Now the runners and races are being celebrated in a new exhibition, bringing together memorabilia, film footage and photographs of the daring sport in the region.
The exhibition, at the Dales Countryside Museum, in Hawes, has been created by writer and fell running enthusiast Victoria Benn, whose father Roger Ingham took part in many of the legendary races. Ms Benn had the idea for the exhibition while researching her book, Peak Performance, which covers the history of sport across the Three Peaks.
Working with former runners, she has collected memorabilia, which will be displayed together alongside striking images of the sport by photographer Stephen Garnett. Fell running has taken place in Yorkshire at least since the 19th century, although records show races were happening in Scotland 1,000 years ago.
Legendary races celebrated as part of the exhibition include the Three Peaks Race, and the Burnsall Classic.
Ms Benn, 51, said: “I’ve grown up in a very sporty family. My dad was a pretty decent fell runner in the 1960s and 1970s, and my childhood was steeped in the sport, and I used to compete when I was young.
“It was exciting – I’d know who was likely to win and who the competition would be between.”
But not everyone is aware of the heritage of fell running in the region – something she hopes the new exhibition will highlight, and perhaps even introduce more people to the sport. “It’s a traditional sport but it’s one of those that falls under the radar a bit,” she said.
“If you’re in the fell running community, you talk about it, but it’s not on the television.
“People don’t do it at school. It’s a sport that you can do with very little investment. You literally need a good pair of running shoes. When you see the runners coming down the hill, it’s exhilarating. To be in that situation, you’re letting yourself go and flying down.”
Three Peaks Race trophies, medals, inset, and a pair of her father’s running shoes which date from at least the 1950s form part of the exhibition, as well as a short film by the Yorkshire Film Archive, including footage from the 1976 Three Peaks Race.
And heritage photographs showing classic races are also on display, including one of the runner Ernest Dalzell who broke the record for the Burnsall Classic race in 1910, with a race time of 12 minutes 59.8 seconds.
Mr Dalzell’s time held the record for 66 years but sadly he did not get to share the glory of his achievement with children or grandchildren – he was killed in the First World War in 1917.
The Three Peaks Race has been run since 1954, starting with just six runners, only three of whom finished. It now has 999 spaces which fill up each year with runners determined to push themselves.
A gruelling 23.3-mile route sees competitors race the 5,279ft ascent and descent on Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough.
In 2008 it was the setting of the fifth World Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge.
Run the Dales exhibition is at the Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes, until September 26.