Race Report: Ballbuster Duathlon

I'm not going to lie, this one properly broke me. This week I have felt a shell of a man, mentally and physically drained. So much so that it's taken me six days to get round to writing this race report!

So a bit of background. The Human Race Ballbuster duathlon is a race that I have had my eye on ever since I took part in my first multi-sport event six years ago. However, in the words of Human Race, the organisers, it's a "notoriously tough event which remains one of the toughest endurance challenges in the UK."

They really sell it well don't they? Not convinced? Well it's "a ‘must-do’ race for every competitive multi-sport athlete in the country as it will test your fitness and stamina to the max."

Even now writing that, I'm wondering what on earth I was thinking!

While I've progressively got fitter in recent years, I've never been the quickest runner and I've never been able to get my weight down to one that I think would be conducive to getting up and down Box Hill.

However, as you know I've recently made some important life decisions and have been encouraged to really push myself beyond my comfort zone, both physically and mentally.

So about four months ago I decided now was the time to give it a go.

Last year I'd completed my first Half Iron distance triathlon, I'd previously run a marathon (well "run" in the loosest sense of the word), I'd lost a decent amount of weight and was perhaps in the best shape of my life, so how hard could it be?

Well, as it turns out, much harder than any other event I'd taken part in!

Things started out well. I'd managed to take care of my bathroom business (not once but twice!), had been picked up by my good friend Keith from the EGTri Club and we'd made it to the top of Box Hill without any hiccups.

No race report is complete without a picture of the queue for the toilet

After spending a considerable amount of time queuing to collect our race numbers I needed to spend a penny. As predicted, the queues for the toilets were rather hefty, so I slipped into a discrete wooded area.

It was then that I realised I'd never taken, what we call in the TriHard family, a "wild wee" in my tri suit.

There is no fly in a tri suit, you normally have to take the whole thing off to answer nature's call. But while there are certain parts of Surrey woodlands that you can often find naked men, this perhaps wasn't the right time or place.

I therefore had to resort to pulling down my gym trousers and rolling up the leg of my tri suit to er, ease myself out, which wasn't a particularly easy or elegant maneuver. Predictably, this resulted in me giving my trousers a good spraying. But at least my bladder was now empty for the race,  I consoled myself.

I staggered out of the woods, hoping Keith wouldn't notice the large wet patch on my trousers. If he did he was too polite not to say anything, so thanks Keith!

We then headed back to the car to "rack up" in the transition area, where we also bumped into another club member, Richard, who is an amazing athlete and who you''ll hear a bit more about later.

Ballbuster duathlon
I wouldn't be smiling much for the next four hours...
The transition area is where you leave your bike and nutrition for various parts of the race. My plan had been to have a bottle of race juice (a ferocious mix of high caffeine, carbohydrates and other scientfic things that I don't understand) in my bike bottle holder, a less ferocious one for me to take sips on during the two transitions (from run to bike and then bike to run) and some caffeine and carbohydrate gels to take round with me for the run sections.

I pulled up my hoodie to put the gels in the pockets of my cycling jersey. But the pockets weren't there. Because my cycling jersey wasn't there.

Then I realised that when I'd taken my er, number two number two at home, I'd had to strip out of my racing gear. Obviously I'd put my tri suit and base layer back on but not my cycling jersey.

Ballbuster duathlon
At least I remembered my bike

In the grand scheme of things this was unimportant but these are the silly things that really play on your mind. I was just going to have to leave one gel in transition to pick up when I started the second bike leg. But wait a minute, I could only find one gel. I'd left the other one in Keith's car and there wasn't time to get it!

Now I was feeling on really shaky ground but queued up with the hundreds of other competitors.We set off in small waves, which were based on where you were in the queue. I was relatively near the back.

Now some of the advice I'd been given was to run the first lap at a very easy pace. Obviously you need to have something left in the tank not only for the 24 mile cycle but also for the second eight mile run. And did I mention this was all up and down Box Hill?!

All by myself...

So I was one of the last to set off. And I went off at what is a comfortable pace for me. This was pretty much walking pace for everyone else. So it was unsurprising when the competitors that had started behind me went striding past.

But not only did they ease past me, they soon disappeared. It was a very grey, drizzly, cloudy morning on Box Hill and my fellow competitors had literally vanished into the mist ahead of me. On what was the biggest physical challenge of my life I had never felt so alone.

What was I to do? At my current pace I was the very last person in the field, but if I pushed myself too hard would I have enough in the tank to finish the race? In the end pride won. I upped my pace a bit and was delighted to then spot some of my fellow competitors in the distance.

Not only this but I then managed to catch a few up and overtake them. Hallelujah, I wasn't the slowest runner in the pack! However I was still concerned that I was overdoing it.

I managed to settle into a decent pace and tried to forget about the fact that I didn't have an energy gel to keep me going through the initial run section (I'd decided I'd be more in need of my solitary gel on the second run leg).

So I was delighted to keep up a strong pace, and overtake a few runners. And then somewhere between miles five and six of the run the first cyclists came past. That's right, I still had a good couple of miles to go of the initial run and there were those that were already eight miles ahead of me.

I was running in this one, honest!

