23rd June 2021
3 Peaks By Bicycle | A New Record
IMAGES: BREAKAWAY DIGITAL
3 Peaks By Bike: How It Played Out...
by Angus Young
During the depths of a winter of lockdown whilst struggling for motivation for training, with no immediate competitions in sight, I knew that I had to set myself a goal to stay driven through the early mornings and dark evenings. The thing is that whilst I do genuinely enjoy the intrinsic nature of riding my bike and getting out running, I find it hard to stay driven without a specific goal in mind. Over the last couple of years I have found a huge amount of pleasure in planning key events throughout the year and working with my coach to build a season around them.
Many hours of trying to find an event that would fit my criteria came up short until I heard about some people completing the iconic National Three Peaks by bike. Climbing the tallest mountains in Wales, England and Scotland and riding between them. A total of around 42km running and 670km on the road. Some googling revealed that the current record was held by Ross Malpass and was 37hour 33mins. A super fast time and one that would prove hard to beat. So there it was, I had found myself a goal.
The months building up to the event were fruitful and you can read all about my planning and training here.
Summer half term was soon upon me and my first opportunity to test my ultra legs all year had come. The first part of the week was spent dialling in a final few pieces of gear before meeting at the Mason barn on Thursday morning to travel up. The support crew consisted of Ollie the Brand Manager at Hunt, Mr Breakaway digital himself, Dan, and also John who we found at Swindon train station. The trip up to Snowdonia was longer than expected and it was past 11 by the time that I put my head to the pillow for the next six hours.
The plan was to start around 0700 which hopefully would give me enough time to finish Scafell by the night whilst also getting adequate sleep the night before. We pulled into the carpark at Pen-y-Pass and were greeted by Dave, my local support runner who had only been roped into this two days prior. After exchanging pleasantries, it was clear that the local running community had come up trumps and I couldn’t have asked for a better support runner.
Final kit check completed and we were off at 0658. I knew the PyG track well but following Dave’s heels made a massive difference, as not having to think about line choice takes away that mental stress. Working at a good pace but not taking any chances we were up to the summit in about 45 mins, a quick pic later and we were on our way back down. We reached the bottom at 0821 - a good 30 mins or so up on record pace. What a start!
Now came the bike, the section that I was most confident with. The first 50km or so out of Wales were gently rolling downhill and a bit of a cross/tail wind from the North-West helped chivvy things along a bit. Before too long I was into England and started to head north. The plan was that the van would be following me for the majority of the route and I would just call them up whenever to resupply on food/drink. However, due to the horrendous traffic going across the Wirral and through Preston to Lancaster there were not able to keep up and I was at times left for up to two hours without resupply. Not ideal as I was hoping to be consuming a Rawvelo gel, Bar and bottle of drink as well as some other snack at least every hour. It could have been worse yet it is certainly frustrating when you are trying to ride quickly but having to sit in traffic jams. It did, however eventually clear roads opened up and I settled back into a nice steady rhythm.
The pacing plan was to just stay relaxed and not go much over 300w over any sustained climbs, mostly sticking around 250W. By now the North-Westerly was against me which wasn’t to the plan but there wasn't much I could do about it but tuck in and try to keep moving. Seven hours in and the Lake District was in sight. Things started to get a little more rolling with a few longer climbs, but I enjoyed the fact that I was now riding in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, as opposed to slogging it down some anonymous A road in Lancashire.
I changed into my running kit and slowly started the plod up Rossett Ghyll. Whilst not the fastest way up to the summit it cut out about 20km of distance from the ride as Ollie and Dan were able to transfer the bike round to Seathwaite where we would come down to. This traverse probably saved a little less than half an hour. On the runs I was using HR for pacing hoping to keep it in the region of 130-140bpm, as speed is almost pointless when heading up a 30% scree slope. On the powerhiking sections I relied heavily on my poles using my background as a cross country skier to my advantage and limiting the load on my quads and knees. Scafell was far the most wild of the three peaks , and the fact that it was late Friday evening meant we pretty much had the mountain to ourselves. Clear blue skies and a cooling breeze boosted morale and I summitted in just under two hours.
Not wanting to take any risks I gingerly followed John down to Seathwaite where the team greeted us with a bowl of pasta and some fresh coffee. The run had taken 2 hour 54 mins which meant that I had built up a lead of three and a half hours so all I needed to do now was not fall off a cliff. With this in mind I took a few extra minutes at transition and made sure that I was properly settled before heading off. This was probably the point in the effort that I felt the lowest in terms of energy levels so the 30 min break served me well and I was more than ready to start the night section.
As soon as I swung my leg over the bike I felt fantastic; somehow managing to distance myself mentally from the fact that I still had 380km of riding to go. The tunes were in and the legs were turning. The easy miles didn't last long and before too long the sun was down and my grand fuelling plan was coming unstuck. In training I had only replicated this sheer volume of carbs for up to 12 hours and surprisingly enough it wasn't too much after that when it started to go wrong. My stomach was starting to play games with me. My appetite had all but gone and anytime I tried to get anything down my neck I would start to wretch and felt like I was going to be sick. I called Ollie up beside me and asked him to brew me up a dehydrated meal hoping that some solids would settle things down. 20 mins later I found them in a layby at the side of the road and I stopped for some spicy pork noodles. I was only able to get about a third of them down but they managed to do the trick. However, I was conscious that I was only 70km in and I had already had a stop longer than any on the previous leg so it was time to buckle down and get through the night.
