The Human Race BallBuster duathlon needs little introduction for those in the South-East who take part in triathlon and duathlon.
Set at Box Hill, and taking part in November in notoriously wet, windy and foggy conditions, it provides a stern test of physical and mental determination, and is viewed as one of the toughest duathlons in the country.
The BallBuster Duathlon
Having competed in a few of the F3 duathlons in the winter of 2016/ 2017 and a good few triathlons over the summer, I needed some events to keep my training honest and on track over the winter. While the reputation of the BallBuster preceded it, I relished the challenge, so with a sense of intrepid excitement I signed up.
With all events, I like to be as prepared as I can. While already being reasonably fit, I took myself to Box Hill several times in the weeks leading up to the big day. Running up Box Hill is something I’ve seen from the comfort of my bike, usually with a mixture of admiration and puzzlement as to why you’d run it. And now I found out why! It’s not steep, it just goes on a bit when you’re on foot, and I got appreciative nods from a number of cyclists, which was good. I also got up close and personal with any number of car wing-mirrors, which was less good.
You’re advised to get there in good time, so I did. I was happy to find myself parked near the exit, and not in the middle of what looks like an expensively filled scrap-yard by the time everyone has arrived! As I prepared to start, I reflected on the fact that you should “never try anything new” in a race, and that I’d recently had a bike fit, but hadn’t ridden my bike since…
The start was a soggy affair with a pulsed start next to transition, which rapidly turned itself into something akin to a swamp. With the mantras of “run your own race” and “save some for later” firmly lodged in my brain, I set off at a brisk canter. The Kms racked up, and soon enough I was at the foot of Box Hill, which is 10K from the start. I glanced at my watch, and noted with a mixture of dismay and pride that I’d set a new 10K PB, taking 2:30 off my previous best. Now, while the run loop is essentially downhill from the start to the foot of the hill, this still wasn’t stellar planning… F..k it – I’ll take it though! :o)
Layering clothing for the bike wasn’t a straightforward decision. No waterproof meant getting wet and cold, while a waterproof potentially meant getting wet from sweat. I hopped onto the bike, struggling to clip-in due to mud in my cleats, and the bike fit. I wobbled, tottered and generally looked like I shouldn’t have been on this event!
A couple of Km into the bike, I started getting calf cramp, the like of which I’d not experienced before. I stretched it out on the bike while trying to maintain some form of speed. It passed. Returned. Disappeared. It returned, to the point at which on the first Box Hill loop I was struggling to turn the pedals, but couldn’t unclip. I wobbled to a slow stop next to the care home, and stretched it out properly. As I stretched, countless riders passed by. Getting going again was tough, and by sheer determination I found myself some time later at transition for the second run. I knew there was a time cut-off that I should make, and hoped I had.
I had made the cut-off, but would I complete the second run? The cramp had been appalling, and the last thing I wanted to do was get half-way round, only to have to limp home. I’d already collected my event hoody, and wanted to be able to wear it with pride. This, coupled with my mantra “I always finish what I start” saw me lacing up my road shoes, and heading for T2 exit.
I set out for my final 12Km loop. The course had thinned remarkably, leaving me to wonder whether I’d fallen spectacularly behind. I set into a routine of seeing another competitor ahead, reeling them in, then setting the next target. This always motivates me, and it kept me going today.
On the final run along Headley Lane, my legs started to get heavy, and maintaining pace was tough. It was a real mental challenge. At this point, I encountered another competitor who was alternately walking and running. I maintained a steady pace, so we leap-frogged each other all the way up Box Hill. I knew stop-start would kill me, and was proud that I was keeping going. That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t absolutely gutted when 100m short of the finish, he found a final surge of energy and beat me by about 3 paces…
I was delighted to finish the BallBuster at all. I usually set 3 goals for an event, which are frequently:
- Enjoy it
- and then a 3rd which is target based
In this event, I’d only set the first two, so was very happy. With the cramp (which is my own stupid fault) I was satisfied rather than thrilled with 237/ 367 overall, 219/ 320 male and 27/ 59 in age group, finishing in 3:50:47.
I’m capable of better, and increasingly find myself finishing events in the top 25%. I should have treated the event with more respect in terms of training and approach.
It is a tough course. A run up Box Hill is OK. A ride up it is OK. A run, 3 rides and a final run, and you have an event that exposes lack of training, lack of preparation, or lack of mental toughness.
Will I take part in the BallBuster next year? Oh, why not?!