The 3 Peaks is like no other race on the calendar. If you try to explain it to the non-cycling fraternity, they think you are bonkers. ‘Why would you climb a mountain with a bike on your shoulder?’ ‘You ride down the other side on a road bike with a bit thicker tyres?’ ‘Bonkers!’.The madness of being a 3 Peaks racer is probably the reason you become addicted to it. It only takes one attempt and it has its hold on you.
This year’s event was my fourth attempt and each time you strive for a better time and race the people around you. My personal best time before this year was 3hrs and 57mins. I had a puncture during that race so knew I could have been nearer 3:45. This year I decided that I would focus a bit more on the specific training for this race, get some running miles in and go for a sub 3:30 time. A big ask I know, but you’ve always got to aim high.
I lined up at the start on an unusually warm and sunny day along with Jase and Budge. Budge is in the form of his life and Jase has had a fantastic year winning lots of stuff. Competition between Team JMC team mates was going to be fierce…
Off we went with the usual daft start, everyone trying to get up at the pointy end before the first off road section. By the time we reached the turn off, my heart rate was through the roof and my legs were screaming, but I knew that your race position would be more or less pre-determined once you hit the slopes of Ingleborough. Once off-road I felt more at home with the terrain and started to move up a few places. By the time we started the climb on foot, I looked up and saw the leaders not too far away. This year’s plan to get as near to the front was working, I was definitely higher up the field than I had ever been before, meaning I could set my own pace up the climb rather than being stuck in a procession of climbers.
Jase was just behind at this point and we both started to fly up the slopes, not quite with ease, but definitely with purpose. We knew if we could stick together until the first road section, then we could work together on the road to Whernside. We hit the top of the climb more or less together and then pushed on towards the summit, part riding, part running! Another first – I had trained running with the bike rather than waddling and it was making a real difference.
We hit the summit, Jase just ahead and then both made off on the downhill. I had got to the summit about 10 minutes quicker than previous races. Game on! Was the sub 3:30 a possibility? Somewhere on the downhill, I lost Jase. I knew I would be quicker than him going down, but looking back he was nowhere to be seen (he’d crashed and lost a lot of time). I made it to the road safely, overtaking a lot of riders and then cracked on.
I managed to get into a group of about eight riders and we pushed hard up to Whernside. My legs were screaming but I managed to hang in there and before I knew it, it was off the bike and the long hike up Whernside. Being further up the field, there was a lot of space on the climb and I could set my own tempo. I decided to push hard on the climb rather than running and managed to keep this up all the way until the top, catching and overtaking a number of riders in the process. Since the top of Ingleborough I was steadily moving up the field, one person at a time.
The gale force wind along the top of Whernside made the ridge section dangerous and pretty hard going. I ended up in a ditch after being picked up and dropped by one forceful gust. Like everyone else I struggled on, hit the summit and started to make my way down. The descent off Whernside is technical and pretty hard going on a fully rigid bike – I absolutely love it. It is probably my favourite part of the race. The dry conditions this year, made the descent faster and it was over far too quickly. I was really starting to enjoy myself now. The bike was running great, my legs had properly warmed up and seemed to still feel strong. The blazing sunshine was also a welcome addition to this year’s race.
Coming through the crowds at Ribblehead is always a buzz and makes you go that little bit quicker. I popped out of the other end of the crowds and on to the roads. No riders were in front or behind – I was on my own for this road section.
By now my legs were starting to rebel. I could feel my head and shoulders drop and my pace slow. I necked another gel and then realised I was out of water! I was soon caught by two other riders and latched on to their back wheels. I recovered in their slipstream for a couple of minutes and then pushed on to do my turn. Surprisingly, my legs responded and I was off again. The gel must have worked.
We pushed on to Pen-y-Ghent Lane and then started the last long and hard climb. I kept the pace high and made good time up the first section. Checking out the time, I knew my target of 3:30 was not going to happen, but I wouldn’t be far off. I rode as high up as I could then dismounted for the last climb of the day. My walking legs still felt good and I managed to pick up a few places on the way to the summit. Now to just get down without crashing – not as easy as it sounds.
photo: Patrick Frost
Being further up the field, there were less people on their way up, making the descent easier but still terrifying and exhilarating. Down safely, I hit the road and knew there were only a few miles left. Again, there was no other riders in front or behind, so I just pushed on. I crossed this line with a time of 3hrs 42mins and in 42nd place. I was very happy. I even managed to come 13th in the vets category and win a prize (If I remember to email the organisers!).
So job done and now to turn my focus on a couple of mountain bike races in October, before the end of the season. Thanks to Debs for looking after the kids during the race and Budge for the ice cream at the end.
Next year 3:30 is definitely achievable. I just need to do some more running apparently. I don’t like running…