The Yorkshire Three Peaks: not all about fitness


This summer I completed for the second time the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge for the British Heart Foundation. The challenge has a total walking distance of around 24.5 miles and takes in the peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough (usually walked in this order). The idea of the challenge is to complete the walk in under 12 hours and so people often try to complete the route in summer where the daylight hours are greater.

The peaks form part of the Pennine range and sit in a circle around the valley of the River Ribble, in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Given it’s name, it is obvious that the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge would contain 3 peaks, however in my opinion, the peaks themselves are not particularly challenging. Looking at the heights of each peak gives you the first indication why:

Pen-y-Ghent (694 metres)
Whernside (736 metres)
Ingleborough (723 metres)

Anyone who has walked up Scafell Pike (highest mountain in England at 978m) or Snowdon (highest mountain in Wales at 1,085m) will have no problem at all getting to the top of those max altitudes. Thinking more about prolonged effort, the climb to the top of Whernside from the Ribblehead Viaduct (pictured above) is probably the longest ascent in terms of time, and it is stepped in a lot of places, with no particularly hazardous sections.

So then why is the challenge so… well… challenging?! It’s the distance coupled with the climbs and ultimately the amount of time you are out on your feet.

The first time I completed the challenge I walked the route at a decent pace with a couple of friends and completed the distance in 8 hours 14 minutes. At the end of the first attempt I felt like I had a little energy left and my legs felt fairly good considering – I knew I could go quicker. This time I opted to jog a section from the top of the first peak to the bottom of the second peak and in doing so shaved off nearly 1.5 hours, completing the challenge in 6 hours 49 minutes. I consider myself to be fairly fit, however fitness is only one factor that will help you to get through the challenge. A high fitness level will help you achieve a quick time and aid recovery afterwards, but it’s not the be all and end all. Good news!

The night before my most recent attempt I was chatting to fellow participants and I told them that I thought the easiest way to completely the challenge is to simply knuckled down and keep moving. The moment you get into the habit of stopping and starting and ‘faffing’ around you will see the time slip away from you and along with it your enthusiasm. Eat and drink on the go to keep your energy / hydration levels up, try not to sit down for too long if you take a break and if someone needs the loo then keep going and let them catch up.

So just to reiterate (in case you missed it)… for me it’s not all about fitness… it’s also about your mental attitude… and your ability to dig in and plod on. Staying positive and maintaining a steady pace can be enough to get you through!

The challenge is tough, but it’s not as tough as you think, and I hope in reading this I have encouraged a few more people to get out there, take it on and have a lot of fun in the process.


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