FOUR former winners of the Three Peaks Race are returning to the Yorkshire Dales in a bid to claim the £500 bonus prize for the fell runner who can break a record which has stood since 1996.

Billed as “the Marathon with Mountains”, its 23-mile route climbs more than 5,000ft over the summits of Penyghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. Its iconic status is underlined by being chosen as the Great Britain team selection event for the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships.

Snow is forecast, but if the weather is kind and conditions underfoot remain good, the men’s record of 2hrs 46mins 3secs, set 21 years ago by Andy Peace, of Bingley Harriers, could fall.

A previous female winner thinks the ladies’ record, which also has a £500 bonus prize, can also be beaten.

Race sponsors Inov-8 are represented by several of its ambassadors, including two-time female winner Victoria Wilkinson, 38, from Hebden and 2016 UK Inter-Counties Fell Running Champion Ben Mounsey, 35, of Calder Valley Fell Runners.

Wilkinson, who was first woman in 2014 and 2016, and has a personal best of 3hrs 21mins 32secs, believes Czech runner Anna Pichrtova’s women’s record of 3hrs 14mins 43secs - set when the race hosted the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship in 200 - is beatable.

“But achieving it is a different matter!”, she said. “Everything has to slot into place on the day. I always look forward to the Three Peaks. Being a Yorkshire girl, the race has a place in my heart. With this year’s field being of such a high standard the record is there for someone to try and beat. Perhaps this could be the year.”

Wilkinson faces tough opposition. Salomon is sending Annie Conway, 35, who beat Wilkinson at Podbrdo, Slovenia, to become last year’s World Long Distance Mountain Running Champion, and Norwegian Yngvild Kasperson, 22, who was fastest woman in the 2016 Skyrunner Zegama-Aizkorri Alpine Marathon in the Basque country of northern Spain.

But there are other challengers. Helen Bonsor, 31, of Carnethy Hill Racing Club, Edinburgh, won the ladies title at the Three Peaks in 2015. Anna Lupton, 38, of Black Combe Runners in Cumbria, won in 2009 and 2010 and was second in 2015. Those who should know say Julie Briscoe, 41, of Dark Peak Fell Runners is a strong contender.

Last year, in conditions made treacherous by four days of snow and ice, Swiss dentist Marc Lauenstein’s winning time was 2mins 55secs slower than the men’s record on his first visit to the Three Peaks. Lauenstein is not entered in 2017.

Cumbrian firefighter Ricky Lightfoot, 32, who won in 2014 and 2015, was only nine seconds behind Lauenstein and he would love to return home to Maryport with the £200 first prize and the £500 record bonus. Last year he came closest to Andy Peace’s record with a time of 2hrs 49mins 07secs.

Another runner to watch is Joe Symonds, the winner in 2012 and 2013, who has a personal target to achieve. He would like to emulate his father Hugh Symonds, of Kendal Athletics Club, who had a trio of wins in 1984, 1985 and 1989.

Symonds, who was brought up at Sedbergh in the Yorkshire Dales and used to train on Whernside, now works as a paediatrician in Glasgow. The 33-year-old, who runs for Shettleston Harriers, has a best time of 2hrs 54mins 39secs.

Another challenger is Tom Owens, 35, who won the Three Peaks in 2011 – beating another Shettleston Harrier Jethro Lennox, who fell on the descent from Ingleborough. Owens was third last year in 2hrs 52mins 14secs.

Lennox won the Three Peaks when it hosted the 2008 World Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge with Owens 37 seconds behind. Symonds, Owens and Lennox are all members of the Salomon International Team.

Local knowledge is the key for Rob Jebb, of Bingley Harriers, who won the Three Peaks in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009 and is a five times winner of the British Fell Championships. The 42-year-old, winner of the Skyrunner World Series in 2005, has also won the Three Peaks Cyclo Cross race a record 10 times.

The Salomon team is represented by Tom Owens, and the ex-Royal Marine Donnie Campbell, 32, the British Ultra Trail Champion from Edinburgh, who has not raced over the Three Peaks before. The Hardmoors 55 winner was first in the 2016 Salomon 50k Ultra Trail Marathon over the Lakeland Fells in a time of 4hrs 36mins 19secs.

The race start is at 10.30am in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, near Settle. Leaders should be on Penyghent summit in 26 minutes.

They should arrive at the Ribblehead checkpoint from 11.40 and be on Whernside summit by 12.10.

First runners should be at the Hill Inn checkpoint from 1225 and on Ingleborough summit by 12.50 for a downhill race to the finish at Horton at around 13.15.