I had a girlie weekend planned. However, rather than packing the heels, lipstick and vodka, I would be packing my trail shoes, ultra vest and crème eggs and heading up to the Peak District to meet up with Sarah A and Anna.
We hadn't met more than twice ... and we were going to all stay together for a weekend in the mountains with the locals. Yes, it does sound a bit Deliverance. You can practically hear the banjos.
Sarah A was a super-quick running buddy I’d met at the Runners World Asics 26.2 bootcamp and who I shared camp with at Thunder Run 2013. Anna was a speedy friend from running club, but she’d moved house and I’d moved clubs and we hadn’t seen each other for 2 years. And Anna and Sarah had never met.
But we shared a few things: A love of wine. Proud parents of multiple pairs of trainers. Running circles on a track was our idea of hell … and running mountains in the rain sounded like our idea of a PROPER girlie weekend.
A plan was hatched.
3 Mountains and 25 miles of running … within 8 hours.
We stayed over in the Seed Hill Guesthouse which was welcoming and friendly. They offered a brilliant cooked breakfast but I regretfully declined the offer of sausages, thick bacon, mushrooms and eggs knowing that seeing it again halfway up a mountain – probably with the wind blowing it back into my face – wouldn’t be a highlight of the day. Sensibly I went for porridge and cheered myself up with the thought of the ridiculous amounts of snacks I’d packed into my running vest to eat on the way.
The car parks were full but there was a field down the road with an honesty box. Honesty box? I honestly didn’t want to pay for parking in a field but put a couple of quid in thinking that if I was a couple of quid short of my massive fry up at the end of a run, then I’d be back here with a knife trying to hook them back out again.
As is law when attempting the Yorkshire 3 Peaks loop, we started at the Pen-Y-Ghent cafe in Horton-in-Ribblesdale. We clocked in using the old fashioned clocking-in machine which stamped our cards with the time and a satisfying ‘clunk’ noise.
We passed our stamped cards over the counter, ran to the door ... and ground to a halt. And stood outside under the porch waiting for the torrential rain to ease. There’s getting a good time and then there’s getting really wet. And we’re girls.
It didn’t seem to be stopping. The postman’s red van sped down the road, splashing a tidal wave of water up the pavements. Why did we choose this weekend to run mountains?
We waited 5 minutes for the rain to ease – or at least look slightly less torrential - but it didn’t. Not even one foot on the path and I was already regretting my decision to go with the splash proof jacket rather than the waterproof one. Oh well. It seemed Drenched Rat was to be the look of the day. I’d just have to run harder to stay warm.
However, the rain DID stop halfway up the first mountain. It turned into hailstones. As they bounced off my nose and pinged off my shoulders I consoled myself with the thought that at least I wasn’t getting any wetter.
As we ran up the slopes of Pen-y-Ghent, the wind was actually whistling. Whistling properly. It couldn’t hold a tune as well as the milkman but when I’m halfway up a mountain and the wind is whistling, that’s when I know I’m doing proper running.
But there did seem to be an awful lot of UP. But I consoled myself with the thought that there was probably a good downhill on the other side. Or failing that, at least a pub at the bottom.
There’s a small amount of climbing to get to the top and up to the trig point. Once there, we posed for a quick photo before starting the run down the other side of the mountain.
Anna told us in no uncertain terms that we weren’t running fast enough down the mountain by showing us how to do it. This involved throwing yourself down the steepest side and waving your legs at the ground disappearing beneath you until some contact was made, at which point you threw yourself off again. Sarah and I watched, very impressed and completely unable to keep up. Anna, running hard, threw herself gracefully down a steep slope before promptly ballerina-ing herself into a bog.
She picked herself up, brushed the mud off of her arse, started running and quickly gained all her previous momentum back again. So that's how you do it, I thought. Looks like fun. Apart from the bog bit. And besides if I fall over and roll all the way to the bottom, it’ll probably be quicker than running down anyway. Using Anna’s technique of throwing myself downwards, I quickly got enough speed up that my eyes were watering (or possibly I was wetting myself in terror and the speed was forcing the urine upwards).
