Joe Symonds’ 2013 Three Peaks Race win on the face of it appeared to be a straight-forward exercise in dominant fell running. As the following paragraphs demonstrate, wins are never easy, and certain happenings in Joe’s life in the day before the race only underline the greatness of his achievements and the fragility of life…
Action replay of last year? Not quite.
Before the Three Peaks Race this year I was emotionally in a completely different place to where I was last year. Conversely, the feeling of elation on crossing the finishing line was almost identical to that of 12 months ago – and that is thanks to the powerful mystique of this awesome race, and to the incredible support of the crowds (and fellow runners) out on the course.
My training this past winter has been very different to that of 2011-2012, with my major focus of the spring being the Rotterdam marathon, which took place on April 14th. This was my first ever road marathon and my optimistic aim was to obtain the Scottish Commonwealth Games qualifying time of sub 2:19.
In the final weeks of build up things were looking very good – I’d managed to tot up 1300 miles of running in 13 weeks of training, put in some very strong endurance sessions (including a 38k run in 2 hours 7 minutes), and PB’d over half marathon, with 66:23 in March. However, in the Netherlands, it wasn’t to be on the day and I dropped off the pace with 5 miles to go, to finish with 2:20:52 – disappointed at the time, but on reflection a debut I am proud of.
Such was the intensity of my focus on Rotterdam that during the first three months of 2013 I was entirely unable to see beyond April 14th – even entering the 3 Peaks was something I omitted to do (until Tord Nilson of Salomon UK reminded me at the beginning of April).
Following the Dutch race, exhausted from the physical and emotional investment I’d put into it, I had to take a whole week off running. I went for a cycling trip round Northwest Sutherland and Assynt with my wife Esther – making sure we camped at the foot of Ben Hope on April 19th, 23 years to the day since my Dad set off from there on his continuous round of all the 3000 foot peaks in Britain and Ireland.
The following week, the week before the Three Peaks, I did a couple of runs, including one up Ben Wyvis, our local Munro. I felt sluggish on the climbs, and trepid on the descents, but fast and fluid on the flatter sections! Had I lost my mountain skills and become a road runner?
From Wednesday to Friday I was on night shifts at work. They were busy shifts, culminating with an utterly unexpected tragedy at 0630 in the morning on Friday, when we lost a nine month old boy who had been admitted with what appeared to be a simple case of chickenpox. After 30 minutes of resuscitation efforts we had to call off the battle for his life.
This wee lad was my first thought as I entered the finishing field on Saturday, and there is no doubt in my mind that I dedicate this victory to him and his devastated family.
Physically and spiritually exhausted, I made the long train journey from Inverness to Yorkshire on Friday, napping on and off as I went. Esther got off the train in Carlisle to stay with her parents, and I continued on the Clapham where the rest of the Salomon UK crew, and the two Spanish Salomon International runners (Tofol Castanyer and Oihana Kortazar Aranzeta). I arrived, wolfed down some tomato soup, some pasta with tomato and bacon, two delicious pints of Copper Dragon’s Golden Pippin, and slumped off to my bed for a very sound night’s sleep.
By Saturday morning I was well rested, but still feeling lethargic and not particularly up for it! I usually have a cold shower on the morning of a race to get me fired up, but this morning I wasn’t keen, so I turned on the hot tap. Then I realised that there was no hot water in my hotel room, so a cold shower it was. I had my usual pre-race breakfast of muesli, banana and wholemeal toast, but as an experiment I also included a bottle of “Beet It” organic beetroot juice, which turned out to be quite a challenge to my taste buds.
After arriving at the race venue, I plodded through my warm up routine and did some stretches, reflecting on how psyched I was it the same point 12