6.30 Saturday 2nd March and its 1°c at the top of Box Hill in Surrey, where I’ve just arrived to register for my 4th attempt at the BallBuster Duathlon. For the uninitiated the race comprises of 5 x 8 mile circular laps starting at the top of Box Hill and travelling in an anti-clockwise direction with each lap being completed with an ascent of the Zig-Zag road. The first lap is an 8 mile run with laps 2-4 giving a 24mile cycle finishing with another 8 mile run. Not the easiest race in the world but one that gives a certain amount of satisfaction when you cross the finish line.

Once registered straight to transition to lay out my kit for the first of many checks before the off.

Promptly at 8.00 and with the temperature up to a balmy 1.5c we’re all off. The benefit of having completed the race before means that I have some idea of what I should be doing, and I start at a steady pace and within the heart rate zone I want, especially as the start is slightly uphill for the first mile or so. Soon we’re running downhill and letting gravity do its stuff and the pace increase as the HR drops, but the plan stays the same, keep it steady there’s a long way to go and we haven’t started the climb yet. The first run up Box Hill went smoothly with the pace obviously dropping but all controlled and with Lap 1 completed in 63.46 I’m pretty happy.

Due to the cold whether I had decided to change from my gillet to a warmer cycling jacket, so whilst T1 at 3.32 wasn’t quick it served its purpose as, from previous experience I’ve underdressed for the bike and suffered from the cold on the fast descents.

Tactics for the bike were the same as for the run, settle in during the first mile as its slightly uphill and then let gravity help. In previous years I’d suffered from cramp from the first lap of the bike and have had to stop to stretch. This year there were times I was close to cramping but managed to stretch out on the bike, increase fluids and complete the bike without the need to stop. Climbing seemed less likely to bring the cramp on than higher cadence spinning but that didn’t make the cycle up Box Hill any easier and despite slowing on the last two climbs completed the bike in 1.32.38 which was significantly quicker than any of my 3 previous attempts. It just shows what training can do, especially when the coaches keep taking you up hills on the Sunday Club ride.

T2 was relatively uneventful if on the methodical side 2.32

Lap 5, the final run, started slowly to allow my legs to recover from the ride as they were definitely heavy and tired, but without over emphasising the point once the first mile is out of the way the downhill section allows you to relax and get into a steady pace. Again, heart rate was the key and whilst running with a fellow competitor the run to the bottom of Box Hill passed without drama. I knew at the start of the last lap (which I began with 2hrs 40 on the clock) that as long as I didn’t do anything silly that my aim of sub 4hrs would be achieved, now with only the hill to go I was sure that it was now only down to how much inside it I would be. I set a steady tempo and concentrated on reaching each hairpin bend, and with approx ½ mile to go felt confident enough to start to push. Unfortunately whilst I felt aerobically fit enough my calf instantly tightened up so it was back to the steady pace to the top and a lap time of 68.46

I finished in 3.51.14 which was a PB by 9’ and was welcomed by James (coach) who was there cheering on the course.

A really good if tough event that needs training for if you are to attempt it, but definitely worth the effort.

Just for interest the winner’s time was 2.44.51 which is pretty special.

Recovery is now the key and as I write this I’m still walking down stairs backwards as that’s the easiest and least painful way.

John Birkens