Nearly 1,000 runners, including the 2011 winner Tom Owens, have entered the 60th Three Peaks Race in the Yorkshire Dales on Saturday, April 26.
But a notable absentee from the race – billed as “the marathon with mountains” – is Joe Symonds, who was expected to return to attempt a third win in succession.
The 30-year-old hopes to run for Scotland in the Commonwealth Games in July.
The trainee paediatrician, who works at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, is understood to have entered the two-day Highlander Mountain Marathon, which is being run on the same weekend in the hills around Moidart in the Lochaber region of Scotland.
After winning the 2013 Three Peaks in a time of 2hrs 54mins 39secs, Symonds, who was brought up at Sedbergh, predicted he would be back this year to attempt to beat the achievement of his father, Hugh Symonds, of Kendal Athletics Club, who won in 1984, 1985 and 1987.
Now all eyes will be on Owens, 32, from the Three Peaks main sponsor, the Salomon International Team, who won in 2hrs 53mins 34secs in 2011 and finished eighth in 2012. His Salomon team mate Thorbjorn Ludvigsen, 25, who has entered the Three Peaks for the first time, has an unusual pedigree. The Norwegian finished fourth in the International Union of Ultra Runners Trail World Championships in Connemara, Ireland, in 2011. Last year he finished second in the Limone Extreme VK SkyRace, which climbs from the shores of Lake Garda in Italy.
The Extreme course was designed by Skyrunning legend, Fabio Meraldi. The VK race has 3,608ft of height gain in 1.86 miles.
It takes place as light fades and the course is illuminated only by competitors’ head torches. Ludvigsen completed the 14.6 miles in 37mins 34secs.
In February Ludvigsen won the men’s race in the Empire State Building Run-up in New York, having finished second in 2013. He took 10mins 6secs for the vertical dash up 1,576 steps from the lobby to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.
The event, which has staggered start times, normally ends on the observation platform, but bad weather meant the 500 competitors finished inside.
Ludvigsen faces a different challenge as one of 996 entrants in the Three Peaks Race. It starts in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, near Settle, and traverses a 23-mile route over Penyghent, Whernside and Ingleborough with a total ascent of 5,279ft.
The race record for the current course is held by Andy Peace, of Bingley Harriers, who set 2hrs 46mins 3secs in 1996.
The women’s record is held by a Czech professional runner, Anna Pichrtova, who achieved 3hrs 14mins 43secs when the Three Peaks hosted the World Mountain Running Challenge in 2008.
The Three Peaks on April 26 starts 30 minutes later than normal at 10.30am. This is to allow competitors in the Fellsman 100K to clear Ingleborough and Whernside before Three Peaks runners travel in the opposite direction.
The Fellsman is starting 30 minutes earlier from Ingleton.