I knew that on a course of that nature it was inevitable, as there were some very serious athletes taking part but it still really affects you psychologically. However I soldiered on and finally reached the base of Box Hill. Just one more mile of the (first) run to go, but the toughest mile of the eight.

I began my ascent. I was determined to get up without walking and succeeded, again overtaking a few competitors as I went. I reasoned to myself that whatever happened I'd moved sufficiently up the field that I wouldn't be last. I know someone has to be last but when I first started taking part in events like these it was always my mantra to try and not finish last.

It has never happened and as I've got stronger and fitter that eventuality has become less likely but during that morning there were several times when I thought it was a distinct possibility. Anyway, while I was half way up Rich from the tri club went past. Despite the hell I was going through I was pleased that he was doing so well and we gave each other encouragement.

So, I finally made it into transition feeling exhausted, dehydrated and not incredibly motivated. I changed into my cycling shoes, put on my helmet and wheeled the bike to the point where you're allowed to start cycling.

As seen on my Facebook profile
I rarely get cramp, even at the end of tough races but as soon as I started cycling my legs felt like they were seizing up. Again I was fighting a psychological battle of whether to hammer the bike as hard as I could (as cycling is my stringest discipline), or take it easy to ensure I could get round that second run - my God I was really starting to worry about that second run...

In the end I went at a steady pace, as already I felt I couldn't really go any harder. On the first of those three bike ascents I had that first moment where I thought "I can't do this." My legs were really complaining ("Shut up legs!") and I didn't think I could complete the cycle, let alone the run afterwards.

I thought about how much my life had changed over the last 135 days, when I'd last had a drink. I'd achieved my early business goals, I'd lost a ton of weight, I was fitter, I was happier. Basically I was already a winner. I didn't need to complete the Ballbuster to tell me that.

But then I thought about all the people who had been cheering me on in the days and weeks leading up to the event. "Hey guys, I was a third of the way round and I thought I didn't really need to complete it because I've achieved so much already."

I didn't think that would wash. So I carried on into the second lap. This felt a lot easier and I tried to ignore the smattering of competitors who were already setting out on the run. This was my race, I was here to challenge myself, not to compare myself to others. So I carried on.

Is it nearly over yet?!

It was on the second ascent that I passed Rich, who was on the final push of the run and finishing the entire event. I worked out he was going to finish a good hour and a half ahead of me. He deserved it, he's an incredible athlete and this isn't about me comparing myself to him, I told myself.

I pushed on. It was then that I saw a huge stream of runners coming out of transition. It was then that the psychological battle went into overdrive. I could just head into transition, pretend I'd made a mistake and confess later and miss out a bike lap. That would still be an achievement wouldn't it?

No it wouldn't. It'd be a failure. I honestly felt like I was going to cry. I carried on, ignoring the runners that were on the final leg, that would be finished a good hour and 20 minutes ahead of me.

If I felt lonely at the start of the run I felt even more alone now. But I willed myself on, again trying not to think about that final, painful run. Trying not to think that if I had to stop and walk at all then it would take a lot longer than the first run.

This lap of the bike seemed to take forever. And I knew it was going to take a lot longer on foot, even if I had it in me to go faster than a stroll. I finally made it to the foot of Box Hill. Just one more ascent of that bastard hill on the bike, followed by one more on foot.

I said is it nearly over yet?!

It was on that final ascent that a fellow cyclist said "I think we're going to make it by the skin of our teeth." I just nodded and grinned (well grimaced) at her, not really understanding what she meant.

However after overhearing a couple of other conversations I realised there was a cut off point! If I didn't get back into transition by a certain time I was out of the race. I made it but as I dragged my bike in to transition again the devil on my shoulder started chattering away.

"You'll never be able to run all the way round, why make a fool of yourself, just give up now otherwise you will finish last!" But I ignored the voice and soldiered on. However throughout the first couple of slow painful miles all I could think about was turning back and throwing in the towel.

I was cold, wet, thirsty, tired and all I could think of was a hot bath and lying on the sofa with the woodburner on. I'd seen a few people pull out for various reasons so why shouldn't I?

Even if you've been walking for the past 15 minutes you have to break into a run when you see a photographer

But I couldn't and wouldn't give in. Amazingly I managed to run up until the six mile mark. From there on, and especially up the final ascent, it was very much a walk, run, shuffle. But do you know what?

It turns out that a lot of people were doing that and my walk and shuffle is a lot quicker than other people's walk and shuffle. I was delighted to overtake a man several years younger than me and a good stone lighter.

In your face young man!

So I eventually dragged myself over the finishing line in 4 hrs 19 mins 53 secs. According to the official race results it appears that at least 100 people that entered didn't turn up.

33 that started didn't finish.

I finished 344th out of the 367 that finished, so all in all I was (eventually) pretty pleased with myself.

It was easily the toughest event I have taken part in and I learnt a lot about myself, about how deep into my resolve I can dig when I really need to.

And what about Keith and Rich. Well Keith, who did next to no training finished in 296th place with a time of 4 hrs 2 mins 25 secs.

And Rich, well he finished in 15th place with an astounding time of 3 hrs 40 secs. I told you he was fast!


  1. Very useful article buddy keep it up I came to know a website that are having good motivational Books on Hill Running and other motivational contents..


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