Box Hill 20 Gallery

Images by Carel Du Plessis of Black Line London’s annual Box Hill challenge. 20 reps, great friends and LOTS of cake.

Mel vs Hills. Mel Wins.

Anyone who knows me will know I like a good hill. I train on hills, I try and race on hilly courses, I’m all about the hills! I also have a fear of going fast and using aero-bars  so hills are helpful here as I don’t need to do either.

I’m not sure exactly where it comes from but I remember that when I first bought a road bike and started cycling properly even the little inclines around Richmond Park struck fear into my heart and most of the time I would be found taking the anti-clockwise loop around there! However with a bit of persistence, hard work and consistent training the impossible became possible and I was soon able to take on the baby ascents of Richmond Park at a respectable speed and HR! After a year of training only in Richmond Park I started to get brave and headed out to the country lanes of Surrey and their selection of hills put in some consistent training. Half the time I think it’s as much about controlling your mind and the little voices as it is about strength!

This is why when I read about the Rapha Rising Challenge on Strava it looked perfect for me! Having got my A race out of the way for the year I liked the idea of a different kind of challenge.

Taking inspiration from the Tour de France the challenge set was to accumulate over 7,235m  of climbing in 8 days. This total is apparently the same amount of climbing as elevations of the Peyresourde, Ventoux, Sarenne and Alpe d’Huez combined.

Given the challenge began on a Sunday and ended the following Sunday it made most sense to break it up into 3 weekend rides and one mid-week ride….

Chiltern 108 miles of hot hilly hell

Chiltern 108m Hilly Hell

For my first ride I hit the Chilterns. It is up and down the whole way round (as you can see from the profile) but scenery is gorgeous and the roads are generally small country lanes, although you do have to watch out for potholes which are sometimes more like craters than holes.

It was one of the hottest days of the year so getting nutrition right was key to having a good ride. Unfortunately, I was so intent on not getting lost I spent the first 50 miles staring at the route on my Garmin and not getting enough food and drink in. Not a nice feeling! I had a spent 20 mins sitting under a tree eating a sandwich and drinking a coke before setting off again. Unfortunately the damage was done and the next 58 miles passed at a snail’s pace, a very sweaty snail! But, I knew that if I wanted to complete the challenge I had to the get the climbing in so I plodded on round. While it was painful at the time I think rides like that are great to have in the bank. When things get tough in a race or training you can look back and remind yourself just how bad it could be!!

Total climbed: 2,439 mtrs

Midweek Top-up

Midweek Top Up

By the time it got to Wednesday I’d just about recovered from Sunday’s fun so I took advantage of the glorious weather and flexible working hours and headed out for my usual Surrey hills loop which gave me another 750 mtrs to add to the pile!

Total climbed so far: 3,189


Legs of Steel

Legs of Steel


For Saturday’s ride I talked fellow BLL’r Paul D into a circuit of the Legs of Steel route. It definitely helped to have some company to distract from all the climbing. Unfortunately, the Garmin lost a few 100 mtrs climbing so I finished the day slightly down on where I should have been. I also had to admit defeat and take the train home.

Total climbed so far: 5,085


16 Ascents of Box Hill 

Box Hill



The final day I still needed 2,150mtrs of climbing and really couldn’t face another long ride around Surrey to get the final metres. I had discussed the idea of doing hill repeats of Box Hill on the previous days ride with Paul.  At the time it seemed like a crazy idea, but now faced with the prospect of another loop of the Chilterns or Legs of Steel route it looked like quite a good option… I started out early. Funnily enough I found the first 4 or 5 laps the hardest but once I’d got into a rhythm it was actually quite relaxing. It’s also great people watching, I hadn’t realised quite how popular Box Hill was until I’d done this. Every descent down I passed a constant stream of people making their way up on all sorts of bikes at all sorts of speeds. A great people watching and bike spotting opportunity!

Finishing the 16th lap was a great feeling, not least because I could finally stop at the cafe for a well deserved slice of cake! It was a great challenge to do, so satisfying that I’m thinking of making it a regular event (when I say regular I mean once a year regular ) So let me know if you fancy joining me in 2014….!

And if you’re interested the overall winner managed to accumulate over 41,000 mtrs of climbing over 7 rides during the 8 days. Now that’s impressive!

Total climbing at the end: 7,293


My top challenging hilly routes:

Chiltern 100 169km and 2,400 mtrs of climbing

The sportive is held once a year and offers 3 different distances. I use these routes as training rides when I fancy something different to the Surrey or Kent hills. The routes are mainly on country lanes and all your efforts on the climbs are rewarded with stunning views across the Chilterns and some fantastic descents. You are also treated to some fantastic place names, I challenge you not smile as you whizz down Pishill! But my favourite place name is Speen, probably because it is a sign you’re on the home straight!

