What is the Three Peaks Challenge?
The National Three Peaks Challenge is a hiking challenge (or running, if you really fancy it) usually attempted in under 24 hours that involves climbing the highest mountains of Scotland, England and Wales. It takes in around 23 miles of stunning UK National Park scenery and objectively the best views in the country.
But whether you're climbing them in a day or doing it over a week, the outcome will be the same: you'll have gained bragging rights for life for having completed one of the UK's most iconic challenges, eaten a lot of sugar and maybe even raised some money for charity. You in?
The 3 Peaks
Ben Nevis, Scotland - 1345m, 5 hours approx
Ben Nevis is a real belter to start with and trust us, if you can get to the top of the mighty Ben, you can do the rest, easy. Ben Nevis is a staggeringly beautiful climb with unrivalled (literally) views at the top. It's not to be undertaken lightly however, and will require a decent amount of training beforehand.
Scafell Pike - 978m, 4 hours approx
Scafell Pike sits smack bang in the middle of one of the UK's most beautiful National Parks, the Lake District, and offers views for miles on a clear day.
But this fell isn't just any mountain, it was gifted to the National Trust by Lord Leconfield at the end of WW1 as a memorial to the men of the Lake District who lost their lives in battle.
Snowdon - 1,085m, 4 hours approx
Snowdon is the peak you'll finish on and a real high to end on (if you'll excuse the pun). Used as a training ground for Edmund Hillary before his Everest ascent back in 1953, Snowdon is not a hill to be underestimated. Its pyramidal peak means some scrambling at the top, but it'll be worth it for that final summit selfie.
If you're not quite at the 'how to train' stage and are more at the 'what is this challenge my boss wants me to do' stage, check out this article for the low down.
How difficult is the Three Peaks Challenge?
This is a difficult one to answer objectively, but let's just say it isn't a walk in the park. Well actually, it's 3 walks in 3 National Parks, with a lot of driving in between.
Though the elevation is a test for the quads, glutes and knees on the way down, it tends to be the sleep deprivation most people struggle with. Parents with young kids? You're all set to take this on! Okay we're joking, but it probably won't hinder you.
We'll talk you through ways to train for the hiking itself and how to get those miles in the legs, but it's worth remembering that there's no way to plan for the weather on the day. Boggy terrain underfoot can be more tiring, as can blasting through the rain, wind or extreme heat.
When should I start training?
Starting your training 3-4 months before the challenge should stand you in good stead. This gives a bit of leeway for life to get in the way, as it often does with illness, work and other unforeseen obstacles. You'll step it up nearer the event, which we'll detail below.
Even if you're a seasoned mountain climber, it'll be a different sort of challenge when you're sleep deprived and no one wants to get injured, so it's always good to be as prepared as possible.
Ways to prepare for the challenge ahead
If you're in the city, fear not, there is a good amount of training you can do in the gym. If you live somewhere rural, getting up into the hills really is the best training you can get, but you'll need to activate your hillwalking muscles too if you live somewhere fairly flat.
The ideal combination is some resistance and cardio training at the gym during the week, combined with some outdoor walks at the weekend.
Hit the gym
The gym is a great place to focus on your resistance and strength training, as well as your cardio fitness. In the first 2 months of your training, you should be looking at exercising 3 times a week, with one session for strength and resistance (we'll go into this in more detail below), one session for cardio and one for general fitness. In the latter 2 months, you should focus more on the cardio and aerobic stuff.
Strength & resistance
Strength and resistance training refers to specific exercises that aim to build muscle and strength. There are a million training plans out there but below are a few of our favourite exercises to do when training for the Three Peaks Challenge.
You should aim to start your training plan by choosing around 10 exercises, doing them for 30 seconds each, and repeating the cycle 3 times. As you progress, doing 15 exercises for 45 seconds at a time will get you stronger.
Going to classes at your gym is also a great way of doing this is you haven't the time to plan a workout. HIIT classes are very common and are great for this kind of thing.
Below are 10 examples of exercises designed to strengthen particularly your legs, knees, hips and glutes:
Cardio sessions should involve 30-90 mins of continuous activity that gets your heart rate up. You can achieve this by running on the treadmill, using a cross trainer, attending spin, dance, and general workout classes, or rowing for example.
General fitness is about staying active but not necessarily having to push your heart rate up. Walking, swimming, yoga and cycling all fit this bill, and luckily they can all be done at home, outside or in the gym. Most people training for the National Three Peaks will go for a walk at the weekend outdoors to get those miles built up in the legs.
Head for the hills
There really is no better way to train for climbing hills than climbing hills. The best way to do this is to climb a variety of hills with different terrain (steps, grass, gravel etc) and to push your self as you go. If you can climb one mountain with relative ease and speed at the end of your training, chances are you'll be able to walk three in a row at a normal pace.