We were passing walkers and hikers in a blur and they stared as we went past. I’m hoping they thought we were awesome, but they were probably hoping for comedy and more ‘falling-into-bog’ moments. “This is BRILLIANT!!!” I screamed as I ran past trying to justify our suicidal descending methods. One screamed back “You’ll kill yourselves”. Gathering enough breath I shouted “We have a doctor with us!” And pointed back at Sarah who was demonstrating her faith in the local NHS hospitals by following with just as much speed and craziness.
Breathless and laughing we got to the stone wall and looked up at the mountain we had just fall-run-leapt down. That was brilliant. And we have 2 more mountains to practise that on.
We trotted on, keeping the pace steady, passing the occasional shaggy sheep and dry stone wall. The route had been neatened recently. The paths are now no longer black lines cutting across the grass, but cinder paths. The Yorkshire 3 Peaks has been tidied up and tamed. It’s still a trail run but not grass and stones and mud, but neat cinder paths and gravel and large flat stones. I can understand why as many thousands of people walk and run it every year and the paths had zigzagged and wound across the fields and probably caused damage. It’s better for the land, but not so fun to run.
However, despite this there was still mud. Significant amounts. Overtaking a group of lads and watching one in a most unsuitable – and unattractive – pair of flesh coloured trousers slip and land on his arse, I couldn’t resist a small smirk at his misfortune and the decoration of his legwear. They were a much better colour with the addition of the mud and his girly scream cheered us all up.
However schadenfreude and my resulting smirk were too much for karma and deciding enough was enough, karma kicked me in the arse ... and I managed a beautiful splat straight into the smelly mud. I’d like to claim it was graceful, balletic and controlled. It was not. With flailing string-cut-puppet arms, I’d managed to twist as I fell to gain maximum mud coverage. I looked like half a chocolate Santa.
Mud was in my mouth, in my ear, up my legs, all over my hands, in my pockets and bizarrely INSIDE my vest. I looked exactly like a smug twat who’d fallen over in the mud because she’d been smirking at someone else who’d just fallen over in the mud. I’d also managed to knock my knee on a stone at the same time. I walked a few steps to test it, it wasn’t too bad and we were soon running again, leaving behind the mud and the yelps of the lad in the flesh-coloured trousers as he fell over again.
The distance between Pen-Y-Ghent and the road to the viaduct, which usually seems to take so long, disappeared in a blink of mud, running, good conversation and snacks. Bizarrely Anna had seen one of her uni friends enroute who had also chosen today to do the 3 Peaks proving that you really can’t go anywhere without seeing someone you know. We stopped at the main road for Sarah A to change her jacket and pull all the buckles off of her running pack and I got a breather and some snacks scoffed while she tried to work out the puzzle of how to reattach all her straps.
There was a mile or so of running on a twisting road, where we had to run single file to avoid the cars and the red postman’s van which swerved confidently around the corners avoiding, walkers, runners and the occasional lost sheep. The road was easy running despite our trail shoes and we soon came to the foot of the viaduct at Ribblehead which seemed to stretch for miles, high and portentous, leading towards Whernside, our second mountain.
The weather was warm now and we’d left the rain and hailstones far behind us. The skies were heavy, black and ponderous but for now the sun was shining and we had mountains to run.
But first ... a selfie in front of the viaduct. However we hit a snag, none of our arms were long enough to fit all three of us into the photo without some sort of acrobatic feat or Stretch Armstrong style elasticity. We accosted a lady and her husband to take a photo of us. She seemed a little reluctant to accept my phone for the photo taking, then I realised the phone was still full of mud and she was being asked to take a photograph by what must have appeared to be some sort of bog monster. I brushed myself and the phone off as best as before posing for a pic.
She still appeared a little confused but we stood in a row and smiled dutifully as she counted loudly to let us know when she was pressing the shutter button. We thanked her and continued onwards, not realising until later that evening that she had in fact pressed the video button and we had a lovely video of her counting while telling her husband off for offering his advice and opinion on her photographic skills.
With unerring judgement, Sarah A decided she needed a wee just as we were in the middle of the busiest point on the route. However, when you have to go you have to go. And there’s no arguing with a bladder.
She found a railway tunnel which seemed to offer seclusion but then spotted a group of people on a hill opposite. With binoculars.
You don’t realise how many people are around until you need solitude for a wee.
