Spartan blog

3 Peaks Yacht Race

Little did I know about the Three Peaks Yacht Race when the DVD of the previous year’s event was passed to me one evening.  However, when I watched it , wow!  I knew deep down that I would love to take part in this fantastic adventure race and it was race I could only dream of.....

It was only when I returned the DVD to my good friend Richard, who had certainly been very guarded about his many years of racing pedigree on such an awesome event, then dropped the question’would you like to run it along side me, and without a pause the words 'yes' fell out of my mouth.

Without so much of a thought of what I had let myself into, a new priority race had been entered into my calendar. Over the next few weeks Richard and I stepped up the training with visits to Scarfell and Snowdon to get to know the terrain and race route, and oh how important these outings where to become.

Three weeks before the race, Richard and I decided that running the Yorkshire Three Peaks would be a good measure of our fitness.  The day went well but I got to understand that Richard and cold weather don’t mix; on a windy Pen-y-Ghent his hulk impression ‘you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry’ was nearly exposed during a brief battle with a misbehaving map, but to me it was just a typical Spartan (former trail running club in Cheshire) summer, with all elements being thrown at us ... I was in my element.  That aside, Richard set a great pace which is key to building a winning run team.

The day ended with both of us feeling buoyant and, according to Richard, this run would be our last big outing before the race.

However, with two weeks to go Richard decided that he still needed to test himself so he sneaked off to the Malvern Hills for a blast, only for me to hear the following day Richard had pulled his back out... Yikes

The desperation in Richard’s face was telling... he loved and was very passionate about this race and I can certainly see why now.  It was 50/50 could he mobilise himself in two weeks to be there at the start line.

Over the next few days Richard pulled out all the stops and I was encouraged when he decided to run Snowdon just one week before the race.  (Mike the skipper had ordered us to stay injury free so we decided what the hell it only going to make us stronger surely?)  The day passed without event, but only the following day would give Richard the indicator if his back was ready for the 3PYR.

Richard had warned me that we may need to put somebody on standby and after a couple of emails and a rather gutted Spartan ‘Gareth’ replying, ‘as if my week couldn’t get any worse ...’ as he was unable to get shift cover, fellow Spartan ‘Dave the Wallman’ stepped up to the plate and placed on standby.

Richard contacted me on Monday and decided that the decision to run could risk the team’s position and potentially wipe out a summer of fun with a back injury, and hence sadly, Richard pulled out

‘Dave your calling had come’ ; it was going to be a 1st for the Delamere Spartans and little did I know, the club forum was to go  mad as Dave and I set off.

One week on and the team assembled in Barmouth ready for action with a large full English (er ...Welsh) breakfast we headed out for the race start.  Dave commented during breakfast we will probably being seeing that again ... well the Welsh bit may make a presence.

Converting my land legs for sea legs was a little tricky as, when I boarded the yacht ‘Nunatak’, my internal giro started to make me feel queasy.  We quickly organised our bunks and got our heads down as the mighty British weather had decided that a gale force 5-6 gusting 7 would make for a very interesting start.
Heading out on Nunatak to the start
Down below Dave and I settled down, listening to the creaks and moans of a yacht that was now in race mode, crashing over the waves and slamming down into the sea.  The thoughts in my head was ‘OK I'm now beginning to feel sick’, but the more wind the quicker we can get to land.

It was not long before I called to Giles ‘Grab the bucket’ as it was time to review the contents of my stomach.  Unpleasant, yes, but a good sailing friend always said to me that ‘no one has ever died from sea sickness’, so it was a case of toughing it out.  I thought the bucket had a funny whiff about it, only  to find out later that some diesel had been spilled over it ... so high on diesel fumes I attempted to rest up and get some sleep before the First running leg.

As night was closing in we arrived in Caernarfon ready for running leg 1.  The call from the skipper that we were only 30 minutes away from docking filled me with adrenaline, and Dave and I prepared ourselves for the off.

As we closed in to dock a cry ‘for Sparta' rang out; one of our fellow Spartan running friends Paul had got so excited he left his computer to drive all the way from Northwich to Caernarfon to embrace the race atmosphere.  It was great to see Paul and his wife, and their cheers spurned both Dave and I on.

