The Ochil Ultra 50 – Pain Again

The Ochil Ultra 50 – Pain Again

After the South Downs Way 50 in April I thought I’d have another go at a 50 miler in preparation for the MDS 2018  – the Ochil Ultra. This time I’d avoid the scorching sun of the south coast (strange considering I’m training for a desert marathon) and opt for a nice grey day in Scotland in late September.

The inaugural Ochil Ultra was set for the the 30th September starting in Stirling and heading along the trail network of the Ochil Hills to Perth. This was close to home so I had the added incentive of some family support at the end of the race.

The day started with a ridiculously early pick up at 0500 on the South Inch in Perth. Groggy and sleep deprived we slowly emerged from our cars and congregated at the mini coach that would take us to the start at Stirling University. The improvements I’d attempted to make to my kit from the South Downs Way 50 were:

  • A Salomon vest for water and food (and the other necessaries)
  • Salt tablets,
  • A deposit of watermelon and oranges (and kendal mint cake) for each of the aid stations
  • Injinji socks, and
  • a particularly fetching Outdoor Research cap (ready made ‘Kepi’ style for the MDS)

We were off as dawn approached and started the first climb up through the woods to the first top. I passed a few people, one of whom had some seriously big thighs and was keeping the metronomic pace I’d seen before – I was pretty sure I’d see him again. There were amazing views of the Wallace Monument and the sun rising over the Forth valley as we climbed along the first ridge.

A quick touch of the cairn, then down the steep slope towards Menstrie and along the base of the hills to the first checkpoint at Tillicoultry. I settled into a rhythm as the field spread out. I hit the flat ground and was feeling pretty good at the first checkpoint. A comedy moment ensued as we checked in and found the timing chip sensor mounted on a table about chest high leading to the guy in front of me contorting himself to raise his leg to the sensor.

I tucked into my watermelon and oranges, topped up the water bottles and headed off for the biggest climb of the day.

The conditions underfoot rapidly deteriorated as we climbed up the valley towards the pass that would take us down towards Glendevon – good Scottish boggy trails. Dry feet were a thing of the past by the time I made the saddle and started the decent. The Inov-8 race ultra 290’s are pretty good for most hard packed trails but left a little to be desired on the bogs and sphagnum moss. Descending to the Glen Devon reservoirs my feet came out from under me, jarring me out of the daydream I’d been as I bounced across the “path” on my arse and shoulder, knocking the prized OR cap from my head.

The route followed the tarmac road down past the reservoirs and down Glen Devon. We headed off-road following the Glen then changed direction towards Glensherup reservoir, crossing the dam before winding up a footpath onto the forestry roads.

I descended out of the woods and down toward the second checkpoint for the next helping of crushed watermelon pieces and quartered oranges. I didn’t hang around here and headed off for the next climb, which would take me over towards checkpoint 3. This section was hard going as my energy levels slumped and a couple of people came past me, notably the metronome from the first hill.

As I came to the top of the climb my stomach started to play up, threatening the need for a hasty exit off the path. I managed to keep it together and continued down to the next checkpoint. 30 miles in and not feeling too bad!

I was surprised to see someone gaining rapidly on me as I climbed the next hill; he came alongside very chipper and bouncy. It took me a while to realize that he was on the 50-mile relay where each team member does a 10-mile leg before handing on to the next person. A bit of mutual suffering would have been appreciated 35 miles in with my legs starting to seize up.

I started the long descent to Kilgraston school and the final check point at 40 miles. I was starting to struggle with my stomach by this stage. It seemed to be calling for an immediate evacuation but could never quite get to that point, so after a few abortive poratloo visits I shuffled on. My legs were also becoming uncooperative by this point and had to be coaxed into a trot along the tarmac roads leading through Bridge of Earn and towards the final climb of the day up and around Moncrieffe Hill. At the top of the first long climb I could see down towards the finish on the South Inch before doubling back for some soul-destroying switchbacks that seemed to loop me around the summit several times (maybe my mind was as buggered as my legs by this point!). It was all downhill from here and I attempted to squeeze the last bit of life from my legs to get down the hill and across the line, stopping for quick shot cold coke on one of the last junctions.


