Three Peaks Mountain Race



On Sunday 11th October the 37th running of the Three Peaks Mountain Race was held along side the inaugural ultra option 52km aptly named the Three Peaks + One.


Over 400 competitors took part across all the categories making the race a sell out for the first time in its history. In the traditional 26km distance top national orienteer Matt Odgen upset last years winner Hamish Elliott by just under a minute clocking a winning time of 2:11:53. Harry Wager rounded out the podium. 


Kirsty Moffett won the womens race in a speedy 2:42:48 with Chlo Galtier & Fiona Love coming second & third respectively. 


The racing was hot in the ultra 52km distance with the top 4 men coming within 6 minutes of each other. Local ultra champion Chris Bisley (above) took out the honours clocking just over 5hour 20 minutes for the challenging course that consisted of nearly 2800 metres of climbing across 4 major peaks & just about every type of terrain.


The women's race wasn't as close with last years 26km winner local Sharon Lequeux (below)stepping up to dominate the race winning by 40 minutes while coming top 10 overall. 


Race report from Womens's Three Peaks Plus One (52km) winner Sharon Lequeux


Leith Harrier’s Three Peaks trail run is hands down my favourite local race so I was completely delighted to learn that 2020’s event would be double the fun with a 52km ultra marathon option. The new ultra is the same as the classic Flagstaff-Swampy Summit-Mount Cargill course but incorporates a sneaky jaunt up to Pulpit Rock in the Silverpeaks between the Flagstaff and Swampy Summit ascents. Any event organised by Steve Tripp (one of the masterminds behind Crush the Cargill and Dunedin 24 Hour Peak Bagging) is a guaranteed good time. The thought that running an inaugural race is probably the closest shot I’ll ever have at setting a course record also passed through my mind, and being a Leith clubbie I couldn’t not enter.


Just over a month before race day I was taken out by a chest infection and did very little running over that time. Usually I would start smashing the training about 6 weeks out from race day and have a 1-2 week rest before the event. However after running a pretty decent time despite missing those hard training sessions I’ve started to realise that having a really solid base is crucial and this training starts many months (or years) from an event, not weeks. I have also been underrating the value of a good taper! Next time I have a big race coming up I’ll be trying out a three week taper (this isn’t just an excuse to get some fun surfs and kayak trips in).  


The event ran very smoothly from start to finish thanks to race organisers Steve, Mark O’Neill, Siobhan Mckinlay and over 80 volunteers. They had thought of everything and even arranged perfect racing conditions - pleasantly warm (but not hot) with a gentle breeze. This was a huge relief for me as having grown up in Dunedin I wilt in anything over 20ºC. The race started at 0600 and I was astonished to find that we actually needed headlamps at this time (I’m not a late sleeper, but I’m also not in the habit of waking up at the crack of dawn). The race started off as any other Three Peaks race, just darker. By the time we made it to Flagstaff it was light enough to put the headlamps away. After a gravel road run down the first descent we reached the Tunnel Tracks and had fun flowy single track most of the way to Swampy Summit (OK maybe the steep ascent up Powder Ridge isn’t so flowy, but it’s still fun – you’re going to love it). The pinnacle of the race is Pulpit Rock and the amazing views over Blueskin Bay and the mountain ranges.


 At Swampy Summit we were reunited with the Three Peaks classic course, and after running mostly alone for the last couple hours were suddenly surrounded by people again. Getting up Mount Cargill, the fourth and final peak, I could feel the quads burning (quads, calves, glutes, everything). The downhill on the other side didn’t bring the immediate relief I had been expecting as it took a minute or two for the muscles to switch gears, but after warming up I was flying down the trail to the finish line. After having run this trail on tired legs many times before (*thanks* Crush the Cargill) I knew I could finish strong and soon was in Chingford park having run the course in 6 hours and 2 minutes. And yes, I absolutely will be back to run the race under 6 hours. As for between now and Three Peaks Plus One March edition I have some adventure races planned, and who knows – maybe now I’ll get on the waitlist for Kepler ;)


Three Peaks had a record field this year and Three Peaks Plus One sold out, testament to the fantastic sustained work Leith has done running this race the last few decades. Dunedin now has an ultra, and one with a stunning course definitely worth traveling for in March 2021.