With Dave trusting my navigation we headed out of the town and set a steady pace up the road towards Snowden.  It was great to be on land and it was time to put our skills to the test as the ‘yachties’ rested.

Running out on leg 1 we passed a couple of remote wild parties with music and lights blaring out, but the sound soon disappeared as we left their revelling in the distance.

It was not long before the head torches where engaged and we were in our element.  The night temperature was comfortable for a run and we soon met up with our support crew for a quick water and food intake with a few wise words from Richard we were off again.

We had been closing down on 1st runners, but it was going to be a long race and making sure we got safely off Snowdon was key.  As we climbed the track the night sky and weather on the mountain reduced visibility to 2 metres but thankfully the recce of  Snowdon just the week before helped.  We spotted the cairns and soon thereafter hit the railway track and headed for our 1st summit.  After a short climb we bumped into the leaders on the railway track heading down and we felt the gap was closing ... but these guys where good .  With the wind picking up we navigated around the summit cafe and soon where at the trig point where our cards were punched and we then headed back to the railway for the decent.

Our minds set on closing the gap on the leaders, we were still comfortably in 2nd and it felt great.

Half way down the mountain the cloud cleared, the temperature increased and our  speed increased.  It was not long we were back on the r0@d (forgive the annotation – Spartan club rule... can’t use the ‘r’ word and certainly shouldn’t run on it), give me a trail any day.
Back On Nunatak - Snowdon
After 4hrs:20mins we were back on Nunatak to hunt down Dido; it was time to hand back the virtual batten to the sailors for the race up to Whitehaven.

Whilst still in 2nd place we, alongside the leading yacht  ‘Dido’ and  the 3rd place yacht ‘White Cloud’ (a number of nautical miles behind)did something that not many yachts do - we broke through ‘The Swellies’ with , the rest of the field  becoming trapped by the tidal currents in the straights.

Richard’s premonition of our having to row the yacht early on in the race had not come to fruition.  I was secretly looking forward to rowing such a fantastic yacht with its ‘finely  tuned’ (hmm)  make shift rowing decks and sliding seats, which admittedly was utter luxury when compared to other yacht’s configurations.  I was wondering if we could set some new Ultra rowing records.

The breeze stayed steady but it was only matter of time before we were called to row (Rich will be pleased I thought)

On arriving at Whitehaven we had made good time leaving plenty of daylight to run/cycle leg 2 to Scarfell.  The yacht crew felt the race may bunch up at Whitehaven, with all the top three boats having to wait for the tide to turn before racing out the lock.

Get ready for leg 2 Cycle Ride

The weather was fantastic for the run/cycle; great temperature, clear skies, and again our support crew had done a fantastic job making sure our bikes were ready to go and equally primingus with more food and liquid.  The ride out was steady incline on an old railway track.  Selecting racers over mountain bikes felt a good choice as it enabled us to conserve energy for the run.  As we closed in on the run section we whipped down a few rapid descents only to hit a rather rough track that shook the bikes around a bit; at this point Dave was wishing for his mountain bike and  careful attention was needed as it would be too easy to make a mistake on the loose bumpy surface.

Soon we hit upon the Marshal’s Station, where a 5 minute stop was enforced upon us; this allowed us to swap our footwear for our trusty running shoes that we carried in with us.  The marshals were doing an excellent job and with the field being split in time/distance they were in for a long camp out;  they looked a hardy bunch but a big thank you goes out to the helpers/marshals.

A nice wide fire-track led us to the foot of Black Sail Pass, which we would need to climb twice.  The outward leg was the longer climb but was a most enjoyable one with the weather being a perfect temperature for  running on these quiet tracks.  We were still in 2nd place, and Dave and I wondered when we may  meet up with team Dido, who were still running in FirstWe headed over to Wasdale Head for quick stop and more liquid; we were closing in on them.

The climb up Scarfell went well and the visibility was amazing; no need to look at the map as the top was always visible and I felt we were having some real luck as most teams would be climbing this in the dark.

