South Downs Way 50

Brian Otten reflects on 50 miles of hills and spills on the South Coast

south downs

In races of all distances, there are three factors that can really make or break it for you on the day: the training you’ve done, the race organisation and the weather dictating the course conditions. All three came together superbly for me in the annual South Downs Way 50-mile ultramarathon.

There has been a lot of debate regarding ultra training recently and I opted to do less mileage – 40 miles per week with a 25-mile-plus run at least once a month leading up to this race. Another major change I had made since my last ultra race was to adopt the Chi Running technique focusing on alignment, relaxation and balance. I also opted for more quality training, including speed intervals, leading up to this one. That left me feeling rested and strong as I and over 300 anxious and excited runners lined up on the start line in Worthing. The SDW50 route meanders its way up and down along the South Downs Way national trail, with scenic views at all stages, to finish on an athletics track in Eastbourne. It’s always a competitive field and Paul Navesey went on to set a blistering course record in 6:11:28 as three other runners came in at sub-7 hours.

Centurion Running managed all aspects of the race superbly and the course was impeccably marked. Aid stations were loaded up with water, gels and food and were run by competent and friendly crew. As tempting as it was to stop, I stuck to my plan of blowing through the first two stations. This is a great way to cut down your times – don’t malinger! This strategy has its downsides though and, at around 22 miles, a low point came earlier than usual. A southerly wind blew the fog across the tops of the hills to match my increasingly gloomy mood. Low energy is usually the cause of these mini-bonks, so I ate my way out of trouble with an energy bar. There seemed to be a hill after each aid station but the undulation of the SDW50 is a kind one, with most inclines completely runnable and lots of grassy slopes to counterbalance some of the choppier, rockier bits.

The rain held off and the sun peeked through a bank of coastal clouds to shine on a friend from a past race who suddenly appeared next to me at mile 34. It really helps to run with someone in the later stages, so Alex and I chugged over the hills and down the valley into the charming village of Alfriston, marvelling at the fact that we had run over 40 miles and were still cranking out 11 min/miles. From Alfriston, there was one more challenging climb and the rain finally let loose as we slid off the trail, through the town and on to the finish. Astonishingly, I had broken my PB by almost two and a half hours and finished with a time of 9:42:40. Once again, I was elated, exhausted and proud to wear a Centurion medal.

Brian Otten lives and runs with his wife and kids in Surrey. He is an avid ultramarathon runner and has trained as a Chi Running instructor, offering Chi Running workshops later this year: [email protected]

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David Castle

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