Another relayer galloped past me in the closing stages as I made the last turn and cut across the South Inch towards the finish of the Ochil Ultra 2018 and a cheering Wife, Mum and Sister.

ochil ultra 2018

All the gear performed really well – the Injinji socks were a surprise success and the new Salomon vest made a huge difference.  The Inov-8 290’s i’ll probably leave for dryer trails in future.  The salt tablets and fresh food were a good solutions but i’ve still got things to work out on the nutrition front.

50 miler number two done. 10th place overall in 9:33 and had a much better result in terms of gear and nutrition.   A bit slower than the SDW50 but with significantly more climbing and rougher underfoot.

That’s me done with the big ones until after the MDS.

ochil ultra 2018 weeventure


Callum is an engineering geologist with a love of the great outdoors and physical challenges in extreme environments.

50 miles wasn’t something I ever imagined running…

50 miles wasn’t something I ever imagined running…

The South Downs Way 50 Mile Ultramarathon

50 miles wasn’t something I ever imagined running.  Walking, hiking or shuffling perhaps…but not running.

I entered the South Downs Way 50 race in a spate of excitement about ultra running spurred on by colleagues and friends (including the entry for the Marathon Des Sables 2018).  By July 2016 I had signed up for a marathon in November, an eighteen miler early in the New Year, the South Downs Way 50 in early April and the MdS in April 2018.  Plenty of time to train and prepare…

March arrived with very little training having been done and a series of niggling injuries (probably related to too little training).  I squeezed in my 3 mile run each way to the station in the morning and managed a few longer runs of 18 and 20 odd miles.


Race day philosophy – in this order:

  1. Do not jack
  2. Make the cut-off
  3. Sub-ten hours
  4. Sub-nine hours

The 11th of April was a beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky as we gathered in Worthing.  This was the point I should have said to myself “you’re going to be running in this all day, how about some sunscreen” but no that penny didn’t drop until about halfway.  The start and first few miles were a very steady slog up onto the downs and along the ridge over some of the best scenery of the day with great views all around to the south coast and to the north.  My main aim at this stage was not to upset the groin injury I’d been carrying too soon in the race and try to keep up with people who looked like they knew what they were doing (this isn’t a good strategy).

South Downs Way 50 mile ultramarathon Callum Duffy Weeventure

There was one woman (she looked like she knew what she was doing) who had a metronomic stride.  I went past her a few times but she came back with the same constant foot fall every time until she finally dropped me for good.

The halfway or marathon aid station came and went during the hottest part of the day.  I started to get a feel for what I liked to eat (watermelon and oranges – Yes, sausage rolls, stale cheese sandwiches and energy gels – No) and that taking in enough salt / electrolytes was critical.  The electrolytes were remarkable and changed, almost instantaneously, my sloshing and sick feeling stomach into something that felt stable and strangely tight.

As the late 30 and early 40 miles arrived running became an issue for stiff muscles.  I began hoping the next section was uphill so I could hike instead of running.  The checkpoint at the Church in Alfriston was a welcome break.  Water refills, oranges, watermelon and electrolytes and I was off with the Baywatch theme booming from the checkpoint speakers.

I took to grasping a 500ml water bottle in one hand and attempting not to swing that arm while running.  This didn’t do too much for my running style – another thing I wouldn’t recommend, but better than being dehydrated when you can’t reach the water in your pack and can’t be arsed to take it off.

The Trig point at the top of the final climb was a welcome sight and now for the long slog down to the running track through the seemingly never ending streets of Eastbourne.  I eventually made it to the running track, did my obligatory loop and completed the race in 9hrs 21 mins.

South Downs Way 50 mile ultramarathon 2017 Callum Duffy Weeventure

The South Downs Way 50 was a good experience, a long day and pretty hard at times.  The worst part in the days after was the sunburn, but luckily it was only half my body as we went west to east all day!

A few very simple lessons learned for the next ultra outing:

  1. Wear long sleeved/legged clothing or sunscreen if it’s going to be sunny
  2. Find a way to carry food and water in an accessible place
  3. Use electrolytes or salt tablets
  4. Train and find a way to keep to a predetermined pace


You can read the official race report here:

If you’d like to follow our progress towards the unforgiving sands of the Marathon des Sables, along with other adventures and challenges from others, then simply click this link or sign up in the box on the right hand column


Callum is an engineering geologist with a love of the great outdoors and physical challenges in extreme environments.