Sunday, 9 November 2014

A damp day out at the Ballbuster Duathlon

Having got painfully close to the course record last year, I wanted to put in an effort that would challenge the course record (which I think is about 2:34). I had no idea what the opposition would be on the day, but there are so many uncertainties on the course that positions can easily change throughout the race and it would be necessary to race hard all the way to the finish.

The race certainly is iconic, taking in 5 laps (2 running and 5 cycling) of an 8 mile circuit which includes the Zig-Zag climb at Box Hill. There are fast sections, technical sections such as through Headley village and tough sections like the climb up Box Hill (and the whole 8 mile run having already completed the first 2 legs of the race). The race all kicks off at 8am in the morning and I imagine it must be one of the only times throughout the year that you get well over 500 competitors and spectators gathering up at Box Hill at that time in the morning. Believe me, I was questioning why I'd signed up for this race when my alarm went off at 4:45 in the morning!

As per last year, I deliberated a fair bit about the choice of bike, to the point where I took both a TT bike and my normal road bike to the start. In the end I opted for the TT bike...possibly a poor choice as you will understand reading on. I felt good on the first run, starting out steady at about 5:30 pace, picking up the pace in the mid section to 5:15ish pace as the course descended, before putting in an effort on the Box Hill climb (although this results in a drop in pace given the ascent). I wasn't aware of anyone too close to me at the end of the first run, but a strong cyclist can easily overhaul a deficit on the bike. This race is heavily weighted in favour of runners given about 60% of the time is spent running. For this race, I feel that you should take the first run comfortably and not exert too much energy given that you still have a good 2 hours of effort ahead.

Prior to the start of the race, there had been a little bit of rain which had made the course a little greasy in places. The first bike lap was 'OK', there was minimal rain and traffic and I could put in a reasonable effort throughout the course. The only mishap occurred after 4 mile when my Garmin fell off my bike whilst doing about 30mph; I went back to pick up only to find it was completely smashed to pieces (hence reverting to the watch to track my effort). This frustrated me a bit, but these things happen and I tried not to let it loose my focus for the race. As I started the second lap, the rain started to fall a bit harder and the race traffic began to build. I was constantly having to shout 'keep left’ to the other cyclists as I overtook them. Combine this with the increase in traffic along and the deteriorating conditions, and it all became tough going. When I realised the course record was out of reach, I made the decision to just make sure I finished in one piece-I’ve never been so concerned about my safety on the bike in a triathlon/duathlon before, but the circumstances were just not right. I spent little time on the aerobars, a fair amount of time on the brakes and as a result felt as though my effort over the bike course was limited. But the big relief was to finish in one piece!

Having not pushed so hard on the bike, I had more energy to try to make amends on the second run. I followed a similar strategy to the first run and felt strong all the way to the finish. I got good support from other riders and the slightly easier bike leg meant I could push harder on the second run. I finished in first in 2:37, some 3 minutes off my best and 9 minutes ahead of 2nd, but very pleased with my running and also to negative split on the run.

It is a good event and can be extremely fun in the right circumstances, however I just did not feel comfortable with the conditions today. Whilst closing roads can be impractical, I'd suggest to the organiser to investigate the possibility of either closing the ‘back road’ or making it one way to help reduce the chance of incident. I don't really like to suggest putting 'red tape' all over races, but I guess you need to be mindful when you're hitting speeds well over 30mph.

Thanks to Team Lifeventure for getting me a place in the race.

1 comment:

  1. I had a couple of comments on my Strava page from Tim Grose and Wayne Smith. Some interesting facts about previous versions of the race:

    Wayne Smith:
    "I first did this race in 1999… 250 athletes or so and it was two starts. Teams, Ladies and 40+ then about 20mins later the ‘masses’. I remember it well. I had a good bike ride (in the rain – there is a surprise!) and not particularly busy with athletes or vehicles. 2004 – The year Gary set the record was a lot more people, but still a split start. It did mean we were held up more on lap 1 compared with a one start race but the increase in participants was felt and Lodgebottom road has been a scary part of the race ever since. 2008/9/10 – The sheer number of cars/participants make the bike part of the course ‘interestling’. The race dynamics as an athlete have changed - It’s already a runners race, but now a strong biker loses more time and wasted energy. Your runs Andy… are simply mind blowing. Your second run is 12 secs slower than my fastest ever first run and I went 2:36?! Dry roads and you’ll nail that course record.. well done. I speak to Mr Gerrard after just about every BB… it’s a course record he’s very proud of. With you around he knows it’s on borrowed time. I can’t remember dry roads for this event apart from 2004 – It was bitterly cold though starting out it was minus 4degs!! The weather always throws a challenge at you, the problem is that when you are on the bike at race pace and competent in slippery conditions you’re more often than not, limited by those peoples ability that you are overtaking… and I’ve seen some very dodgy bike handling on that race. Without reducing numbers on the start line I can’t see how they can make the race ‘safer’ for those want to go super fast."

    Tim Grose:
    "Looking back I did a running relay leg in 1993/4/5 - best time 43:59 in 1995 and was only 3rd I noted and behind 2 individuals I imagine. Wonder who they were. Maybe John Taylor. In those days recall we started from the bottom of the Zig Zag and not the top as you seem to now. Don't recall much, if any traffic, but that was way before cycling was at all popular! Remember Gary Gerrard from my duathlon days (up to 1998). He was the certainly a very quick runner."