Murray Strain won last year's race

Murray Strain won last year's race

Four former winners of a ‘marathon with mountains’ plus the reigning women’s champion will be heading back to the hills this weekend with an eye on the race’s record.

A £500 bonus is on offer for anyone who can beat the time set in 1996 for the Three Peaks Race.

Last year’s winner Murray Strain will join the field tackling the course over the Yorkshire Dales fells, along with Tom Owens who won in 2011, Ricky Lightfoot, first in 2014 and 2015, and Jethro Lennox when the Three Peaks hosted the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship in 2008.

The 2hrs 46mins 3secs record for the current 23.3-mile course was set by Andy Peace of Bingley Harriers. Race Director Paul Dennison says in his programme notes for this year’s race: “Twenty-two years is a long time to wait for a new men’s record!”

The race starts in Horton in Ribblesdale, with runners ascending Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough before returning to the village.

Victoria Wilkinson holds the women's record

Victoria Wilkinson holds the women's record. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Women’s champion Victoria Wilkinson, an ambassador for the Three Peaks’ main sponsor Inov-8, is favourite to win the ladies’ race for a third year in succession. Last year she destroyed the ladies’ record and claimed the £500 bonus prize – knocking off five minutes to set 3hrs 9mins 19secs. The Bingley Harrier’s 13th place was the highest ever by a woman.

Wilkinson, who in theory could beat her own record and claim another £500, faces competition from Nichola Jackson, second female runner last year, Sophie Horrocks, winner of the Ben Nevis women’s race in 2016, Annie Conway the women’s world long distance mountain champion in 2016 and Nicky Spinks, a legend in ultra-distance fellrunning, who completed a double Bob Graham Round over the Cumbrian fells in 2016 to celebrate 10 years of cancer survival.

Jethro Lennox won the 2008 Three Peaks Race. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Jethro Lennox won the 2008 Three Peaks Race. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

In near perfect conditions in 2017 Owens had a minute’s lead on the summit of Whernside and appeared to have a good chance of beating the race record.

But Owens, who is no stranger to the route, took a wrong turning on the descent to the Hill Inn at Chapel-le-Dale, finishing second, 4mins 22secs behind Strain. Owens’s Salomon International team mate Ricky Lightfoot, a Cumbrian firefighter, also had a bad day, pulling out at the Hill Inn.

The 2018 Three Peaks is the selection race for the World Long Distance Mountain Championships in Poland in June, and has attracted a field of 939 entrants. About 800 are expected to start.

They include Inov-8’s Tom Payn, from Torquay, a running coach, who finished 10 minutes in the lead at the Lakeland Trails Hawkshead Race on April 14 after spending a hard week training on the Three Peaks. He is a first timer. There have been exceptions, but history shows newcomers rarely do well at their first attempt.

The race starts at 10.30am. The first runners should be on Pen-y-ghent summit in 26 minutes; at High Birkwith at 11.20am; Ribblehead at 11.40am; Whernside summit at 12.10pm; Hill Inn at 12.25pm; Ingleborough summit at 12.50pm and finishing from 1.15pm.

The forecast at this stage says runners and spectators can expect a mainly dry early period with increasing cloud into the afternoon with possible persistent rain later, with winds strengthening through the day.

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