Top of Scarfell Wallman and Jetpac

We were within 5 minutes from the summit when we clocked the 1st team descending; they were moving well but we did not want them to think they were going to get away, with one big mountain still to come it was not a time for heroics.    We summit Scarfell and quickly (very quickly) got a tourist to shoot a quick photo, clipped our cards and started the descent.

Both Dave and I discussed putting a good gap between 2nd and 3rd and it looked encouraging as at the foot of Scarfell no 3rd team to be seen.  At this point I felt a little dehydrated and was relieved to consume vast amount of water back at Wasdale Head.  We put away some salty nuts inside us (and spoke with a high squeaky voice – ha ha) and headed off for the return  climb of Black Sail Pass. Where was team 3 we thought?   The legs at this point were slowing up a little.  Just as we reached the coll, two head torches popped over from the other side; these guys where moving very quickly and were almost slip streaming each other.  Dave was doing a great job keeping the pace and we knew at this point we had a significant cushion and were unlikely to  be caught.  With head torches on we headed back to the bikes.  In my mind I was thinking about the climb on the bikes on the return leg, I'm sure I counted 4 or 5 sharp climbs but somehow the relief of being back on the bikes and the darkness of the night appeared to flatten out the road.  Our bikes had been equipped with the finest ‘Chinese lanterns’ kicking out some serious light, only for my unit to let me down and being plunged into darkness.  Cycling quickly in the dark was a more than a little nervy and I had to back my pace off.  At this time Dave was ahead of me  and had not noticed I had dropped off the back.  Luckily at the next village Dave had stopped, probably thinking ‘I hope Jetpac (my Spartan nickname) has not got a puncture’, however I was equipped with self-healing inner-tubes, so this risk had been mitigated.  I soon caught up with Dave and we quickly loaded a fresh set of batteries into my head torch and silently cursed the ‘Chinese lantern’ technology and away we went.  

On the return leg we were encouraged to see Richard and Kinell, with more words of wisdom and informing  us that the yacht was ready to sail the moment we got back ... so much for the lock-in at the dock ... Dave and I were looking forward to eating some local Whitehaven junk food, but this was not to be.  

Back on the Coast to Coast former railway track the pace of the racers showed - Dave and I were flying.  We soon reached the dock and were expertly guided back to the yacht.  Dido had not long left and beached itself on a sand bank; for 5 minutes they waited for the tide to pick them up.  

With a 9hr run/cycle under our legs Dave and I dined on some fantastic stew made by Mike's wife Pam... hot food was just what the doctor ordered.  The sailing crew got back into race mode as they were desperate to out-sail Dido.  Dave and I freshened ourselves up in the luxury of a compact shower (not many boats where equipped with this luxury).

As we nodded off for some rest we talked about 1st place ... we were confident that if we could get within touching distance we could out run them on Ben Nevis.  The sailors worked hard to chase team Dido.  As we sailed up north to Scotland the winds were beginning to die.  The challenge of rowing an 8 tonne yacht was soon upon us.  In the early light of the morning the rowing decks were ready for some action.  The atmosphere was silent the sea was looking like a mill pond and then the Mike's famous ipod juke box started up with some fantastic tunes.  The rowing shifts rotated every 2 tracks with some people unlucky enough to hit on some lengthy tracks.  Personally I did not mind, this was a new challenge for me, I had never rowed in my life.  Within only a small matter of time Richard’s top tips came into play; remembering the leg drive and straight arms technique, within no time at all I sussed out the feathering technique.   We looked for wind patterns in the water and as we found patches the sailors worked hard to chase them down and gain maximum benefit.  Rowing at a little over 1.2 knots was hardly fun to them and they prayed for wind.  

