Saturday 12th June 2021 5am, we’re in the quiet village of Malham in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. There’s a brisk breeze in the air and the sun is beginning to appear, it’s a near perfect day for the 4th Edition of the GB Ultras Pennine Barrier® 50 mile event.
Registration for participants starts at 5.45am, many have stayed over in the local campsites, bed & breakfasts and pubs and as we near the end of registration set up they are starting to arrive. There’s a good mix of faces old and new, nervous and excited, all eager to race again after what has been a long absence due to COVID. There was a minor delay to the start but by 6.10am the first wave of participants were on their way and heading up Malham Cove.
“In my personal opinion this is one of the most beautiful Ultra Marathon routes in the UK. Starting in the sleepy village of Malham, participants head up the 200 steps to the top of Malham Cove, then through the Dry Valley of Watlowes that offers stunning views looking back over the Malham valley. From there they head across the trails to Malham tarn, a calm stillness of water hidden in the Yorkshire countryside. Heading away from the tarn the participants approach the first hill climb of the event as they head up Fountains Fell along the Pennine Way, descending the far side and into the arms of Checkpoint one.”
Many of the front runners choose not to stop and get stuck straight into the first of the 3 peaks on this magnificent route, Pen-y-Ghent. With its short sharp incline and softly sloping descent it’s a fast mountain for many of the runners. The trail between Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside is nicely runnable bringing you into Checkpoint 2 beside Ribblehead Viaduct. Here you’ll also find an ice cream van, which many of the runners take advantage of for an ice cold refreshment.
Then comes the climb up to the peak of Whernside, it’s 4.5 miles from the base to the peak with a gently sloping winding climb. It’s the biggest mountain out of the 3 peaks with stunning views and at the peak you hit the half way mark for the route. This is a great boost for runners as they come down the other side knowing that they’re halfway through.
“Before the final peak runners come into checkpoint 3, usually slightly fatigued but they get refreshed with water and coke and a selection of checkpoint snacks and then head on off up the final peak of Ingleborough. Climbing up the ladder side of the mountain there’s a steep but stunning ascent and at the top you’ll be greeted by one of our mountain team members, usually poised ready to take your picture and offer some friendly encouragement. There’s no better feeling than hitting that final trig point knowing that you’ve completed all the 3 peaks section of the route………. It’s all down here from now on…….or is it?”
The decent off Ingleborough is gentle and winding giving runners the opportunity to feel the wind in their hair as they head down the peak towards Horton-in-Ribblesdale and Checkpoint 4.
Leaving the checkpoint you head through the village and then start the climb to the base on Pen-y-Ghent. Don’t worry we don’t make runners climb it again! At the base of the shoulder of Pen-y-Ghent you take a right and head back down the peak the way you came up earlier that day and into Checkpoint 5, the final checkpoint on the route. Runners usually come into this checkpoint tired but extremely excited that they’re on the final stretch. They climb back up and over Fountains Fell, past Malham Tarn and back through the Dry Valley of Watlowes and onto the top of Malham cove once again.
“The route then takes runners to the left of the cove and down into the beauty that is Janet’s Foss, a stunning waterfall, pool and stream that really entices the runners for a cool off dip…… Some take up the opportunity, while others know they’re about a mile from the finish line and pick up the pace. As runners emerge from the Foss woodland the finish line is in sight and its one final push to cross that line and complete the 50 miles.”
Each GB Ultras event has real-time tracking provided by GB Race Tracker which means you can follow friends and family along the route and know that they are safe and on the correct route at all times. Finish times are predicted enabling supporters to meet their runner at the finish line, await their arrival and celebrate their success!
This year was a special year for the ladies with the ladies course record being broken by Lorraine Slater of Barlick Fell Runners in 9 hours 36 minutes and 5 seconds – beating the record set by Emma Marks in 2019 by 6 minutes and 55 seconds. Taking 2nd place for the ladies was Kelly Eagle (USA) of Settle Harriers in a time of 10 hours 55 minutes and 4 seconds, and in 3rd place for the ladies was Linda Morgan in a time of 11 hours 8 minutes 59 seconds.
Winner of the event overall and taking gold for the men was James Largey with a great time of 8 hours 27 minutes 40 seconds but a mention also has to go out to our second placed finisher in the event, Matt Brennan who came over the start line in 8 hours 42 minutes 24 seconds in his first ever ultramarathon race. In 3rd place was #ultrarunner Alexander Sharp in a time of 8 hours 45 minutes 40 seconds.
We were also blessed to witness the engagement of Preet and Federica at the finish line of the race.
This really is a stunning yet tough route and due to its popularity places sell out fast. If you like the sound of this years race review and want to take on the challenge, look out for entries opening for the 2022 event soon on our website www.gbultras.com and on our social media channels under Pennine Barrier on Facebook and pennine_barrier_ultra under instagram.
Article by Laura Hutchinson, GB Ultras – Assistant Race Director