South Downs Trail Half Marathon

On 26th June 2015 by Rachael

Beautiful and brutal in equal measures, this is a trail half not to be missed

Up. And up.

Up. And up. Copyright: Phil O’Connor Photography

Two years ago, I ran this trail half marathon with a hangover. It is not to be recommended for this is a tough off-road half marathon with a maximum elevation of just under 700ft.

This time round, I ran without drinking the night before. I would like to say it felt easier but it didn’t. But in terms of scenery, achievement and atmosphere, this is a race worth entering.

Now in it’s tenth year, the event comprises a full marathon, half marathon, and a fun run for the kids.  Back in 2005 when it started, there was only a marathon which attracted 230 runners. Fast forward to today, and this number has more than tripled to 750 runners for the 26.2miles, and 450 for the half, both of which sell out. (Just as popular is the marathon relay, which drew 488 runners this year).

I had expected to remember the course but it was a different route following problems with a cycle event taking place the same day, which had caused issues the previous year.

Delighted, was how I felt as we sped over the start line following the countdown and I realised we were NOT ascending the hideously steep Buster Hill in Queen Elizabeth Park, Petersfield. The previous time I’d done this event, most runners were walking within the first 400 metres of crossing the start line.  My relief was to be a short-lived.

This route goes up and down throughout the run, although with more downhills packed towards the front end so that the last half feels tougher.

It was a game of race tag, as I sped down the hills, only to feel like I’d hit a brick wall at the bottom as runners I’d taken over, chugged past on the up.

Organised by 209events, who provide race trips to events from Castle Combe in Wiltshire to Cyprus, the organisation, marshalling and provision of water en route is well done.

And at this time of year, the scenery is truly spectacular, with red poppies beginning to show their colours in fields of wheat, still green with early summer.

It is dry at this time of year, and you really don’t need to use trail shoes. Most of the runners I saw had chunky grips, which is more of a hindrance than a help. I had opted for similar the first time and found the long grass caught on the tread of my shoes. If it hasn’t been raining lots, plump for your running shoes.

Which shoes to wear? No need for trail shoes but this guy wore Altra Olympus trail shoes, with zero drop despite the chunky looking heel

Which shoes to wear? No need for trail shoes but this guy wore Altra Olympus trail shoes, with zero drop despite the chunky looking heel

It was with relief that I finally found myself on the trail, back through the shaded wood to the open finish line for a final sprint that saw me take first place veteran woman.

I’ve run so many events, my memory could be wrong, but the original route seemed to be more ‘roller coaster’ with steep gullies and fields where the wheat is literally waist-high, and you have to climb over stiles, which I loved.

This nevertheless is a beautiful route that will challenge and delight and is well worth entering. Likewise, the marathon, which two runners I coached took part in and raved about.


Looking back in relief: it's done

Looking back in relief: it’s done

The Good

  • Stunning scenery
  • Well organised and marshalled, with easy parking
  • A good amount of toilets (although don’t arrive late)

The Bad

  • One errant water stop was placed before a sharp left turn, which then went over a railway bridge. Very hard to turn and grab a bottle and avoid the leftovers strewn at the bottom of the railway steps. A small gripe.

The Ugly 

  • Nothing ugly about this race or organisation

Race bag: Haul or hoard?

Good chunky medal, and good tech t-shirt. Also a few handy sports nutrition products and a welcome bag of sweeties and chocolate bar. But lots of leaflets and products like a sachet of conditioner and Rice Bran Oil, which is pretty useless after a race.

Verdict: Half hoard.

Goodie bag, haul or heave?

Goodie bag, haul or heave?


Event catering included tubfuls of cakes

Event catering included tubfuls of cakes

 The Strava Lowdown

The Route

The Route

The elevation

The elevation


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