Slightly put off, Sarah A managed another half a mile run-stagger before deciding she couldn’t wait and she would hop behind the dry stone wall lining the path. She waited until the path was as clear as it could be on a path full of assorted hikers, runners and walkers. Finally it was just us and an old man ambling up the path. She hopped over the wall and just touched the top stone ... which fell ... then dislodged a few others and they knocked a few others which started a stone wall avalanche. The path which had been empty was now full of people again whose focus was on the stone wall being noisily demolished. And the person having a wee behind it. Eventually, the rumbling stopped and the dust cleared and Sarah - embarrassed but bladder relived – clambered out from behind the pile of stones. The old man sniggered.
I always find Whernside the toughest mountain of the Yorkshire Three Peaks. You’ve got about 3 miles of just crawling uphill. Not steep enough to climb, but just steep enough to be really uncomfortable on your calves and knees as you run. It’s a soul-sapping, boredom-filled slog, most of the way paved with stone slabs slippery in the now-constant rain. I hunched my shoulders against the cold and tried to speed up to stay warm. We were alternating walking and running as the slipperiness of the slabs and the numbers of people on the path meant we had to keep stopping and starting. However, we got a bit of a kick up our collective backsides as we were overtaken by a couple of men running strongly who were hopping on and off the path onto the sodden boggy sides to avoid the plodding walkers. We looked at each other and sped up. We’d been using the slowness of the walkers and the weather to take a breather.
Overtaking the walkers, I was surprised how many were wearing headphones or just blasting out music from phone speakers. The weather was pretty rubbish, but it seemed mad that they were choosing to climb (well … walk) up a mountain but only getting half of the experience. They were missing out by blocking out the sound of the birds and the wind – and the ‘excuse me’ of someone trying to pass them safely - using the anaesthetic of crappy music.
I can only assume that they had been FORCED to come out here today and had to block out the misery of being forced away from the latest soap episode or BGT by blasting pop music into their ears.
Maybe I had it all wrong and they were listening to an audio commentary of interesting things to look out for on Whernside. But I doubted it. However, even the Music Zombies these were better than the Stabby Walkers. People who came out with walking poles but unable to use them or unsure how, they tucked them under their arms or waved them around like they were fencing with an invisible assailant.
Each of us had a near miss with someone waving poles around. My narrow escape was by walking behind someone who was throwing their poles out behind them with each stride as though attempting to skewer something creeping up behind him. A sneaky axe murderer possibly. Or a distracted runner muttering about Music Zombies.
Most people were friendly and let us pass safely – some even gave us a clap or a “well done” for running up the mountains they were walking, although of course there are always a few who don’t want to move and block the path deliberately. We were always courteous though and only passed where it was safe and easy to do so.
Soon, the slog turned into a steeper climb and as we came closer to the summit of Whernside, there was thick cloud cover but no real wind. There was about 25m visibility so you could see 2 or 3 people in front of you but not much more. The path wasn’t so wide here but it was smooth dirt and jutting stones so run-able despite the low visibility.
As the path narrowed, I kept the wall and the fence on my right and just powered upwards, Anna and Sarah somewhere behind me in the mist. The path was too tight to stay side-by-side so I concentrated on just keeping my head down and getting to the top. The wall at the summit of Whernside is solid and has a narrow gap in it you have to squeeze through to reach the trig point. I think I’m fairly slim but I struggled to squeeze through and blamed my short legs, maybe the taller hikers could just squeeze their legs through rather than half their bodies.
I touched the trig point and re-crossed the wall and crouched in the shelter of it munching my way through the yoghurt covered bananas while waiting for the others to turn up. The reason long distance runners wear packs isn’t for water and important ultra-runner things but for the snacks. Snacks are one of the big reasons I run. More miles = more snacks. And I love a good snack.
Sarah and Anna arrived and we all posed for a damp and foggy photo next to the trig point before we headed downwards. This wasn’t as fun as Pen-y-Ghent as the paths were flinty and rocky with sharp stones so you had to watch your step. A false step could mean a broken ankle or a gashed leg. The stones moved underfoot and as we descended the steepness increased. I kept turning my left ankle over and what felt like electric shocks ran up my leg every time this happened. Ouch.
Anna started speeding up, frustrated by the slow progress and I followed her lead. I didn’t slog up and up and up that long, slow climb to pick my way down here like an old lady. I let my feet go and soon we were dashing down the side of the mountain. Luckily my sense of self-preservation seemed to be guiding my feet and I made it to the dry stone wall at the bottom, uninjured and still on my feet. Just.
