I must love this race as it was my 7th straight participation in this bi-annual duathlon held at Box Hill in March & November. The now famous Ballbuster duathlon consists of an 8 mile loop with the Zig Zag climb up to the National Trust cafe at the end of each lap which you run once then bike 3 times and then run for a final loop making 5 ascents of Box Hill in total with 16 miles of running and 24 miles on the bike.
My first attempt at the race was in Winter 2009 in which I clocked a 3:37:43 (185th place) I remember being pretty happy with that at the time. Since then I have gradually reduced my finishing time to a PB prior to Sunday’s race of 3:08:55 (49th place)
This year since getting coached by Steve Lumley my performances over all distances have gone up another level so I was hopefully realistically targeting a sub 3 hour finish this time round and had calculated that I needed something like a 51 min first run a 1:15 bike and a 52 min second run to get the job done with 2 minutes for transitions. It meant there was no slack whatsoever for any mechanicals or even calls of nature!
Sunday morning was a pretty cold 2 degrees to start with but it was a beauty of a day with no discernible wind and dry roads this was a massive bonus as I needed all the assistance I could get! The view down to Betchworth from the lookout point next to the start was absolutely stunning
As it was remembrance Sunday the race director called for a minutes silence just before the start and then the horn went off and it was the usual charge of the light brigade bun fight that goes on at every duathlon I have raced at, with what seems like everyone going off at a suicidal and totally unsustainable pace, myself included!
I had made a decision that whatever happened I would put myself in a position for a sub 3 at the end of run 1 which meant that I had to get round in circa 6:40 pace this meant hitting the bottom of the Zig Zag at just under 6:30 pace as you obviously slow down a fair bit on the climb. The first 2 miles of the run are mostly uphill and within a few minutes I was really feeling it running at the necessary pace, sub 3 at this point felt like a pipe dream! Happily the downhill started soon enough and the pace started to feel more sustainable. I hit the bottom of Zig Zag just off schedule and as a result had to work a bit harder than I would have liked up the hill. Run 1 done in 51:31 and I was in 50th place overall.
T1 went without any dramas in 38 seconds and I was out on the bike for the first of 3 laps. I have a power meter but I always just ride the Ballbuster to feel. My best ever bike split here was 1:16:25 which I knew from the Garmin file was 18.5mph so I was hoping for something quicker than that. I didn’t feel particularly great but on the first lap I was making up quite a lot of places, once you get on to laps 2 & 3 it gets pretty busy with the slower people you are lapping and you have no idea if you are gaining places or not.
By the end of lap 2 my average speed was 19.5 mph so I knew bar an accident that I was on for a bike PB. That accident nearly happened on the sharp left turn at Lodgebottom Road, when I turned to find some idiot had parked their black Range Rover right on the corner and then to compound matters another Range Rover was coming the other way leaving me and several others a gap of about 3 feet to navigate through at speed, I can’t believe we all stayed on our bikes, if it was wet there would have been carnage…. a lucky escape.
Up Zig Zag for the penultimate time that day and the bike was done in 1:13:07 (11th fastest bike split of the day) I had made up 36 places and was now in 14th place overall although I had no idea of this at that time.
Hat, gloves & arm warmers ditched and I am out for the final run with T2 done with no hiccups in 42 seconds. I know from my cumulative time of a shade under 2:06 that I just need to hold it together for the final run with anything under 54 minutes and sub 3 was in the bag.
Run 2 never starts well in at the Ballbuster, those first few steps when pushing your bike after the dismount line are a sensation like no other, your legs don’t feel like they belong to you and the idea of running 8 miles at a decent pace feels utterly impossible. This isn’t helped by the first 2 miles heading mostly uphill again and also a huge painful stitch in my side but I knew from experience that these normally subside within a mile or 2. My thinking was to try and dig in as much as possible for the uphill and stay at a decent pace and then try and recover on the downhill section before the final climb.
I overtook an Army Tri chap fairly quickly who was struggling a bit but pretty soon after that a different Army chap cruised past followed fairly soon after by a fella who made me feel like I was walking as he disappeared into the distance very quickly! So I had lost 2 places but hey ho sub 3 was the goal and I had to just run my own race. On to the downhill section and I did get some respite as holding a decent pace is much easier but then I hear that disconcerting sound of footsteps approaching again and another chap overtakes and puts a pretty decent gap in to me, this feels all wrong when you are over 2.5 hours into a race and running at 6:30 pace! A girl by the side of the road around now says I am in 16th place which gives me a lift as I have never been this far up the field before. Only about 2 miles to go now with pretty much just the climb left and I see the Army chap up ahead who cruised past me in mile 1, I wasn’t expecting to see him again as he looked super smooth earlier but this race can bite you on the arse if you overcook yourself. I went past him just before the left turn on to the Zig Zag and he sportingly gave me some encouragement, I raised my arm in acknowledgement as speaking was not easy at this point. At the bottom of the hill I have 2:46:30 on the watch, just 13 minutes or so of agony to go and it’s in the bag! Just suck it up and get on with it.
More encouragement when I see the final chap who had overtaken me a couple of miles back coming slowly back to me, I seem to be pretty strong going uphill even though I don’t do much specific hill training so I was pretty confident I would reel him in. Having a target also gives you something to focus on and distract your brain when it is screaming at you to STOP…. which is handy! I catch him by hairpin 2 and it’s just the long straight and final turn to go but the minutes are ticking away and it is still just under a mile to the finish line, crazy thoughts of slowing down and having a nice little walk break are ignored. Round the final right hander and now finally I know it’s done as I have 2:57 on the clock. I cross the line in 2:58:39 for 14th place overall, 4th in my age group, a massive 10 minute PB on the course and a huge personal goal achieved …..satisfying stuff ☺
I will be back again in March the 8th time but can say with some certainty that I will not be taking another 10 minutes off!