High Cup Nick Fell Race

Dufton, Saturday, February 28, 2009

BM / 15km / 460m

Two reports, first from Dougie Nisbet:

Dufton is quite a bit further from Durham than you might think, and if you don’t want to arrive 15 minutes before race start in a bit of tizz, it’s worth being a bit more organised than I was. I registered, relaxed and looked around. Hallo, what’s this, another Striders vest! Nigel was being interrogated by an earnest lady who wanted to know whether he was looking forward to the race. They were having a bizarre conversation on wind when I bounded up and said “Hello”. He wasn’t looking too good. A bit peely-wally it has to be said, recovering from a persistent cold. But more on that story later.

We wandered the few yards from registration to start and I couldn’t help notice the abundance of base layers underneath everyone’s racing vests. I looked down at my bare arms and legs and then up at the clouds and realised that I may have committed a rather serious and extremely chilly logistical error. It was warm in my house when got up, so it’d be warm at High Cup Nick. Or something.

As we waited at the start we got into a bit of a bidding war about who had run the least over the last few weeks, who was feeling the most wretched, and whether Nigel’s cold could outbid my over-enthusiasm for steak and red wine the previous evening. We would find out. My race plan was to run, ‘speculatively’, and if throwing-up looked unlikely, pick up the tempo.

Off we went and off he went. Nigel soon became a speck and I settled down. As with many fell races you have the rather humbling view of seeing exactly where you’re heading unfolding before you. High Cup Gill drifted into view and the cloud loitered around the valley with mischief on its mind. As we climbed steadily up the valley I began to feel better and passed a fair few runners. I was feeling pretty comfortable. Nigel kept appearing on radar, walking, then he would break into a run and disappear again.

It was on the climb up to High Cup Nick itself that I passed Nigel. Feeling pretty pleased with myself I gathered ample photographic evidence just in case challenged later in court. It’s a dramatic broody climb up to the top and I loved it. Over the top and a furtive glance back and I had made good gaps over many of the runners I’d passed and was feeling pretty smug.

There’s some fantastic descending in this race. It’s mostly runnable. Charging down through the cloud with glimpses of other runners ahead was an exhilarating experience. It couldn’t get any better. And it didn’t. A steady trail of familiar vests that I thought I’d seen the last of filed past and I just couldn’t match their speed. And then, a few miles from the finish, Nigel sailed past with a cheery nod, looking a million times better than he did on the ascent. Not for the first time the phrase “Nigel, you bastard!” was heard to utter from a Strider’s gob. [Nor the last time either, I expect. Ed]

It was a good run into the finish and then just a few short yards to soup and warmth. The day was nicely rounded off with a photo shoot by a student who wanted to build a portfolio of portraits of Fell Runners “looking tired”. No shortage of volunteers there.

Nigel being photographed by Dougie in the mist and the murk.

… and from Nigel Heppell:

Knowing that Striders, as of Wed’s night, had a full men’s team lined up for Cramlington, I excused myself from attending the Harrier League and denied myself the chance to help out in the eating of cakes afterwards, and headed off over the Pennines to try out the 9mile, 1500ft, High Cup Nick fell race for the first time.

I left home in warm, bright sunshine looking forward to spectacular views over the Lake District and the dramatic geology of High Cup Nick itself. It began to rain at Barnard Castle and stayed overcast and damp for the rest of my time in the west. The small village of Dufton was a rather soggy venue for the start/finish but it was brightened up by an array of 140ish runners in all manner of colourful kit, and a few familiar friendly faces – although how I know what they look like when I normally only see them from behind during a race is one of life’s little mysteries. Shortly before the off Dougie Nisbet turned up as the only other Strider (Will Horsley ran as NFR).

DN and I started from our rightful position at the back of the field and followed the crowd up the lanes until we were turned loose across the fields and low foothills. The going was very definitely ‘soft’. After a number of relatively gentle rises and falls we entered the valley floor leading to HCNick and proceeded up a steady incline criss-crossed with streams and bogs before hitting the boulder field (the going was now ‘hard’) and a savage increase in slope hidden in the cloud layer. Dougie left me behind at this point (in the nicest possible way) and went away out of sight into the mist above. By this time I was concentrating on placing all four limbs on secure hand/footholds and was quite glad I couldn’t see what lay ahead or behind.

The last few metres to the top lay alongside a small waterfall that, due to the funnelling effect of the valley, was being blown as a heavy spray in the reverse direction by a gale-force wind. A cold shower was the last thing I needed at this point as we turned into the wind and began the long descent along the route of the Pennine Way. A headlong charge downhill inside such a cloud would be an ethereal experience if it wasn’t for the battering of your feet on sodden, broken ground littered with stones of all sizes; – but this bit I enjoy because I seem to be able to overtake a few others under these conditions, Dougie included. We were diverted off the Pennine Way about a mile from the finish, and after a brief climb over another rise, ran down to the line on the village green and a welcome cup of home-made soup with enough pepper in it to restore the circulation to all extremities.

For those who know it, this race has a similar feeling to the Bowderdale race, albeit at a much colder time of year. I’ll ear-mark High Cup Nick for next year (Harrier league permitting) in the hope of some clear weather and sight of the elusive views.

Dougie’s taken some great photos along the way – well worth a look. Follow the link, below … Ed.


Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 Darren Kay Horwich M   1:01:47
26 Will Horsley NFR M   1:13:27
110 Nigel Heppell   MV50   1:35:58
113 Dougie Nisbet   MV40   1:36:52

141 finishers.


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