The next mile was mainly downhill and we passed fields and farmlands and an occasional conifer plantation as we moved down into the valley between mountains. The rain had started again but the sheep in the fields were unworried and continued eating the grass. A small group of lambs however were all seeking cover under an unhitched trailer, bleating and staring out at us running in the rain as though we were mad. I could see their point. I’d quite like to sit under the shelter of a trailer for a moment eating a crème egg out of the rain.
We made it over the cattle grids and back onto a farm lane. We were passed by yet another postman’s van, thinking as it disappeared around a corner of the lane how many miles we could have saved our legs by hitching a lift in the back among the letters and parcels.
The downhill running didn’t last long and soon our path was doing what a race description would describe as ‘undulating’. We crossed yet another cattle grid and ran onto the main road, up the incline and past the Hill Inn. We ground to a halt at the only access onto the path, as what looked like a neverending procession of soaking wet hikers climbed over the stile in front of us like clowns climbing out of a tiny car.
The rain at this point was best described as torrential, the wind horizontal and just to be unfair there were a few hailstones as well. One buff – tied around my head - was freezing cold, wet and blowing against my face. The other was freezing cold, wet and round my neck. I was ROCKING the cold, damp granny look. My jacket was soaked through, my face was grumpy and worst of all I was running out of snacks.
The others didn’t look much drier or happier than me. But on the plus side, the rain was washing some of the mud off.
I wasn’t enjoying this part at all. But at least we were running fast. Although this was mainly as it was too damn cold to walk and the quicker we ran, the quicker we would be on the outside of a bacon sandwich and a bucket of coffee.
I thought longingly of the waterproof jacket I’d left on my bed at the B&B. Fat lot of good it was doing me there. Before setting out, I just couldn’t choose what to wear. I’d packed and unpacked the waterproof jacket several times and finally decided against it, going with my splashproof lighter weight jacket instead. I’d reasoned that as we would be running, our body temperatures should stay reasonably high and should my lighter jacket get wet it would probably dry out between mountains. At the very worst, I’d only be cold for a few hours. This theory had worked well until this point. I’d even had to undo the jacket between the first two mountains and had resisted the urge to take it off and stow it in the pack as didn’t want to waste time. But I was glad of the long tights I was wearing and most definitely didn’t envy Anna in her shorts.
The foothills of Ingleborough were steep and rolling and a section of the path was a boardwalk which stretched across the sodden ground. Our trail shoes clattered as we ran on it. In the dips between the hills, the air temperature was warmer and the wind dropped and it was almost pleasant but soon we were at the foot of Ingleborough staring up at the sheer mountainside against which the path zigzagged.
I’d lent my gloves but had to ask for them back. My hands were so cold that touching the rocks to aid my climb gave an unpleasant electric shock sensation. The first section of the climb is steep and unrunnable (at least for us and with hikers in the way) and dripping with water. Climbing slowly, steadily higher, inching upwards, I felt like an insect crawling on the face of the mountain. Insignificant and tiny. Making infinitesimal progress towards the summit high above.
Soon we were onto the climb proper and there was a fair amount of water washing down the rocks making the progress difficult and hands colder. We reached the fence above and passed through the stile and onto the first false peak of the mountain. A climb again, the wind stronger now, we kept close to the mountainside , we didn’t want our tiredness to cause us to stumble or slip in the wrong direction.
Clambering up the last rocks, we came to the sloping plateau on the top of Ingleborough. It was too foggy to see anything further than 10m away, the fog deadened our voices and the stones on the ground made strange shapes, cairns suddenly appearing out of the whiteness.
A voice called out to us. A lost man and wife team had walked from Clapham and couldn’t find their way back. I directed them back the way we came up the mountainside and offered our map but they wanted to find the way directly back to their village. There were people coming up behind us I reassured them that maybe they’d know the way. Clapham? I hope that’s a local village or they’ve got a hell of a walk back to London.
Moving off into the fog, we estimated where we thought the trig point would be and set off in search of it as fast as we could. My legs didn’t want to run but the sooner we found the trig point, the sooner we could be heading back to warmth. No-one else seemed to be up here but us. It was spooky and a bit otherworldly. There was no sign of the views I’d had last time. No chance of seeing the Ribblehead viaduct or the other mountains. We couldn’t even see the trig point.
