Night has fallen. Halfway up Kirk Craig’s, a man ascends up and up, nothing with him except a pair of short, a jacket and a pair of shoes – plus a sheep.
One, two, three, one, two three. The rhythm repeats itself. Behind him, lights dot a black landscape like islands aglow in the dark sea. The bracken lies like thick fur on the hillside, the wind murmurs something about the time.
One, two, three, one, two, three. In the past, this hill would have reduced him to bent-double walking, hands on knees, legs and lungs on fire. Tonight, a spring propels him skyward, the silent beat of the footfalls providing the timing of the dance.
One, two, three, one, two, three. The final hairpin arrives and he puts in an effort to the summit. His world has shrunk to the size of a dinner plate, his head torch lighting a small circle of grass just ahead.
Onetwothreeonetwothree – his pace quickens in the final few meters, the rock of the summit ahead of him and just as the fire in his lungs reaches boiling point…
We all know that narrative. Effortless bounding up a hillside told through a supernatural experience of apotheosis. Then there’s the other version: Snot, phlegm, a pot of frustration swirling in your head, a cloud over you and a black dog on your back.
Kirk Craig’s has been the measure of my fitness for years. I remember one of my first hill runs with my uncle and him saying: “You’ll know you’ve got good when you don’t have to stop going up it.” At the time, I asked him if he had done that, but I cannot remember the answer – maybe I was suffering too much on its 40% incline. Soon, the aim became to get from the house to the summit in sub-20 minutes, then sub-18, now sub-17.
This morning, I headed from the backdoor and on to the Bunnyhill. Once called the Cunninghar – an old Scots word for rabbit warren – it naturally developed the modern epithet. Nearby, several standing stones were found, with cup and ring markings on surrounding stones. Stobie, in his 1783 map, wrote ‘Druid Stones’.
According to a 1933 publication: “Stone circle, measuring about 60 feet in diameter, once stood here but was completely removed many years ago, when the stones, which are said to have been 5½ feet in average height, were taken to cover a built drain at Tillicoultry House.” Although, Canmore quotes a local forester who attests none of the stones were over 3 feet tall. Who can be sure, for now most of the stones have been destroyed for building material or, in the case of one, to cover a drain at Tillicoultry House?
I can guarantee none of us knew of the historical significance of the place we played as kids.
Within four minutes, I am under the bows of the yew trees, their roots running along the ground like the veins across the back of a miner’s hands. Further up the path, two of their kin lie fallen across the burn. Yet, even in his reclined state, they remain strong and a Kirk Burn’s eco-system.
Until here, I had been swishing easily up, but as soon as the path steepened I was puffing hard. ‘Strange’, I thought. ‘Normally feeling pretty good here.’
I looked at my watch as it bleeped. It was angry with me. Red glared from my wrist and a big fat ‘-12 Performance’ appeared on its face.
I reached the wicket gate, marking the start of the open hillside and the proper climb of the day. I took a minute to get my breath back, pausing my watch. I coughed up some phlegm and grunted.
The next 10 minutes consisted of 300m of vertical gain. ‘Why do I do this?’ I asked myself, huffing and occasionally thinking how rubbish it might look on Strava. On a bad run, your mind starts to run away a bit, asking questions like:
- How did I get so unfit?
- Am I gluten intolerant?
- I should have drank more water.
- This totally ruins my weekly target.
- Do I push through and ignore how I feel?
- I really just want a cup of tea. No, you have not earned it. Push on!!!
What do you do, then?
Quite simply – stop. We all have bad days. That run I described at the start of this blog? That was two nights ago. I felt amazing. Perhaps that was in part down to the runaway, make-it-up-as-you-go nature of it, with a head torch at 3% battery and just using its red mode on the ascent before resorting to its 20 lumens ‘survival’ mode on the descent.
As one Strava follower described it: Running by candlelight.
Today was another day. Who really knows why I felt rubbish. I turned my watch off, sat down, and just enjoyed the fact I was out.
Some of us feel we are trying to squeeze as much out of life every moment, using the quality of our running performance as a measure for the value of a run. Yet, what value is there is forcing yourself to run, mind performing a form of self-flagellation, hardly taking in any of the surroundings.
That type of approach results in a few things:
- You don’t enjoy being outside
- You feel frustrated because you are still trying to achieve something you won’t, because it just isn’t your day
- You are likely in need of some recovery time, and pushing yourself when you feel rubbish just extends that recovery time.
Now, there is merit in pushing through a ‘hard run’, but when the ‘hard’ turns into ‘downright miserable’, try to find the perspective again.
There is so much value in the appreciation of being outside, of having the opportunity to run or walk at all. Turn off the watch, there is no need to perform for a handful of followers on Strava. We all have bad days, so embrace them.
I got back up, hiked up the hill, jogged the flat and practised some descending. You can always find value on the hill.