It also helps you prepare mentally. It's one thing getting fit in a gym, but if you haven't climbed a single mountain in your training it might feel quite odd on the day of the event. Doing a few longer walks will encourage you that the challenge is within your ability and as we know, self-belief in these things is half the challenge.
It's important to make sure you're not training too fast however. If you're not used to climbing hills, start on the flat and gradually build it up. Combining your hillwalking with resistance training is also very important as it ensures your muscles are strong enough for the challenge.
Pushing it up hills on untrained legs could lead to a repetitive strain injury if your muscles aren't quite strong enough for what you're putting them through.
Get out and about
There are other, small ways to get a bit fitter and get those miles in your legs. If you're meeting a friend or colleague for a coffee, why not get a takeaway and got for a walk instead? Are there ways you can change up your commute? If you have a short drive, you could consider cycling, or if you have time, why not walk?
Use your lunch breaks and evenings to go for strolls and if you have a smart phone or watch, see if you can get at least 10,000 steps a day in. All of this will improve your general level of fitness and get you geared up to completing the Three Peaks Challenge.
Do it with a backpack
Don't forget, you're going to be hiking the Three Peaks Challenge with a backpack full of snacks, water and layers on your back, so you should aim to train with this on where you can.
OK, it might be a bit much getting the rucksack out in the gym, but if you're out and about at the weekend on your walks, it's good to get used to having that extra weight, it can make quite a difference!
Embrace all weathers
This is the UK, so it isn't wildly out of the question to expect rain, hail and wind on your walk. If you're completing the challenge in the middle of summer, you might even struggle with the sun and extreme heat. The best you can hope for is a dry and balmy, grey day at 15 degrees. This kind of average British day is truly the best weather for the Three Peaks Challenge.
So get out there when it's sunny, when it's thrashing it down with rain, when it's snowing if you really wish. Rain and fog can make it harder to navigate sometimes too, so practising your map skills in these conditions will stand you in good stead.
Break those boots in
OK, this is a super important one. You can do all the training in the world, but if you set foot onto that first mountain in a pair of brand new boots you've never walked in before, it will all have been for nothing. Hiking boots are notorious for being painful and causing blisters when you first wear them, which is why it's essential to break them in.
When you're out and about on your lunchtime wanders, weekend hikes and coffee strolls, get those boots on and start breaking them in!
Practise your map skills
If you're planning on completing the Three Peaks Challenge with a group, you won't need to worry about this one, as you'll have a qualified mountain guide to do this for you. If you're going it alone or with friends however, practising your navigation skills is an essential part of the mental training required for the challenge.
A great thing to do is to go out when it's raining or foggy (even if it's local, somewhere you know you won't get lost) and practise your map reading skills. You'll thank us when you're walking and not veering off 5 miles in the wrong direction...
It isn't rocket science, but eating takeaway after takeaway during your training probably won't make it very easy for you. Eating healthy, balanced meals with enough nutrients, carbs and protein will make your training easier and give you the right kind of energy.
Obviously when you're hiking, wagon wheels, flapjack and chocolate are real lifesavers (physically and mentally). All we're saying is get some brown bread and fruit in the mix too, ok?
Training for Three Peaks Challenge: FAQ
How far in advance from the challenge date should I start training?
12-15 weeks is usually a good idea. If you're fairly active already and climb mountains semi-regularly you would probably make it round with no training, but training would definitely make it easier on the muscles. Plus, climbing three mountains simultaneously on little sleep is very different to doing one, so whatever your ability, it's always good to put in some work beforehand.
You know your body, so go with what feels good, but remember it's always good to be overly ready than not! We recommend stopping around a week before the walk to give your muscles time to rest so they're on top form for the challenge.
Should I be doing more cardio or resistance training?
You'll be doing both. In the first few months of your training, you should split 3 days of training a week between resistance training, high tempo cardio (running, spin classes etc) and general fitness (walking, swimming), with rest days in between. In the latter half of your trading, there'll be more focus on aerobic and cardio fitness than resistance training.
Should I take out health or travel insurance for the challenge?
Yes, definitely. Even the most confident mountain walkers can trip or fall, especially when lacking in sleep. If you're going with an organised group, insurance should be included within your price, but it's always good to look at what it does and doesn't cover and get your own personal policy too.
How else can I make sure I'm prepared for the Three Peaks Challenge?
You can start by reading our article which covers everything else you need to know about completing the National Three Peaks Challenge. Making sure you have the right kit, have all your routes planned and driving logistics and accommodation sorted is also just as important as getting the training in. Good luck!