LOWRI MORGANHow I became a female pioneer in the Three Peaks Yacht Race.
The Three Peaks Yacht Race is a truly remarkable multi-sport endurance race that combines hard core long-distance running with tough sailing.
The challenge sees small teams sail up the West coast of the UK and stop off to run to the summits of Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis, the highest peaks in Wales, England and Scotland.
I was honoured to join Welsh adventurer Elin Haf Davies on her Aparito Digital Health crew to compete in the race in 2016. She invited me to join the team’s effort to become the first all-female crew to finish the race. No pressure then! To add to that, Channel 4 and S4C cameras were following our every step for a documentary series.
Elin had teamed up with fellow experienced sailors Pip Hare and Nikki Curwen to look after the sailing, while I was running with Jo Jackson. Jo is a former team mate from Elin’s record breaking Indian Ocean row in 2009, and a Marathon des Sables and Ironman athlete.
We had an incredibly strong team as we were all solid athletes in our chosen sports (three sailors and two runners), regardless of gender.
Elin was the only one in the team who knew every one of us and she brought together the best five people who’d not only perform well on the mountains and the sea but also work well in a team. The five of us had 24 hours to get to know each other before the race started.
I was very nervous as I had not competed in a team event for nearly two decades. The last time I had team mates I was facing England in a rugby match. However, I needn’t have worried.
There were no egos on that boat and the team was skippered by Pip Hare, who was part of the winning team in the Three Peaks Yacht Race 2013. We all knew our places within the team, had already shared our fears and ambitions for the race and felt as a team of five strong ladies, we could finish this race together.
Our challenge started in Barmouth, from where we had to sail up to Caernarfon, where two runners would set off on foot, stick together and self-navigate for the 24 mile run to the summit of Snowdon.
The leg to Caernarfon took nine hours and ended with an exciting hour as we crossed from the sea into the river just after midnight then made shore around 100 metres behind the boat in second.
Jo Jackson and I disembarked in Caernarfon at 1.30 am and set off. We had agreed on a certain pace but I soon realised that Jo was suffering from an incredibly bad back, however her dogged determination kept her going and we completed the marathon distance in the dark in four hours and 54 minutes.
We started leg two from Caernarfon to Whitehaven in seventh position, with only 40 minutes separating us and the first placed boat.
We had a scare approaching the Menai Bridges when we ran aground briefly, but we soon got off and were on our way, rowing our way through Menai Strait for six hours, hoping to pick up wind once we were clear of it.
The third day was tense all round as all the teams knew they were racing a deadline at the lock gate at Whitehaven, which is tidal. So at low water the sea lock is closed and we knew we couldn’t get into port to put us ashore.
We made it in time and Jo and I set out on the longest land stage of the race – the cycle ride out to Black Sail Youth Hostel, then crossing Black Sail Pass into Wasdale. The conditions were challenging – heavy and non-stop rain together with strong winds made this the most challenging of stages.
I am not the most eloquant of riders and on I found the gravel road very challenging on my Cycle Cross. Luckily Jo was there to pivk me up every time I fell not just physically but emotionally too.
I was very relieved to arrive at Wasdale and slip into my running shoes. From there we climbed Scafell Pike to the summit, then back to the boat. Luckily a few weeks earlier, I had recced the course in deep snow. So with deep fog on top of Scafell, and not being able to see the path, my notes from a few weeks ago came in handy and we managed to gain a few places on our way back to the both thanks to our very detailed route maps. I have always been meticulous when it comes to planning and I was so grateful that I had spent many hours writing down notes in case we had to climb the mountain in challenging conditions.
With us both battered and bruised, Jo and I were so relieved to see the girls waiting for us. With us safely on board, egos intact, we headed straight out through the open lock gates.
We were now in 4th position, with a distance of six miles between us and the lead boat, Wight Rose, to catch up the front of the fleet.
The evening was murky and started with light winds. We were chasing the other boats, but with little opportunity to make gains. After a couple of hours the wind started to change direction and we started racing towards the Mull of Galloway.
The cockpit was alive with tension as we scraped our way along the shore to keep out of the tide.
The wind was blowing down through the gaps in the cliffs, heeling the boat over suddenly and rounding us up, requiring great teamwork from the three sailors to keep moving and to keep safe.
The sailors worked intensely throughout the night, constantly talking to each other about course, trim, speed – focused, determined and loving the opportunity to sail hard together.
The strategy paid off and by the time the sun came up on the fourth morning we were leading the fleet.
Wight Rose and Moby J were over six miles behind us and Pure Attitude could be seen on the horizon.
But as is the way with sailing among the hills in the Scottish Highlands, not long after the sun came up we sailed into a massive windless hole and sat there helplessly while Pure Attitude sailed up behind us.
At 6.02 am on a blustery and rainy fifth morning we arrived in Corpach to take the line honours in the 2016 3 Peaks Yacht Race and win the Daily Telegraph Cup.
Now all we had to do was complete the Ben Nevis run and wait for the handicap calculations to see if we had won the race – it was looking like it would be incredibly close!
Four hours and 36 mins later Jo and I crossed the finish line to complete the 2016 Three Peaks Yacht Race.
And when we crossed that finish line, Team Aparito Digital Health had become the first all-female team in the history of the Three Peaks Yacht Race to take line honours.
We ran over the finish line at Corpach Sea Lock hand in hand and into the embrace of our delighted team mates.
After a prolonged hug it was time to open the champagne and celebrate a great sporting achievement and when our team Skipper, Pip Hare, was asked by a journalist what had made a difference she answered without hesitation: teamwork.
A strong team is what holds an organisation together, weathering the hard times and leading to the successful ones. It’s what gets an intrepid expedition group up Everest during a blizzard; an exhausted rowing crew to the finishing line during a race; and an orchestra syncing the sounds of their instruments to produce harmonious melodies.
The Arctic race stripped my soul bare, but it also, very slowly, rebuilt it.