Night riding is a curious thing, you just settle into a monotony somewhere between complete exhaustion and mild discomfort. All I really remember was the horrible road surface and long draggy climbs in southern Scotland, especially up to the Clyde wind farm. For a couple of hours Ollie got on his bike and rode at an appropriate distance behind or next to me to give me a bit of extra motivation. Your mind plays tricks on you and you start to convince yourself that as you are up on record pace you should take it back a notch or just stop for a quick breather when in reality your body is trying to find any excuse to stop. I did however manage to push through without stopping for any longer than the odd couple of minutes through till dawn by which point I was rolling into Glasgow and entering the Highlands. Perhaps it was the short night and adrenaline or maybe the fact that I had been abstaining from caffeine for a few weeks to make those ProPlus count but I didn't feel sleepy even once during the night. Crossing the Clyde was a big milestone in my head and I knew that I only had about 180km left and they were on nice roads that I knew.
Loch Lomond was beautiful as ever and I managed to piss off most of the drivers as they tried to overtake me on the A82. I was beginning to count down the remaining mileage now ticking each Km down in my mind. They were passing surprisingly quickly until I got to about 70 to go around Crianlarich where the road points upwards towards Rannoch Moor. The speed started to drop a little and I was feeling the effects of being on the movefor over 24 hours now. This as well as the fact that the crew had stopped from a fry-up and the Green Welly stop in Tyndrum meant that progress was slow -but I kept moving. They caught up with me just as I had crested the climb past the Bridge of Orchy by which point my stomach was ready to go and I devoured a baguette. After ticking off the final few meters of ascent I flew down Glencoe towards Fort William and was only left with a 30km rolling road which felt like it took an eternity eventually arriving at the Glen Nevis visitor center car park and the biking aspect of the trip was done. The second leg had taken me 14 hours 15 mins of which just over an hour of which was stopped time.
It was around 1130 which meant that I had around 9 hours to summit Ben Nevis and still beat the time. With this in the back of my mind I felt it was tricky to motivate myself to stand up and get going but eventually I was off with the tallest mountain in the UK ahead of me, Ben Nevis. Unfortunately I was solo by this point which meant that I had to spend the majority of my time politely asking people to pass on their left etc. My pace was higher than expected and I was able to run the less steep sections and then use what little upper body strength I had to go heavy on the poles for the steep bits. Once I passed the Zig-Zags there was a good covering of slushy snow which made for slow progress but I was pleasantly surprised when I reached the summit in just shy of 1 hour 50. I was up there longer than necessary as I needed to stop to take a video and put on a windshell for the way down. The descent began and all I needed to do was to get back in one piece. Rather foolishly this was when I decided that It would be fun to push it on the descent and take a few risks. Predictably, I fell over and reopened a wound from racing a few weeks back; I count myself lucky that it wasn't any worse. Nonetheless I carried on and reached the carpark at 1508 which gave me a finishing time of 32 hour 10 mins. Couldn't have asked for better.
The afternoon and evening were spent “rehydrating” in Fort William before a long drive back on Sunday ready for a day of teaching Monday. Now, the dust has settled and I have had a little time to reflect, the enormity of the process has finally sunk in. This whole process was an exercise in trying to find a goal to motivate myself through life and training during one of the most difficult winters known. It certainly achieved that. In training I have been hitting power PB’s all year and I have rediscovered my love for running including running a 2:28 marathon. Sure, there are ways that the record could be cut down further (and I would encourage anyone to give it a crack) but that wasn't the main objective here. It's about the process leading to a personal goal and that process was a resounding success.
The final thing to add is that as this was my first fully supported event it hadn’t fully registered with me the enormity of what would be required of the supporters. Thanks especially to Ollie and Dan for going the whole way, Dave and John for flawlessly supporting me on the hills and last but not least to the half a dozen or so Dotwatchers who came out to cheer me on from the side of the road. You know who you are, thank you!
All at Mason Cycles wish Angus the greatest congratulations for this superb ride. Our admiration of his spirit continues to grow and we thank him for taking us along with his record breaking journey. Come on ANGUS!!
A couple of Qs to Angus about his Mason Definition setup...
Were you happy with your bike set-up?
I was super happy with the bike set-up that I chose, over long distances it is all about comfort and the Def ticks that box whilst also being snappy enough to power over any little rollers. I did have the odd saddle issue but nothing too crazy but that could well be a position thing so there is some tweaking to do there.
Pan Celtic is three weeks away now and it will be my first road ultra. the plan is to use the Definition in almost exactly the same configuration as the Three Peaks with the obvious addition of bikepacking bags to carry all of my luggage.
This is the longest ride you've done on your Definition, how does it compare to a Bokeh for this sort of ride?
On the road it is the obvious choice. Whilst I have used the Bokeh for road riding it isn't as well suited as it is built around running a larger diameter tyre so the geometry isn't as dialled as the Def and the fork is a little stiffer which means that it doesn't quite absorb the road buzz as smoothly as a road specific fork.