The Good, The Bad, and the Shuffly

WHW run Saturday 12th January. Dumgoyne to Conic Hill to Dumgoyne. 22.5 miles

Helen and I  parked up in the lay by next to the Glengoyne Distillery, because we were too early to get parked at the Beech Tree Inn. I used to park here regularly in the days when I lived in Glasgow and Dumgoyne was the most accessible of the local hills. A nice hill with a vertigo inducing scar of a path up the front.

Approaching Conic Hill
Approaching Conic Hill

Access onto the WHW was through the distillery warehouses and over the stile, straight into a muddy puddle of sheep and cow poo. This section follows an old railway track and conditions underfoot were much better than I expected as this section is notoriously puddly. The section between Beech Tree and Gartness is one for afficionados of gates.  Not only are there hundreds of them, they all seem to have a slightly different mechanism for opening the latch. Gate Geek heaven (please God, don’t let there really be gate geeks), but fortunately there were no other runners at this early hour so there were no issues of gate etiquette to deal with. You know the sort of thing when you have to figure out whether or not it is ok to close the gate or whether you should wait till the person behind catches up. Invariably people always seem to be at that distance where you are just not sure!

Gartness is picturesque and it is quite nice to get on to tarmac but then of course there are the hills which you had forgotten about. They seem to go on and on until you get to Easter Drumquassie. The farm and campsite there always make me feel a bit nostalgic for the first time I walked the WHW many years ago with my son Hamish who was 10 at the time. When I went round the farmhouse to check in with my tent, there was a lovely young lady there painting an outbuilding, stunning long hair, bare feet and dungarees with nothing much underneath and covered in splashes of blue paint. At least thats the way I remember it…

The field up to Drymen was boggy as always but not as bad as I have seen it. Up through the forest was pretty uneventful. The road was in much better condition than it had been last time I was up there when they had laid lots of new loose stone on the road which was a real ankle turner to run on. Happily now it is all metalled in and it makes for good running.  The forest is even more bare with the felling which has taken place, and while it is a bit apocalyptic, it does open up views of the loch.

Highland Boundary Fault
Highland Boundary Fault Line

Then comes one of the strangest sections of this run. You go through the forest gate onto the open hill. The short sheep-trimmed grass looks like it should be easy running but for some reason this short section just sucks the life out of your legs. There is a bit of an optical illusion going on because it is more of a climb than it looks and the going undefoot is quite soft. Combined with the wind which skelps over the top of the hill it just feels strangely hard.

The Clay Pit
The Clay Pit

The comes the Clay Pit. Ok it isnt a pit exactly but there is a puddle of clay on the descent down to the burn at the foot of Conic hill which I am sure I have stood in every time I have been on this path, and every time I am surprised when my foot goes in up past my ankle and squelches back out covered in thick grey/yellow clay. You’d think I would learn.

The path up Conic hill itself is eroding badly and I find the easiest way to navigate it is just to run straight up the stony middle part even if that means you are running against the stream of water pouring down it. I walked smartly most of the way up hill though I am finding myself running more bits of it.

The top of Conic Hill affords some good views down Loch Lomond so after a few pictures it was time to turn round

I had run with Helen as far as Drymen and then run on ahead as she was only going as far as the Gate. I had hoped to catch the D33 Glasgow training group who were running from Drymen, but we had been delayed in getting away so I missed them by 15 minutes or so.  There were quite a few runners out, I exchanged hellos with a trio of WHW run people on the forest road so hello to you whoever your are. I also passed a chap who was running strongly up the hill in expensive but worryingly clean looking running gear.  Nice sunglasses though 🙂  I didn’t manage to catch Helen on the way back (boo) but that meant she had moved to car to the pub, found a table and saved me half a mile (yay!)

Top of Conic Hill
Top of Conic Hill

The Good

The Good bit was it was a decent distance, good time on my feet, a nice morning, and we had a lovely lunch afterwards in the Beech Tree and met up with Noanie, Alan, David and the unfortunate Emma who had fallen going downhill to Balmaha and knackered her ankle before running back up the hill and back to Drymen and was amazingly still smiling.

The Bad

My legs were dead. It had been a long week and I was still running every day since Marcothon. Add to that, I didn’t really fuel well enough so hit a major slump about 14 miles. I don’t know about other people, but when I get tired I start getting stiff in my shoulders, then the stiffness works it way down my back, picking up all the muscles which are grumpy from slouching over a computer, and then seizing up my lower back, pelvis and hip flexors until the only thing which can still move is my feet. My knees stop moving forward and I do some sort of tip toe lurch forward movement using only my arches.

In addition to my stiff back, I then have a struggle with my head and get into a “Can’t be bothered” state where I just want to walk and shut my eyes because it is “easier”. It isnt that my legs can’t keep running, but my head starts to get foggy and there is a battle between the sensible part of me which wants to keep running and the Kevin&Perry-esque part of my brain blowing its cheeks and saying “Its Not Fair”.  There is an accomplished ultra runner called Stuart Mills who has developed his own model of performance and while some of his theories come across as a wee bit self-indulgent, he talks about a concept he calls Race Fatigue Energy which I think is a useful way of linking performance to “how much we want it”.  I like Tim Noakes’s Central Governor theory in this sort of situation: did you die? no. Could have tried harder then. Big question is how do you persuade yourself to keep trying.

The Shuffly

The man with no name
The man with no name

Despite being stiff and tired and a bit fed up because there were miles to go and I was stiff and tired, I sort fell into what I call the ultra shuffle. Its a slightly unnatural shuffly run where the feet hardly lift off the ground, the arms pump and the whole thing is done at a slightly speeded up cadence. It takes a while to get there, through the Wall when there is no glycogen readily available, and when like a badly behaved child, your body realises that no, no matter what tantrums it has, you aren’t going to stop, and so it just stops complaining and gets on with the job in hand. True to form, in this ungainly gait, the last half dozen miles passed by quite quickly.

Footnote: The strangest thing happened! I went out for a run today, the day after this run, and knocked out 9 miles at marathon pace and it was easy. The nearest thing to Flow I have ever done. Running is a funny old game


  1. orunner

    running is just like that ..a think ‘Slum Dog Millionaire’ … the answers to the questions were not from the immediate past in his life they were dredged up on the wind of long term memory … thats what running is like.

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