Thursday, 7 May 2015

Race Report - Dumyat Hill Race 2015

For the last two years I’ve been laid out with a heavy cold in the first week of May. 

I know this because during the two and a half years I’ve worked in Stirling, I’ve been out of action during the annual Dumyat Hill Race, a long-established out-and-back peak-bagging adventure of mud and rocks which I’ve felt like a fool for missing.

It’s taken an embarrassingly long while for me to get to the start line of a race whose route I can actually see from my office window, but I’m so glad I did...

Dumyat [pronounced dumb eye at] has been run annually since a £1 bet in 1972 claimed that it was impossible to run from the University of Stirling’s Gannochy Sports Centre to the summit of Dumyat, a 418m/1,371ft peak at the edge of the Ochil Hills, and back, within an hour (a distance of five miles and total ascent of 390m). The hour is the watershed, therefore, between metaphorically winning the pound or slinking off home to think again. With men’s and women’s records in the region of 35 minutes, it’s achievable, but not without a fight…

Added pressure for me came in the form of many colleagues who have raced previous years, or entered this year, or who just know more about the event than I did. I’d also recruited a pal, Kathryn, whom you may remember as Deerstalker-in-Chief and whose mountain credentials are infinitely more impressive than mine. All this conspired to an impressive amount of pre-race excuse-making on my part. I mean look at the weather. My back hurts. I’ve been sat at a desk all day. Etc.

Dumyat has always been a low-key affair but I think this year it’s edging towards more infrastructure. The race is ‘gun-to-chip’ timed, entries are managed online, marshals are everywhere and almost 300 people finished the 2015 event. We are a long way from 1972.

But once we were away from the start line we’re into a magnificently scrappy, scruffy, off-road test that feels much more like I imagine oldschool hillrunning to be. It’s crowded in the middle of the field, and we’re ducking and weaving between trees and gaps in stone walls and stiles and streams, occasionally slowing to allow the crowd to thin out ahead, tripping over rocks and sinking into watery mud. I’m grinning madly with delight.

The first half is very up. But it’s also a bit down – we’re fighting to gain elevation but then keep maddeningly losing a little on our progress to the top. After the first mile or so we’re literally out of the woods and onto a broad moor-type landscape, which allows much more room for overtaking and the field spreads out width-ways as runners choose different lines up the hill. I’m surrounded by people of clearly varying ability, but the wild spectrum of terrain and profile mean that this race demands you to be a sturdy climber, fearless descender, navigator of rocks and mud, good at choosing lines and also pretty competent on the flat. I’m confident that everyone in the race will have felt great at some points and found wanting in others.

Out of the woods and chasing down the summit.
Photo borrowed from
After a couple of miles the leaders fly past me in the opposite direction. Dumyat is the prototypical out-and-back, so we’re sharing a boggy, hilly, rocky, narrow route trudging uphill with extremely talented hill runners who are flying back down. It’s perilous and thrilling and hilarious. Club and university vests dominate the leading figures and I do my best to stay out of the way whilst also trying to maintain some worthwhile progress of my own.

An odd phenomenon is the peer pressure to both walk and run certain sections. Kathryn and both found that whenever the person in front of us slowed to a walk on the steepest sections, we did the same, even if we were feeling fresh enough to run. When they ran, we felt compelled to run too. This may have something to do with the narrowness of the route in places – and for me my total lack of course knowledge – but next year I’ll resolve to ignore everyone else and run my own race.

I finally reached the summit and was blown away by the view. The concept suddenly made sense. Weather earlier in the day may have been abysmal, but at 7.30ish in the evening the view was so clear I could pick out the Forth Bridges and Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, 40 miles distant. Sadly, with no time to appreciate the full majesty of the entire Central Belt, I started a reckless, wild descent back to the Gannochy.

There’s really nothing better for the ego than being on the ‘back’ leg of an out and back race. The banter’s hilarious and you feel like a minor celebrity. I did my best to be brave and let my legs fly down the hill, moving so fast I could feel my insides shaking about with every impactful step. At points I was basically falling down a cliff and trying to keep my legs moving fast enough to keep up with my progress. Hill running – for me at least – is mostly about trying to think fast enough to work out where each foot can safely land next, and the added chaos of people running towards you makes for a major mental and physical test.

I passed Kathryn, on her way up, as we splashed through a waterlogged flat(ish) section. She howled in mock pain as we high-fived at high speed. The descent passed in a blur – although a small incline with half a mile to go almost finished me off – and before long I was back to the sports centre and accepting the incredulous congratulations of some colleagues who had come along to support. I clocked 51:19 and won my metaphorical pound.

Papped at the finish. #KeepUpLad
Kathryn beamed across the finish line a little while later and we debriefed, incredulous as to how much fun it was. We immediately resolved to be back for 2016 – and what’s more I know exactly where I can shave a minute or two off my time. A few practice runs wouldn’t go amiss either...

Happy running


2015 to date: miles run - 405.62, parkruns - 3, races - 3

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