Race report from Men's Three Peaks Plus One (52km) winner Chris Bisley


In a trail running season with numerous interruptions, cancellations and uncertainty, the running of the 3 Peaks (+1) was something of an occasion. With many athletes waiting on the next event that would be able to go ahead, it was a quality group of runners that line up on a quiet street in Leith Valley, Dunedin, at bit before 6am on a Sunday morning. Ahead, 52km, 2500m of vert, groomed trail, technical single track, grinding climbs, fast descents, mud bogs and some more climbing for good measure.


The plan was to start out at a moderate intensity for the first climb, survive the first long descent and try not to lose to much time to those that can bomb the downs. As it turned out Tom Spencer showed some true class, descended like a stone and put 4.5mins into me on the 8km downhill stretch. I knew the next sections of the course well and set about limiting the damage through the Tunnel track section (and was helped by some Irish lads pushing through pretty hard), then clawing back some time on the Powder Ridge and Swampy Summit climbing sections (long climbs). The Powder Ridge section fits my style and I am happy grinding out a climb on mud steps, steep crawling sections and the endless upwards nature towards Pulpit Rock at the top.


Holding the time gap behind Tom at the Ridge line and sitting in 2nd, I knew that Swampy Summit climb would be a critical section of the race, and had purposefully put myself in some brutal training situations to prep for this moment. Hitting each uphill section with intent and maintaining a competitive drive and momentum I was rewarded with the sight of Tom’s back when hitting the final climbing section up to Swampy Summit. The burst of intensity and energy you get when you sight someone you have been chasing is a game changer (also note for when being chased – try to avoid being seen for as long as you can, if not at all). Seeing he was starting to struggle a bit, I knew this was time to strike and burnt some matches catching and passing him on the gravel access road to the Swampy Summit check point. Fuelling and hydration were still going well, so case of keeping the Tailwind going down and nibbling the snickers bars.


With a small gap in hand and now in the lead, legs slightly to pretty trashed, the downhill section off of Swampy Summit was going to be make or break. I gritted my teeth and tried my best to find some flow down the steep gravel pylon track section (I image looking something like a scare-crow running from fireworks – not pretty!), and maintained some speed through the technical muddy section at the bottom. Not getting passed through this section was a boost to one’s confidence and gave me motivation to keep some pressure on climbing the 2km road section to start the final climb to Mt Cargill. Starting to pick off some of the 26km runners was good fodder for the mind and kept the progress going. Seeing an ecstatic Chris Sole (physio and mentor) at the turn-off to the final climb was true boost and gave some real drive to keep the pressure on over the next 4kms of climbing up through the forest, onto the open skid site track and finally the Mt Cargill access road. With a combination of running and power hiking (and yes in mountain events everyone walks / hikes some of it) a gap to 2nd was maintained to the top of Mt Cargill. Now it was just a hellish 4km descent and a wee road section, easier said than done.


With concrete quads the Mt Cargill descent was started. I have run down this track a few times now (thanks to Crush the Cargill) so was able to tick of the land marks and knew where to push and where to hold back. Reaching the bottom with no-one on my shoulder was a relief and the fact that it was 2kms of road between me and the finish I got that ‘it doesn’t matter now’ feeling and let the legs flowed over the final road section.


It was great to reach the finish line field, run across it with the satisfaction of having a race plan, sticking to it and it coming off. Before the event I had thought that 5.30hrs would be a good day, so to cross the line in 5.20hrs I was more than happy with how things had gone. This was a course suited to ‘old man strength’ and an attitude of not giving up and finding a way to maintain (mantras that I seem to run by these days). Big ups to Lewis Latham for picking his way through the field for 2nd, Tom Spencer for the balls out attitude and youthful exuberance (3rd overall), and a field that saw the top 4 runners separated by just 6mins. Great pressure racing.


I must say thanks to my ever supportive wife Nicky and my three girls who push me when I need it (and for helping out on the course in the middle of nowhere). To Chris Sole for putting humpy dumpty back together again and believing I have plenty left in the tank. Matt Bixley for the sessions on course knowledge and trying to help me run downhill fast (it’s a work in progress). To Steve, Mark and the Leith Valley Harriers club, you nailed every aspect of a well run trail event. All the volunteers on course and behind the scenes, without you we would just be doing training runs. Thank you.


I look forward now to heading to Auckland this weekend to join the Kiwi selection for the Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra World Championship “NZ” Satellite Event. Running a 6.7km loop on the hour for as long as you can for NZ, now it doesn’t get any better than that!