The Ballbuster Duathlon one of the UK’s most iconic duathlons held at Boxhill in Surrey and is said to be one of the most epic events on the calendar.
The event is made up of 8 mile laps, each which finish with a climb up Boxhill, remembered by many for it’s appearance in the 2012 Olympic cycling road race, Each competitor completes a run lap, 3 bike laps and finishes with a run lap giving a total of 40 miles and 5 ascents of the hill.
For an event held in November there is an added ingredient which nobody has control of (unless the organisers have a special hotline!), and that is the weather, there are stories of gales, snow fog and probably plagues of locusts all impacting the race. This year the weather decided it would give us heavy rain, strong winds and cold which when you think that the day before was bright blue sky and sunshine as was the day after seems like someone was really having a laugh.
I have never done this event before, and like many others wanted to tick it off the list and get my hands on one of the limited edition hoodies, which I have to say really are good.
Unfortunately for Boxhill is not just round the corner so after a very early 4:30 alarm call it was time to eat, pack the car and hit the road. The journey down was uneventful and I was soon parked up and signed on. With the weather being so horrible and the fact that they give you the hoodie when you sign on did make me wonder if I should just wait in the car and pretend I did it!
The rain decided it was time to fall harder once the first run got under way just to make it a bit more difficult. As i don’t know the area of the race it was interesting to run along and see the sights, although the main road section was a little dodgy with cars not really being bothered if they gave you any room to run or not. Luckily other than that section the rest of the route was ok and if you did meet traffic is was more than happy to give you room to run.
My main aim on the first run was to ensure I didn’t go off too fast else there was a good chance of blowing up before the end. I seemed to be being passed by a lot of runners but I kept to my plan and eventually arrived at the foot of Boxhill for the first climb, I went steady and was soon at the top and off into transition.
For the bike I leg I swapped gloves and put on a waterproof jacket to try and keep some of the rain out. The cold was starting to have an impact on the bike as once I was up to speed I really noticed how cold it was especially on my legs muscles, as my leg warmers were soaked.
The other problem the weather gave was that it had washed loads of leaves onto the road and these seemed to always form piles on exactly the line you wanted to take especially on the downhill sections. I did back off a bit on the descents on the first lap as I didn’t want to crash. Once I got to the first climb of Boxhill, I just cruised up it, with several gears left to go and was able to pass people and so it was out onto lap 2.
Lap 2 was where I decided I would take a few chances on the downhills in oder to try and gain some more time, it seemed to work and despite being very wet I was moving ok, the second climb up the hill was again uneventful, gears to spare and passing people.
The final lap and I decided after lap 2 that I could keep pushing on a bit on the descents, however,this is where it very nearly all went wrong. On one downhill left hander the pile of leaves had moved out from where they were on the previous lap and as I came round the bend I was on top of them in a two wheel slide heading towards the other side of the road and the oncoming traffic. I managed to run out to the white line off the leaves and then re-tip the bike into the bend thus avoiding the accident. I have to say the marshall on the other side of the road looked worried for a while, I’m just glad I didn’t panic and grab a big handful of brakes or else that would have been it, instead I just trusted my bike handling ability and it saw me through, just!
Final climb of the hill on the bike and still had gears to use if needed and I was still passing people, back into transition and off on the final run.
I have to say I was dreading the last run a bit, another 8 miles in the rain and cold after having worked hard so far, it was never going to be easy. I started off and realised I couldn’t really feel my feet due to them being cold and wet, this lasted for about the first 10 minutes or so until they were warmed up and then felt normal again. For the final run I ditched any sort of jacket just put my running gloves back on as I was now soaked and a jacket would just have given me that boil in a bag feeling.
The run itself went ok, I got passed by runners along the way but unusually for me I also passed some. Coming into the last climb of the hill I was still feeling reasonable and said to myself that I wasn’t going to walk on the hill no matter what. I got into a rhythm and found that I was catching some people and moving past them, especially those that were walking.
Before you came round the final bend you could hear the people by the finish cheering all the finishers and that gave a little boost, on crossing the line and stopping I realised just how tired I was and how much of a hard time it had been.
I was a little disappointed in my time of 4 hours 1 minute and 20 seconds as I wanted to go sub 4 but I don’t think on the day in those conditions I could have gone any faster. I only dropped 2 minutes between my two runs which I think showed that my initial pacing was pretty good, and the conditions on the bike meant that I couldn’t make up as much time on the downhills as I would have normally.
Did I enjoy it? I think I did, I think it is an achievement to finish it as it certainly is no easy event. Would I do it again? Probably not as at the moment I don’t see a reason to do it again, but that might change.
Finally a couple of thank you’s, firstly to “iron” Mike Shaw at Triperformance.co.uk for the coaching to get me through this, as ever the plan was spot on. Also to my wife,Suzanne, who got out of bed at a stupidly early time on a Saturday to come and stand in the lashing rain to watch me flog myself, I know any one who races will appreciate how much it helps having someone there to support you and how much it helps when you are hurting and you go by them and hear them encouraging you.
A special mention should be made to all the marshall’s out on the course and those volunteers who run the event as they did a great job. I did thank all the marshall’s on my final run as I think that is the least you can do when they give up their time so you can do something you want to.
If you have never done the Ballbuster then I would say try it, you will see that it is an epic event and you get the chance to properly test yourself.