Rowing a 40ft 8 Tonne Yacht

The weather that day was more than pleasant and with a combination of rowing and sailing we approached Scotland.  It was not long before the rowing oars came out again and with Giles and Mike working out the tide’s speed and direction they were hatching a plan to get Nunatak into 1st place.  As the night closed we rested up and in the early hours of the morning we were rewarded by passing team Dido, albeit they remained in view.  Nunatak had opted for a different course and the sailing crew had decided that to save some of our rowing energy it may be wise to drop an anchor.  This action got Giles very excited and in no time he was calculating the depth to find out how much anchor warp and line he would need.  Giles was in his element and had soon setup a crofter’s stile rope making business, darning nearly 100 metres of line together with some complicated knotting system to prevent the loss of the anchor.

We rowed towards land but before we had the opportunity test the anchor, Dido caught some wind and decided on alternative track.   Do we follow them?

We sailed 2 different lines hoping that the winds would favour team Nunatak, but with team Dido being that much lighter they started nudging back at us whilst at the same time we start dropping back.

Yikes, could this mean White Cloud could catch us?  With the benefit of boating tracking technology, White Cloud decided to first follow our route which was sailing close to the rum line and then jump over onto the line that team Dido was using.  They made great ground and with the wind dropping all the time, the lighter boats started to show their speed when engaged with the rowing.

All was not lost and we prayed that team Dido and White Cloud would hit a hole in the wind which would stop them dead. Unfortunately we had become the experts of finding these holes and combination of more rowing and sailing left us fighting for 2nd place.  The wind gods had favoured them for now.

As we closed in on the finish and with some more expert sailing it was time to discuss tactics; White Cloud were now holding onto 2nd and with a pair of very fast runners who were competing for King of the Mountains.  The decision was made to hold onto 3rd and send two of the yachting crew up the Ben to bring back the Tilman trophy leaving team Dido and White Cloud to fight it out.

Dave trys his hand at sailing

As we approached Corpach, our final destination, we prepared Mike and Giles with all the necessary gear to pass inspection before the final 18 mile assault.  Mike and Giles were clearly buzzing and set off like a train.

Whilst we waited for our runners to return Dave, Colin and I started to un-tangle all the spaghetti of ropes clearing up the decks for hopefully the champs to return.

To encourage our sailor runners on we headed in the van to Nevis Inn to await their arrival back at the foot of the mountain with a sweepstake running on when they will appear.  After a while our two very focused runners darted by without breaking stride to fuel up ... they were in the zone ... albeit soon after to hit the zone of pain and then relief when they reached the finish line.  They had run the tricky bit but it was now a case of pavement bashing until the end back at the harbour.  With a time just under 5hrs and on very little sleep, our heroic runners crossed the finish line to a team welcome, finishing in 3rd place overall and winning the Tilman Trophy (for the first yacht crew to ascend one of the three mountains).

Mike and Giles at the Finish 

A quick celebration and a few photos along with some energy bubbly followed, however Dave and I had some unfinished business.  It's not often in your life you get the opportunity to run the three largest mountains in the UK in 5 days whilst travelling by boat.  With a secure 3rd place and trophy for team Nunatak, Dave and I ascended Ben Nevis with a spring in our step or maybe we were floating on champagne bubbles, they were certainly repeating on me.  Before heading off, Giles and Mike mentioned that there were two small snow fields to run through near the summit;snow in June how odd? 

Whilst we were out running, the crew got some much deserved sleep as they were bushed wacked and out for the count.  

We climbed in earnest running all the terrain that we could get a secure foot on, chatting to a number of walkers and telling the tale of our team’s adventure race (some people blown away from our epic feat).

Top of Ben Nevis

Dave and I chatted away taking in the fantastic views.  On the way down I reflected on our team’s achievement.  With my highest placed position to date in any race being 9th in a 20k trail event, I had  become totally captivated by the event and would love to challenge for gold, if only we can convince Mike ;-), only danger is Giles will want to strip out all the home comforts for maximum race speed....

The complete adventure was truly amazing; if anybody were to ask if I would it do it again - I would not hesitate to take up the challenge (I’m In)....

Big thank you to Team Nunatak (Mike, Colin, Giles and Dave) and all the support crew (Richard, Kinell, Pam and Di) for making this an adventure I will never forget.

Apologies for my rather long blog probably need to look at getting an editor in to trim it down....

If you wish to see the Awesome Nunatak trailer check out:


Jason Stobbs's picture