Then finally “It’s here!” We stumbled towards it, freezing cold and just glad to have found it as it meant we could get the hell down off the mountain. Unlike the other mountains, there was no-one around to take the photo. My phone wouldn’t respond to take the pictures and my freezing, fumbling fingers didn’t want to operate either. I took a photo of Sarah and Anna, then we swapped over and a photo was taken of me. I tried to smile but it didn’t work. I just wanted down.
It’s not my best picture. I look like a Granny who’s one number short at bingo when some other hag screams “house!”.
We ran back the way we thought we’d come but ran too far and were met by a sheer drop. We realised our mistake and picked our way back and spotted the way down and were soon met with the welcome sight of the cairn. One path leading back towards Whernside, but forking the other direction, our path leading towards Horton-in-Ribblesdale, a warm cafe, food and 5 final miles of mainly downhill running.
It’s amazing how your mood lifts when you’re on the home stretch. Running down the path away from Ingleborough, my legs felt good. There was some pain but it was a good pain. My legs were tired, but it was a GOOD tired. A hard won tired. No injuries or niggles.
Anna cheered us up with her constant talk of a cup of tea. No dreams for her of a bacon sandwich or a nice fry up. She just wanted a hot cup of tea. As we ran further and further, the cup of tea in her vision got bigger and bigger. At this rate she was going to have to stir it with an oar.
The path down was slippery with rain and mud and sections were flooded. At several points we had to stop and pick our way through and try to find an alternative route. The path had sections which were in a deep dip. This didn’t help with the flooding and we wound our way up and down the sides trying to find a safe path. There were several slips and trips but none serious, just irritating as each were keeping us from our destination.
At mile 23 the path was very flooded and we couldn’t find a safe way through. We scrambled up the bank and found a clear path, smooth and straight running along the top of the bank. We followed this for half a mile until it terminated at a stone wall and we made our way back down to the flooded path. Falling down the bank I managed to regain the mud the earlier torrential rain had washed off.
As we came up to the signpost, I glanced to my right and found I was hallucinating teepees. I blinked. Nope. Not a hallucination. There really WAS a man in a tepee drinking tea. I raised my to him. He waved back. Bastard didn’t offer me a cup of tea though.
We followed the signpost and towards the rooftops we could see in the distance. We were surrounded by rolling green hillsides now and we knew we were close. Following the path up the side of the hill and across a slanting field to a gate, we crossed railway tracks and ran down a steep slope into the village of Horton-in-Ribblesdale.
Onto roads, the treads on our shoes clacking and mud falling from them, running down the hill, past the field with the car, over the bridge, through the car park and on past the row of houses.
Until at last ... the Pen-y-Ghent Cafe. A bowl of chips and a bucket of tea.
|My stamped time card|
Time: 5 hours 47.
Distance: 24.43 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,571 ft
Garmin info: here.
A few strange facts:
- The 3 Yorkshire 3 Peaks is a famous fell race. The 1st placed lady Victoria Wilkinson this year did so in 3hrs 21!! (Our route was slightly different as the runners take a more direct route but that is an ASTOUNDING time!!)
- We stayed at the Seed Hill Guesthouse in Ingleton where they do the BEST cooked breakfast with amazing thick bacon. There is a peacock that lives in the village and roosts in a tree there at night. One day about 10 years ago it suddenly appeared in the village and has stayed ever since. It originally came with its mate but she was knocked down by a quarry truck a few years ago. The peacock calls for her every evening.
- We kept seeing discarded socks along the route. We decided that they were probably down to someone being caught short without loo roll. Any better explanations?
- We are already wondering how much we’d be able to knock off in better weather and taking the more direct route ...
- My legs didn’t work properly for a week and the rest of me felt as though I’d been hit by a truck. Plus my hands swelled up immediately after the run. No idea why. Trying to drink my coffee was like trying to pick the cup up with fat pink sausages for fingers.
- Anna is in remission for MG which stands for Myasthenia gravis. This is an autoimmune neuromuscular disease leading to fluctuating muscle weakness and fatigue so her achievement in running the Yorkshire 3 Peaks is doubly amazing AND she's doing 9 more crazy things this year! Please will you visit her page even if you don’t donate ... just to raise awareness of MG. It's here.
Anyone fancy giving the Yorkshire 3 Peaks a go? I'd love to have another go at running it in better weather!