The #ballbuster is a notoriously difficult event held at boxhill. The route which many use in training is referred to as the ballbuster lap. This 8 mile lap takes you down from boxhill around some tough inclines in Headley, before finishing with the 2 mile climb up the zigzag.
An 8 mile lap on this course is hard enough, but that’s not it, this duathlon consists of 5 laps: 1 lap run; 3 lap ride and then 1 lap run. This is a great club or team event and it is full of people who take part in a team of 2 or 3. Those of you who know me will realise that a challenge such as this draws me in, and I have to do the whole thing.
It isn’t just the course that makes this difficult. I think the team at Human Race events must have a direct line to the weather gods. Each and every year it is cold and rains. Last year was worse, but this year in a week of decent weather it rained only on the morning of the event.
In all honesty everyone has come to expect poor weather so it is part of the experience. This was my 3rd time taking on the ballbuster, and you can see my 2016 blog HERE. I first took on this challenge as my first ever duathlon after signing up for an Ironman. It was tough. Last year I had hoped to improve, which I did marginally. This year I once again haven’t been on my bike. To get a quicker time I really need to concentrate on this discipline. To top things off I have been unwell, and legs are tired after a busy year of running. I genuinely was not looking forward to this event, but had one goal, finish.
As usual I laid out all my kit ready for the morning. Always more cautious when there is a transition, wouldn’t want to forget something silly like my trainers. As I have done the last 2 years I started this massive challenge early at 06:00 hours by cycling 11 miles to the start. It’s a good warm up, but honestly the only reason I do this is because I can’t expect my family to take me and I have no other way of getting there.
The registration is never great. They could certainly organise this part of the event better, as you form a long queue to get your race pack and hoody. The reason this takes so long is because you first have to pay for your day license which holds up the queue, and many in the queue don’t really need one if they have their own licence. This could be done earlier to form two queues perhaps. Then you go into a small room with 5-6 tables of numbers. There isn’t much room and you have to go half way in to find out your number so you know which table to go to. If the number information was outside this would also speed up the process. All the staff are friendly, so it’s just the line that’s a little painful.
After registration I racked my bike. I got in early because most people were still queuing, but it soon filled up. I then found some of my tri club friends from Epsom Triathlon Club. I always feel like a bit of a fraud around them as I don’t get the chance to train with them much. However, I enjoy meeting up for the occasional event, and one day I will get to train with them more, and when I can improve on my bike this will make a massive difference to my performance. One of my team also offered to take me for coffee cake and drop me home afterwards. Absolute star. Last year I had an awful experience getting home, and it was great to be able to join the others afterwards as well.
At the start Ruth came over and gave me a hug. I first met her at ballbuster last year. I remember being massively impressed as she passed me on the bike, as I was checking out her calves. It was later on social media I got to know her. She was “only” doing the run this year as part of the relay. Well to be fair she has just become 10th best in the whole world at Ironman. Finishing 3rd in her Age Group, 10th lady overall at Kona 2017. This was only her second Ironman, seriously impressed and know she is going to only get better.
We start in waves of 6 a few seconds apart. This is just to ease congestion as we are on narrow roads and the roads remain open. The first lap on the run isn’t bad as it’s early. It’s not too bad on the bike, but to be honest I do feel vulnerable to the traffic on that last run.
I knew from the start I wasn’t at my best, but aimed for an average of sub 8 min miles. Ruth disappeared into the distance, but to be honest I didn’t care about anyone else. I am very interested to see what I could do if rested, well, and only doing one lap. I would fancy a low 50.
It’s the hills that get me. I really am a flat runner, any sign of a hill and my speed is knocked and this is where people catch me. I finished the first lap in 1:02 which is about what I was aiming for.
I took my time in transition as it was buddy and slippery, and was soon on my bike.
The bike course is tough. I’m not a great cyclist so am slower up hills. I also find I can go faster down hill than many, so get stuck behind people. I don’t have the confidence to overtake unless it is really clear, so I lose time here. I didn’t really concentrate on pace, just not falling off. I’m not going to lie, I don’t enjoy cycling. I think this has a lot to do with the lack of training. I love the idea of the challenge, I do this sort of thing to push my body beyond my comfort. I really can’t say I enjoyed it though. I did the first lap in about 33 minutes and the second in about 34 so not too bad really.
Starting the final lap it is frustrating seeing so many out on the run. In fairness there are a lot who are part of the relay, but a number are individuals. My bike time really does make a huge difference and this is where there are gains to be made. I found the last climb up the zigzag difficult and slow. To make things worse, as I approached the end of the last lap I heard footsteps, and the lead runner and overall winner actually overtook me. It’s difficult getting off the bike knowing you have a whole lap left to run. I finished the bike in exactly 1:46.
It felt good to be off the bike and apart from tired quads I felt good starting the run. I didn’t try pushing myself and found I was naturally running about 9 min miles. I kept this going until I hit hills. Once I hit the zigzag it was game over and I had to run walk. I had to dig deep and give it everything I could to keep going.
The zigzag feels like it goes on forever on the last lap, but that’s because I was shuffling.
I finished the last run in 1:13, a bit slower than I would have liked to be honest but what can I expect. I wasn’t pushing my body as hard as I could, I just wanted to finish in one piece. The support around the finish is great, but I finish so knackered I don’t take it all in.
So overall I finished 10 minutes slower than last year, it’s not the end of the world. But unlike last year I didn’t finish wanting to do it again. I’ve done it 3 times now and this is the first time I have not immediately wanted to do it again. I will have to think about it, and maybe try something different next year.
I love the hoody you get for taking part in the Ballbuster. I say taking part because you get it before you start, so don’t actually have to finish. I do wish we got a medal or something to finish as it is a bit of an anti climax, although it’s always been the same, and it doesn’t claim to cater to popular demand. It’s a tough race that takes everything from you, but a fantastic experience. If you like a challenge then this is for you.
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