I remember the first time I stood by the side of the road in Glen Torridon, looking up at the imposing walls of Liathach, checking and re-checking the OS map because I didn’t believe a path could possibly be found heading straight up there.
Dumyat, the westernmost of the Ochil Hills, is on a different scale entirely but there is something of Liathach’s impenetrability in its southern flanks, the direction of approach dictated by the Dumyat Dash (it’s an ironic name, mostly), which must rank among the most bonkers and brutal short courses in the Scottish Hill Racing calendar.
|Trying to resist the lure of a pre-race bacon roll, as Dumyat looms in the background|
Starting near the war memorial in Menstrie, one of a line of Hillfoots towns strung out beneath the Ochils, not many races manage to cram as much climbing (550m) into such a relatively short distance (a shade over 6km). A couple of kilometres in, the penny begins to drop with the realistion that every time you gain height – and you do so almost immediately from the start, via a steep single-track up through the gorse – you seem to lose it all again in a tenth of the time it took to acquire.
On reaching Blairlogie, after 3km or so and a fast run down a gravelly road, any ambitions of dashing vanish quickly as the route turns sharply up towards Castle Law, the satellite top of Dumyat. Pretty soon I was negotiating very loose scree, dodging rocks dislodged by those above while the ones under my feet shifted constantly, a demoralising state of affairs that means you have to work twice as hard as normal for every step gained. The race organiser, in an attempt to demonstrate he wasn’t 100% masochist, had fixed some climbing ropes to tree roots in this section, which soon proved crucial to any vertical progress and happily took at least some of the strain off my screaming quads and calves for a few minutes.
The next 10 minutes or so were a severe test of mental and physical obdurateness, as every contour left its mark on body and mind and I clutched at the long grass in front of me to help haul myself ever upwards. It was at this point that I recalled Alan Elder’s unencouraging words the previous evening – “that is one helluva climb up to the top, my calves exploded on the way up last year” – when he’d impolitely declined the opportunity to join me on today’s foray into Clackmannanshire. The wisdom of elders indeed.
Cursing his good sense and my current predicament, I pressed on, neither overtaking or being overtaken, which was about as much as I could hope for at this stage. Soon we were up out of the gulley and passing the cairn at Castle Law, where I was reminded that the blessed relief of some downhill running from that top was short-lived, as the final climb to Dumyat’s summit was soon upon us. “Dash it”, I almost said.
Rounding the cairn, the problem then became how to persuade the same muscles I’d been imploring upwards for the last 40 minutes to get me the hell down the hill as quickly as they could. Fortunately, the route is perfectly set up for just that – a brilliantly fast, runnable, grassy track plunging down down down to the gate that takes you back off the hill and onto the narrow path to the town. I’ve never been described as dashing but perhaps this was my moment.
So, I left the Hillfoots happy with my morning’s work but secure in the knowledge that my legs would be suffering the consequences of this race for days to come. Three days on, as I type this report, I’m tempted to suggest a change of name for this race next year. “Dumyat DOMS” has a certain ring to it, don’t you think?