Back in February 2015 I drove to the Queen Elizabeth Country Park to run the 21 mile Meon Valley Plod. The South Downs Half Marathon starts in almost exactly the same place, at the foot of Butser Hill near Petersfield in Hampshire. The big difference between this and my previous visit was the weather. I suppose you might expect that June would be nicer than February and so it was.
In fact it was almost perfect running weather. The sun was obscured by light cloud but it was warm and still. No need for my buff, jacket or base layer. The other big difference today was that I had my running wife back. Richard has been sidelined for 5 months through injury but is back and raring to go. He has missed so many races whilst he’s been out, I dread to think how much money has disappeared in entry fees. The South Downs Half Marathon was his first race in all that time.
Queen Elizabeth Country Park and Butser Hill Nature Reserve are beautiful spots immediately off the A3. The start is on a wide expanse of open grassland. In one direction is the climb up the lush green hill. In the other direction are woodland walks. It’s al part of the South Downs Way.
Stuck at the Start
We arrived with children and wives in good time to register. I was surprised how big and well organised the event was. It’s a 2:09 Events race so kudos to them for putting it together. As well as the half marathon there is a 4 mile fun run for the children. There is also a full marathon which starts at a different location. Participants park their vehicles at Butser Hill and are then bussed to the start. Richard had originally entered this but managed to avoid losing this entry fee by swapping to the half.
There were around 400 runners taking part in the South Downs Half Marathon and I lined up very near the front under the big blue start banner. Unfortunately I was so busy filming that I completely forgot to set up my GPS watch for the race. So when the hooter went I had to apologise to everyone bumping in to me as I stood stock still on the start line waiting for my watch to get a satellite signal. Of course Richard went off like a shot in to the distance and I was left playing catch up for 13.1 miles.
South Downs Half Marathon
The race route heads off away from Butser Hill. I found myself gradually passing all the runners whom I had held up on the start line. I missed out the first of the four water stations and felt pretty good on the hilly and challenging course. There was a really huge hill at mile 7, but I managed to run up it. Over half way through and I was still not catching Richard up. I could occasionally see him ahead of me but I didn’t seem to be making up any ground. The guy has been out for 5 months, he can’t possibly keep up this pace for a half marathon!
There was a Wiggle sponsored cycle sportive going on at the same time as our race. Coming to the road at the bottom of a hill we had to be careful turning right as there were bikes crossing our path at speed. I was moving at a decent pace but I wouldn’t say I was finding it easy by any means. I did have to walk up the final hill at around 11 miles, but from there it was all descent to the finish. One note on my running shoes. I currently wear Altra Lone Peak 2, which have really cured the black toenail problem. I can run down hills at pace without pain in my feet. But I do find that the zero drop heel makes me go over on my ankle more often than I would like. This is odd as I would expect zero drop to make me more stable rather than less stable on uneven terrain.
I made pretty good time despite stopping to film flowers and signs on the way and walking up that final hill. I also interviewed a couple of runners as I ran. It was a coincidence that as I approached the finishing straight I came up alongside Stuart Bradley. Back in December 2014, he and I sprinted together to the finish of the Portsmouth Coastal Waterside Marathon. So it was nice to run the final few hundred metres with him. No sprinting this time. Then with 100 metres to go I saw my two children running to join me. I called to them to run with me and thought it would be lovely to cross the finish line with them both. However, as we approached the line, my daughter lost her nerve and ran off the course followed by her brother. “Oh well” I thought.
Of course Richard had managed to keep up his pace all the way to the end and finished a good 2 minutes ahead. So he had in fact gone further ahead as the race progressed. Despite me standing on the start line for 30 seconds my chip time would only have started once I crossed the line, so Richard had no advantage gain from me not setting up my watch. He finished in 14th position in 1:37. I finished in 1:39 in 19th position. Both very good placings I would say for such a well supported race. 357 runners completed the South Downs Half Marathon so we finished in the top 7%.
Over all I think we can say the South Downs Half Marathon was a very well organised race by 209 Events, well attended with a challenging route through some beautiful countryside. Definitely worth considering if you are looking to do a trail half marathon. It’s not an ‘easy’ run but very few trail runs are without their ups and downs, as it were. You could certainly consider it as a first trail challenge. The water stations were just water, no gels or goodies like cake. I don’t know about the full marathon. But the start/finish area had a good selection of food and drink, spaciously set out with good parking facilities. The medal and t-shirt are nice and the atmosphere was very family friendly. I hope some of this comes across in my film of the race.
If you have enjoyed reading my South Downs Half Marathon race report and if you like the film, please do share it with your friends or people at your running club who might be interested in running this event in the future.