Three Peaks Yacht Race. But first...

I've just got back from competing as part of team Wight Rose in the 3 Peaks Yacht Race. It was another great race, but before we get into that there are a few things I need to catch up on - I've been a bit slack with the blogging recently!

So here we go, massive achievements in bullet point form:
  • Chris Webb ran up and down Alphin Pike near Saddleworth 25 times in 24 hours to raise money for Stroke association
  • Paul Elliot became the first person to ride the Trans Pennine Trail in under 24 hours to raise money for Sheffield Children's Hospital
  • After waiting a long time for the right weather, Jez Bragg broke the long-standing Ramsey Round record by 11 minutes with a blistering 18:12
  • Adam Perry had a second attempt at a 78 peak 24 hour Lake Distrcit round, aiming to complete possibly the ultimate fell running challenge in the UK. Once again he was very close!
  • Jim Mann and Jasmin Paris finished 1st and 2nd (and 1st male and female) at the Dragons Back race, after 5 long hard days across Wales. Congratulations to everyone who finished the race, including Joe Faulkner who became the first ever triple completer.
All these achievements really deserve their own write-ups but have been written about elsewhere by people more qualified, so I'll simply say congratulations to Chris, Paul, Jez, Adam, Jim, Jasmin and thanks for the inspiration!

Superstars! (l-r) Chris, Paul, Jez, Adam, Jim, Jasmin


Right then, the Three Peaks...

The week of the 3PYR started as it did last year with a win for me at the Wet Fox Trot run-kayak-run race. This is a little race on Underbank Reservoir near Penistone, it involves a 4km run, a 2km kayak and another 4km run. I set off in the last wave and completed the first run in 16:09, and the combined kayak and second run in 25:28. I think anyone who's ever done an adventure race with me would be quite amused that I could ever win a race with kayaking in, but it felt really good to be running OK again, and after a few disappointing months of racing it raised me up a bit ready for the 3PYR.

Crowds at the Wet Fox Trot - great race by Fox Valley Events!
Bouyed (haha) by my midweek success I was excited as I packed and prepared for the 3 Peaks. After initially deciding to give it a miss, we had decided very late that we would enter the race this year, so there was a degree of mild panic to the preparations. However, by Saturday lunchtime I was in Barmouth with Alex Pilkington, where we met our sailors: Geoff West, Gary Clayton, and Paul Jackson. Paul was our third sailor this year in place of John Donolley, and as well as being a very experienced and great sailor also happens to by my father-in-law..

Looking pro in our matching tops! (l-r) Paul, me, Alex, Gary, Geoff
By the time we arrived and entered the race (possibly the latest anyone has done so) we had missed all the briefings, so there was nothing left to do but buy supplies and go for lunch. This done we made our way to the harbour and jumped on a water taxi to take us out to the boat. As I passed my bag up onto the boat the my bike's rear brake, which I had removed with the intention of fixing a dragging caliper, slipped out and was lost to the depths of Barmouth harbour. Ah well, who needs rear brakes anyway! I made a mental note to keep my weight back as I braked for those 90' bends on the Whitehaven cycle path.

Leg 1: Barmouth to Caernarfon
At 6pm we were off, and for a change from last year we weren't rowing! Once we left the harbour conditions were a bit bouncy and Alex soon reaquainted himself with his good friend Mr. Bucket. We seemed to be pulling away nicely from the British Army boat which we'd had a good race with last year, but there was one boat off to our Starboard (right) side which was going as quickly as us. It was a team of Dutch sailors from Scotland and runners from Orkney and Malvern, team "Rio".

Leaving Barmouth in Tropical conditions!
A few hours later we arrived in Caernarfon. Rio and ourselves had sailed well and pulled out a good lead on the rest of the fleet. After running aground slightly on Caernarfon bar we lost a little time and Alex and I stepped off the boat 32 minutes down on Rio's runners. As our kit was checked we were asked for an ETA, and were told ours was only 15 minutes quicker than the runners ahead. It looked like we might leave Caernarfon still behind, but we decided to do our best to catch them and off we went...

