus prize, can also be beaten.

Victoria Wilkinson, 38, of Bingley Harriers, who was first woman in 2014 and 2016, and has a personal best of 3hrs 21mins 32secs, believes Czech runner Anna Pichrtova’s women’s record of 3hrs 14mins 43secs – set when the race hosted the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship in 2008 – is definitely beatable.

“But achieving it is a different matter,” she said. “Everything has to slot into place on the day. I always look forward to the Three Peaks. Being a Yorkshire girl, the race has a place in my heart. With this year’s field being of such a high standard the record is there for someone to try and beat. Perhaps this could be the year.”

Cumbrian firefighter Ricky Lightfoot, 32, who won in 2014 and 2015, was only nine seconds behind Lauenstein and he would love to return home to Maryport with the £200 first prize and the £500 record bonus. Last year he came closest to Andy Peace’s record with a time of 2hrs 49mins 7secs.

Victoria Wilkinson posted the fastest women's time in 2016. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Victoria Wilkinson posted the fastest women's time in 2016. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Another runner to watch is Joe Symonds, the winner in 2012 and 2013, who has a personal target to achieve. He would like to emulate his father Hugh Symonds, of Kendal Athletics Club, who had a trio of wins in 1984, 1985 and 1989.

Symonds, who was brought up at Sedbergh in the Yorkshire Dales and used to train on Whernside, now works as a paediatrician in Glasgow. The 33-year-old, who runs for Shettleston Harriers, has a best time of 2hrs 54mins 39secs.

Another challenger is Tom Owens, 35, who won the Three Peaks in 2011 – beating another Shettleston Harrier Jethro Lennox, who fell on the descent from Ingleborough. Owens was third last year in 2hrs 52mins 14secs.

Lennox won the Three Peaks when it hosted the 2008 World Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge with Owens 37 seconds behind. Symonds, Owens and Lennox are all members of the Salomon International Team.

inov-8 runner Ben Mounsey is a short-distance specialist and normally watches the Three Peaks from the summit of Whernside, but admits he has been inspired to run in the hope of being selected for the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship. “This is another reason that I’ve decided to make the Three Peaks one of my major aims for 2017.

“Despite competing in the race twice before, I’ve never seriously trained for it or made it my goal. However, my target is now to try and run sub-3 hours and join the elite group of athletes who have achieved this in the past. I’m under no illusions. It won’t be an easy task. I will treat this unique race with the respect it deserves.”

Making a first visit to the Three Peaks is inov-8 team member Ondrej Fejfar, 27, from the Czech Republic. In the 2016 Skyrunner World Series he finished 20th overall – six places behind Tom Owens, but was fifth in the vertical element. On the Lone Peak VK (Vertical Kilometre) Run the Rut races in Montana, United States, Fejfar won in 29mins 26secs over 2.3 miles (3.7k) with a vertical climb of 700 metres. His training partner Milan Janata is also entered.

Anna Pichrtova on her way to setting the women's record in 2008. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Anna Pichrtova on her way to setting the women's record in 2008. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Local knowledge is the key for Rob Jebb, of Bingley Harriers, who won the Three Peaks in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009 and is a five times winner of the British Fell Championships. The 42-year-old, winner of the Skyrunner World Series in 2005, has also won the Three Peaks Cyclo Cross race a record 10 times.

The Salomon team is represented by Tom Owens, and the ex-Royal Marine Donnie Campbell, 32, the British Ultra Trail Champion from Edinburgh, who has not raced over the Three Peaks before. The Hardmoors 55 winner was first in the 2016 Salomon 50k Ultra Trail Marathon over the Lakeland Fells in a time of 4hrs 36mins 19secs.

Yorkshire’s Victoria Wilkinson, an inov-8 ambassador, faces tough opposition. Salomon is sending Annie Conway, 35, who beat Wilkinson at Podbrdo, Slovenia, to become last year’s World Long Distance Mountain Running Champion, and Norwegian Yngvild Kasperson, 22, who was fastest woman in the 2016 Skyrunner Zegama-Aizkorri Alpine Marathon in the Basque country of northern Spain.

Other entrants include Helen Bonsor, 31, of Carnethy Hill Racing Club, Edinburgh, who won the ladies’ title at the Three Peaks in 2015. Anna Lupton, 38, of Black Combe Runners in Cumbria, won in 2009 and 2010 and was second in 2015. Those who should know say Julie Briscoe, 41, of Dark Peak Fell Runners is a strong contender.

Footwear, clothing and equipment inov-8, is its main sponsor of the event, will be run for the 63rd time on Saturday 29 April.

The race starts at 10.30am in Horton in Ribblesdale. Leaders should be on Pen-y-ghent summit in 26 minutes. They should arrive at the Ribblehead checkpoint from 11.40am and be on Whernside summit by 12.10pm. First runners should be at the Hill Inn checkpoint from 12.25pm and on Ingleborough summit by 12.50pm for a downhill race to the finish at Horton at around 1.15pm.

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