Winter Ballbuster Duathlon

Now that I’ve recovered (and dried off!) I can look back proudly on the Winter Ballbuster from a couple of weeks ago.

Yes, Ballbuster.

Following on from my first (and only other) duathlon last year I considered the next logical step.  A harder, longer, hillier duathlon of course.  I was perhaps somewhat naive in just how hard the Ballbuster could be, even with my confidence of doing quite well in the Leatherhead Duathlon (I placed 14th since you asked) it turned out to be even tougher than I imagined.

The event is a biannual 5 lap course around the infamous Box Hill:
8mile run (1 lap), 24mile cycle (3 laps), 8mile run (1 lap).

A few weeks before the event I read that the Ballbuster was billed as the UK’s toughest duathlon and indeed “one of the toughest endurance challenges in the UK”.

Ah.  Well, I suppose it had to get the name from somewhere!  Still, my target remained to finish inside 3hours 45minutes.

The night before the race I packed my plastic box for transition from a meticulous list and settled in for an early night. I’ve only ever had indoor transitions before where you can lay everything out neatly, but with an outdoor transition area and heavy rain forecast I needed to try and keep everything dry!

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Packing for transition

The next morning my alarm went off at 6am and I rolled out of bed to find that the weather was deceptively mild and, despite the relentless forecast all week, not yet raining.

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Queuing up for registration

I queued up the final stretch of Box Hill to the car park (note to self: leave earlier next time!) and queued up again for registration.  I needed to buy my first BTF licence and once I’d picked up my timing chip I headed off to rack my bike and warm up.

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Setting up in the transition area

Nervous smiles and small talk filled the atmosphere at the briefing. There was a real mix of people, those looking to win, those aiming for PBs, and absolute first timers just hoping to make it round. Most people, myself included, had a few nerves but just wanted to get out on the course.

I was most nervous about the second run. 40% of the course distance was on foot, a much bigger chunk than I was used to and I would have to pace myself to save enough for a final 8 mile stretch.

Approaching the start line in pulsed starts I soon found myself in the next group to go. The horn went and, with the familiar beep of my Garmin, I was off.

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That’s me on the right hand side in the blue and white

Despite my plan to set off at my own pace I inevitably set off too quickly.  Adrenalin pumping and trying to weave out a clear space to run in it took me a few minutes to settle down into my rhythm.

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Here we go!

The wind was increasing but it still wasn’t raining which I was grateful for.

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The wind makes me look like I’m going much faster than I really am

After the first lap I was feeling pretty good, I was right on my predicted time and even with a slightly slower than hoped transition I was off and pushing hard on the bike down towards Headley.

I personally find the transition from run to bike fairly easy. Your legs are really warmed up and have a natural impetus making for good momentum between disciplines.

From the run I knew what goes down must come up again, so it was a case of trying to enjoy the downhill sections and keep up a decent pace knowing my average speed would suffer on the climbs.

Grinding up Zig Zig Road there were comments of encouragement between breaths from other competitors. I even managed a short conversation with a similarly paced cyclist on one lap.

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A good line around the bend

I say “conversation”, we were both cursing the headwind through pained grimaces whilst pushing on.  Mild comfort that others were beginning to suffer like I was.

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I even managed a wave for the camera

Seeing my family as one of many small clusters of supporters dotted about the route was a huge boost. Multiple laps of any course can a be a challenge mentally, but with the infamous climb up Zig Zag Road looming every lap anything that lifted morale was welcome.

At the start of the third bike lap the heavens opened. Sheet rain and crosswinds slapped us about and it was all I could do to keep going. The middle section of the course was already wet and littered with leaves and twigs and the weather was only making it more treacherous.

I only came close to coming off the bike once, some sort of marvel considering the wet and slippery leaves that lined the twisting downhill sections. Blinking through the rain I took a corner far too quickly but managed to hang on to the back wheel that felt it would be more suited to the floor than remaining upright.

With a naturally slower speed on the hills I took the opportunity to take on energy gels and my trusted cycle snack, malt loaf!

By the time I hit T2 the transition area was a mud pit. Sliding my way through I racked my bike, changed shoes again, and headed back out on the course.

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Transition had become quite muddy

Starting the second run I might as well have had kettlebells for feet the effort it took to keep putting one foot in front of the other. After a couple of miles I realised that any other competitors were thin on the ground.  Gone was the morale of other competitors or anyone to pace myself against.  Just me and the now small river running down along the roadside.

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Soaked through from the rain

The final time up Zig Zag Road was a lonely run.  Eventually rounding the final switchback a group of supporters cheered me on and I managed to pick up the pace ever so slightly knowing the finish was so close.

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I can see the finish line!

Through the finish line I was utterly drained. Physically I was beyond exhausted but mentally I was jubilant and spirited that I’d achieved so much and had finished quicker than hoped, even in torrid weather conditions. I’d earned a much-coveted BallBuster hoodie (the Ballbuster doesn’t do medals) along with a  couple of blisters and some very stiff legs.

My overall finish time was 3 hours 37 minutes (time splits are on Strava: run 1, bike, run 2).  I was particularly pleased I managed my second run to be within four minutes of the first despite it feeling like much more!

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Finished!

Would I recommend it?  Yes, absolutely! Especially if you like a gruelling course, a relentless climb, and almost certainly terrible weather! I’m already hoping that the Spring BallBuster in 2016 will have better weather to help me improve my time and finish under 3hours 30min.

Credit for all professional photos Sport Cam.

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