The Snowdon run is the longest, and basically divides into four: in, up, down, out. In and out are flat road runs of about 1hr each, and were the hardest part of the race for me last year. Flat road running is not my favourite, but I felt better this year and decided to just get on with it. Alex was strong on the run in and we arrived at the foot of the hill feeling good. The climb also went pretty well, though the weather was deteriorating and by the time we got to the top could fairly be described as minging. We couldn't hear each other over the wind and rain, and as we turned at the top and started down the hill I struggled to get food out of my bag with cold hands and was only just warm enough.

Soon enough though we were dropping off the bottom section of the hill into Llanberis, past the little shop where I bought a painting of the Eiger and onto the run back in to Caernarfon. It was about 5am as we headed along the main road back towards the town. Three totally smashed party-goers tried to talk to us but we were both pushing fairly hard so didn't stop for a chat. On the last hill before Caernarfon we spotted a luminous vest in front, then another - it was them! We caught them over the next few minutes and passed them maybe 10 mins from the end of the run. Back to the boat with a time of 3:54, taking 36 minutes out of Rio.

Leg 2: Caernarfon to Whitehaven
The sailors seemed pretty pleased with our run, but warned us that we were now into one of the hardest parts of sailing, the Menai Straits. I had a milkshake and dodgy looking "meat-based protien snack" but didn't go to sleep as I wanted to be awake through the straits. There were some great photos of this area taken last year:

Menai Straits: 2014. Though it hadn't changed much.
Rio were just behind as we crept through the straits, slightly faster than last year (and luckily no terrifying-backwards-towards-bridge-peir this year!) but it was still tense. I was given a job: Crouch on the floor and hold the iPad thingy with the charts on so that Geoff can see it. It seemed appropriate to be doing the job of a shelf!

Just after the tightest bit of the straits Rio slipped past us, then we traded places up the next narrow section on our the way towards Whitehaven. As we got closer to Whitehaven we began to discuss the tide, this is a critical section of the race as the lock gate at Whitehaven harbour can make or break a big gap. The window within which we could get in and out of the harbour was from about 6:20pm to about 2am. We were now ahead of Rio and if Alex and I could complete the Scafell Pike section in time to get us out by 2am and the other runners didn't, we would immediately get a 6 hour lead. The sailors did a cracking job as Alex and I ate and slept to get ready for the big ride-run-ride section.

Bikes on the boat - not massively convenient!
We were first into Whitehaven harbour at about 7pm, if we could get through the lock, complete the section and get back through the lock in 7 hours the race would be looking very good... It would be close, but it was on!

Off at Whitehaven... Go Go Go!
We jumped off the boat and went straight to the compulsary 5 minute kit check. During this time the sailors parked the boat and came to see us off. We were asked not to race too fast through the first harbour area but we had the bit between our teeth and I wouldn't say we went particularly slowly! The ride in to Ennerdale would be the same as last year, but this year we would also be riding on up to Black Sail Youth Hostel. Alex has been riding a lot recently and led the way along the tight cyclepath out of Whitehaven on his lovely carbon 29er. We climbed up to about 250m, then dropped down to 100 or so before the final climb up to Ennerdale then Black Sail at 300m or so. We left the bikes there after 1hour 32 mins, quickly lent them up against the hut and set off up Black Sail Pass...

The foot route took us up Black Sail Pass, down to Wasdale, and up Scafell Pike, before returning the same way. If we could do this in a bit under 4 hours we might make the lock gate. The climb up Black Sail felt good and we were quickly over the top and descending to Wasdale. Here we had an unexpected 5 minute compulsary stop, but with very friendly marshalls, amazing flapjack, and annoying midges! The climb up to Scafell was hard work with a few hills now in our legs, but we took almost exactly 2 hours up and down, as we'd told the marshals.

Sunset in the Lakes (taken during Nicky's BG record)
Near the bottom of the descent we saw the runners from Rio on their way up, they looked far enough behind that if we got through the Whitehaven lock gate we could get a race-winning gap on them. Back to Black Sail Hut we had 1:20 remaining on our target time, we would have to ride fast but it was do-able. Unfortunately my bike light was a bit wobbly on the descent and I had to decide whether to hold it and ride with one hand or to ride with both hands but be prepared for sudden plunges into darkness! Alex pulled away a bit and I worked hard to stick with him down the rocky descents. Once we left the track and were back onto the smooth road the lamp problem went away and I focussed fully on sticking to Alex's rear wheel. The ride back in was fantastic - being nighttime the cycle path was empty (apart from a couple of teams we encountered going the other way) and we flew down into Whitehaven on the narrow tarmac track through trees and eventually into the town, through twisty sections in housing estates and finally out onto the harbour area. We'd phoned Geoff to tell the team to be ready for us as it was going to be tight, and as we arrived he and Paul were waiting for us. We ran down to the boat with them, jumped on, and set off straight towards the lock gate. Fingers were crossed as we increased the engine revs and headed out of the lock gate...


