Race winner Brennan Townshend. Photo: Dave Woodhead/Woodentops

Race winner Brennan Townshend. Photo: Dave Woodhead/Woodentops

Fellrunner Brennan Townshend has claimed victory in the Three Peaks Race at his first attempt.

The Keswick Athletic Club member beat previous winner Ricky Lightfoot into second place, with fellow Keswick runner Carl Bell taking third-place honours.

Victoria Wilkinson again won the women’s race, taking 26th place overall. Annie Roberts took second place in the female competition, with Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn third.

Runners in the 65th event in the Yorkshire Dales faced difficult conditions with a mixture of torrential rain, hailstones, sleet, changing visibility and strong winds. A total of 670 competitors completed the 23.3-mile course over Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough.

More than 80 starters failed to finish and two were airlifted off the fells. One runner fell on the steep descent from Whernside, briefly knocking himself out. The 30-year-old regained consciousness fairly quickly but suffered facial injuries.

Members of the sweep team on another challenge event, the Fellsman, which was taking place in the area, tended to the runner and a Cave Rescue Organisation member who was on the summit of the hill checked him over and radioed for help. A group of rescuers who were making their way up Whernside to deal with another runner in difficulties diverted to the site and the Yorkshire Air Ambulance flew to the scene. Paramedics from the helicopter crew assessed and treated him at the scene before airlifting him to hospital in Preston for further treatment.

The other runner, a 49-year-old man who suffered severe knee pain and was unable to continue running or walking, was stretchered to the aircraft which flew him down to the valley at Bruntscar from where a private ambulance crew took him to Horton in Ribblesdale.

Cave Rescue Organisation members were also alerted when a runner in the leading dozen went missing on the descent from Ingleborough. Rescuers prepared to search back from Horton and up Trow Gill to try to locate the competitor but were stood down when he reached the finish, after taking what they called ‘the scenic route’ via Gaping Gill.

Victoria Wilkinson with the women's trophy. Photo: Dave Woodhead/Woodentops

Victoria Wilkinson with the women's trophy. Photo: Dave Woodhead/Woodentops

Former professional cyclist Townshend, who beat international athletes including Ricky Lightfoot and Tom Owens to take first place, planned to visit the Dales last week to reconnoitre the route, but his car broke down, so he just turned up and did his best, organisers said.

Brian Dooks of the Three Peaks Race Association said: “His best already looked promising when the 25-year-old reached the 2,777ft summit of Pen-y-ghent in 27mins 53secs, which gave him a newly introduced spot prize of £100 for the fastest person from the race start in Horton.

“Veteran Three Peaks watchers were impressed, but confident Townshend would burn himself out before the finish, but it was not to be. He was eight seconds faster than the 2014 and 2015 winner Ricky Lightfoot and was to stay ahead at every checkpoint except the Hill Inn one where he was beaten by two seconds.

“Townshend climbed Ingleborough (2,372ft) 1min 27secs quicker than Lightfoot and set off down the long sprint to Horton to claim another new £50 spot prize for the fastest decent to the finish in a time of 27mins 12secs. Townshend’s winning time of 2hrs 50mins 22secs claimed the £200 first prize.

“He was 4mins 19secs outside Andy Peace’s record over the current course set in 1996.”

Townshend missed the £500 bonus on offer to a record breaker, but plans to return. He said: “I will definitely be back next year. It’s a really nice course.”

Ellenborough AC member Lightfoot, world champion trailrunner in 2013, finished second in 2hrs 52mins 5secs, his second-best time over the Three Peaks, before driving back to Cumbria to start a nightshift as a firefighter.

Carl Bell, 36, of Keswick AC, finished third in 2hrs 55mins 44secs, ahead of Tom Owens of Shettlestone Harriers in Glasgow, who set 3hrs 15secs. Owens won the Three Peaks in 2011 and 2018. Owens, 37, and Lightfoot, 34, are members of the Salomon International team.

Owens, who left it to the last minute to enter Yorkshire’s ‘Marathon with Mountains’, hoping to be fully fit, has been at Salomon’s medical institute in Annecy in the French Alps with foot and ankle problems and then suffered a glute injury two weeks ago.

Townshend begins the long ascent to Whernside, with Bell, left, and Lightfoot, centre, in close contention. Photo: Dave Woodhead/Woodentops

Townshend begins the long ascent to Whernside, with Bell, left, and Lightfoot, centre, in close contention. Photo: Dave Woodhead/Woodentops

The Three Peaks female record holder, Victoria Wilkinson, 40, of Bingley Harriers, who is an ambassador for the race sponsor, inov-8, was fastest woman in a time of 3hrs 20mins 1sec. Her 2017 record, when she finished 13th, is 3hrs 9mins 19secs, but her 26th place out of 753 starters on Saturday was two minutes quicker than last year.

Wilkinson’s 32mins 47secs to Pen-y-ghent summit won the women’s spot prize of £100 for the fastest ascent and she also won another £50 spot prize for the 32mins 34secs she took to descend from Ingleborough to the finish. These were additional to her £200 prize for being first female finisher.

The four-times ladies champion was followed home by Annie Roberts, 24, of Todmorden Harriers, in 68th place in 3hrs 41mins 2secs. Third female was first-timer Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn, 35, of Keswick AC, who was 81st in 3hrs 45mins 7secs.

David Parker, 54, of Littledown Harriers, travelled from Bournemouth on the eve of the race to complete his 21st Three Peaks to claim the special award made to men who finish that number and women who finish 15. His stepfather, Roy Breakall, who achieved the award 21 years ago, normally helps to flag the course.

Prizes were presented by Colin Robinson, who ran for Rochdale Harriers when he won the Three Peaks 50 years ago, and his wife, Brenda, who competed in the first women’s race in 1979. Mr Robinson’s time in 1969 of 2hrs 44mins 44secs was over the original route, which started at the Hill Inn at Chapel-le-Dale. The current route is significantly longer.

More details are on the Three Peaks Race website.

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