Bang. More revs. Bang. Reverse, more revs. Bang. Damn!

When I next stuck my head up we were back in the lock gate, and soon were back on the pontoon. We would have to wait till 6am to leave, by which time Rio would presumably be back with us. Nevermind, we'd all given it our best shot and there were only minutes in it. The race would now be restarted as a two-horse affair. Time for a shower and a sleep.

Leg 3: Whitehaven to Corpach
As expected, we left Whitehaven with Rio at 6am. We'd eaten, rested, and were ready for a race! Geoff and Gary know the route up around the West coast of Scotland very well after so many races over the years, but Rio's sailors had researched the route and knew it well too. As the tracker shows, there wasn't much difference in our routes from Whitehaven to Corpach.

Tracker from http://yb.tl/threepeaks2015#
During the last sailing section we expereinced all sorts of conditions, from Force 6 with broaching and reefs in the main sail, to calm conditions requiring Gary and Paul to row for an hour during the night! As we passed through the Sound of Jura the wind started to drop a little, meaning that Rio pulled away slightly due to the stronger winds they had experienced through this section. We had by no means given up but the gap was slowly growing and was up to 11 miles by 6am on Tuesday morning. This meant that when Rio reached Corpach at 9am we were still in the Corran Narrows. Alex and I would give it everything on the Ben, just as the sailors had on the run up from Whitehaven, but barring a disaster for them it looked like we'd be 2nd.

Alex and I were keen to win the King of the Mountains title too, and hoped we could do so by winning each of the three legs. We believed we'd got the first two, so agreed no holding back on the final leg.

Off the boat and onto the Ben
The weather was good for once as we pulled into Corpach and went to our last kit check. The 5 minutes seemed the longest of all this time as we were keen to get going. From Corpach it's a 5km run to the base of the hill at the Ben Nevis Inn (Achintee Farm) where the climb begins. The run through Caol and Fort William itself felt reasonably good on the way out but the weather was warm even this early in the day - it would be scorchio for the later runners!

At a height of 400m we see the Rio runners descending the hill, the race is over. We give them a high five and say well done, but keep pushing ourselves up the hill chasing the KOM title. Just after the start of the climb we saw Rob Howard of Sleepmosters.com - Thanks Rob for the photos you took of the race and for all the great reports on the website!


The Ben was busy with walkers, not so much of a problem on the way up but once we'dbeen to the top and turned around (at exactly 2hrs) we had to shout a lot on the way down to ask them to move. There seemed to be a lot of German people around and we wondered whether shouting "Achtung!" might be more successful, but most people gave us lots of space as we carried on down to Fort William. On the last 5km I'm a little stronger than Alex, it's only a tiny difference but it's a relief as I don't have to push quite so hard... Soon we were back into the town, through Caol again, and finally onto the towpath. With the finish in sight we manage a sort-of sprint and finish the leg in 3:29.

The final straight!

 We are met by our team and the guys from Rio, Gary cracked open a bottle of champagne and sprayed Alex, but by the time it came to me the fizz had gone and I ended up with it just being poured over my head

Cheers Gary.
So, the end of another 3 Peaks Yacht Race! I have mixed emotions from this year - it was fantastic fun again and I feel like I'm starting to get my racing mojo back a little bit, but it was a shame after last year not to be able to defend our title. However, I'm really chuffed to win the King of the Mountains trophy, there are the names of some true legends engraved on there and I'm looking forward to collecting it in October! We had a great race with Rio and they really did sail well (so I'm told!), so it seems on the day we were beaten by the better team.

Well done Team Rio!
Finally, a quick thanks to Alex, Geoff, Gary and Paul, race organiser Meic Ellis, and his marshals and team. Thanks also to Scott-Accelerate for the support and great kit, I wore Trail Rockets for the Snowdon and Ben Nevis legs and Kinbalu Supertracks for the Scafell leg.

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