Legs of Steel (long) 81km and 1,600 mtrs of climbing

This is probably a staple hilly route for anyone who cycles in Surrey. Again it is a route used for an annual sportive, but is a well trodden circuit for Surrey cyclists all year round. It takes in all the classic Surrey hills starting with Leith hill and finishing off (finishing you off) with Box hill. It’s a course that keeps your interest by combining long grinding hills with some short-sharp-take-your-breath-away-hills!

 King of the Downs – 185km and 2,700 mtrs of climbing

I first did this route a couple of years ago with two friends. It seemed like our day was doomed before it even started.  It was pouring with rain, a man was sick on our bikes in the train (one of the many hazard of the first train on a Sunday morning), one friend fell off his bike before we’d even started and then realised he’d only bought one booty and no waterproof.  We then proceeded to start the race by cycling in the wrong direction. However once we got over these issues and got on the road it turned out to be one of the most challenging and fulfilling days climbing I’ve had. The route takes you around Surrey, North Downs, Ashdown Forest and Kent and takes you through a “greatest hits” of climbs in these areas.


Winter 2012 Ballbuster Duathlon Race Report

I must love this race as it was my 7th straight participation in this bi-annual duathlon held at Box Hill in March & November. The now famous Ballbuster duathlon consists of an 8 mile loop with the Zig Zag climb up to the National Trust cafe at the end of each lap which you run once then bike 3 times and then run for a final loop making 5 ascents of Box Hill in total with 16 miles of running and 24 miles on the bike.

My first attempt at the race was in Winter 2009 in which I clocked a 3:37:43 (185th place) I remember being pretty happy with that at the time. Since then I have gradually reduced my finishing time to a PB prior to Sunday’s race of 3:08:55 (49th place)
This year since getting coached by Steve Lumley my performances over all distances have gone up another level so I was hopefully realistically targeting a sub 3 hour finish this time round and had calculated that I needed something like a 51 min first run a 1:15 bike and a 52 min second run to get the job done with 2 minutes for transitions. It meant there was no slack whatsoever for any mechanicals or even calls of nature!
Sunday morning was a pretty cold 2 degrees to start with but it was a beauty of a day with no discernible wind and dry roads this was a massive bonus as I needed all the assistance I could get! The view down to Betchworth from the lookout point next to the start was absolutely stunning

A great day for a race...

As it was remembrance Sunday the race director called for a minutes silence just before the start and then the horn went off and it was the usual charge of the light brigade bun fight that goes on at every duathlon I have raced at, with what seems like everyone going off at a suicidal and totally unsustainable pace, myself included!

I had made a decision that whatever happened I would put myself in a position for a sub 3 at the end of run 1 which meant that I had to get round in circa 6:40 pace this meant hitting the bottom of the Zig Zag at just under 6:30 pace as you obviously slow down a fair bit on the climb. The first 2 miles of the run are mostly uphill and within a few minutes I was really feeling it running at the necessary pace, sub 3 at this point felt like a pipe dream! Happily the downhill started soon enough and the pace started to feel more sustainable. I hit the bottom of Zig Zag just off schedule and as a result had to work a bit harder than I would have liked up the hill. Run 1 done in 51:31 and I was in 50th place overall.

Uphill all the way....

T1 went without any dramas in 38 seconds and I was out on the bike for the first of 3 laps. I have a power meter but I always just ride the Ballbuster to feel. My best ever bike split here was 1:16:25 which I knew from the Garmin file was 18.5mph so I was hoping for something quicker than that. I didn’t feel particularly great but on the first lap I was making up quite a lot of places, once you get on to laps 2 & 3 it gets pretty busy with the slower people you are lapping and you have no idea if you are gaining places or not.

A beautiful ride up the iconic Box Hill.
By the end of lap 2 my average speed was 19.5 mph so I knew bar an accident that I was on for a bike PB. That accident nearly happened on the sharp left turn at Lodgebottom Road, when I turned to find some idiot had parked their black Range Rover right on the corner and then to compound matters another Range Rover was coming the other way leaving me and several others a gap of about 3 feet to navigate through at speed, I can’t believe we all stayed on our bikes, if it was wet there would have been carnage…. a lucky escape.
Up Zig Zag for the penultimate time that day and the bike was done in 1:13:07 (11th fastest bike split of the day) I had made up 36 places and was now in 14th place overall although I had no idea of this at that time.

Hat, gloves & arm warmers ditched and I am out for the final run with T2 done with no hiccups in 42 seconds. I know from my cumulative time of a shade under 2:06 that I just need to hold it together for the final run with anything under 54 minutes and sub 3 was in the bag.
Run 2 never starts well in at the Ballbuster, those first few steps when pushing your bike after the dismount line are a sensation like no other, your legs don’t feel like they belong to you and the idea of running 8 miles at a decent pace feels utterly impossible. This isn’t helped by the first 2 miles heading mostly uphill again and also a huge painful stitch in my side but I knew from experience that these normally subside within a mile or 2. My thinking was to try and dig in as much as possible for the uphill and stay at a decent pace and then try and recover on the downhill section before the final climb.

I overtook an Army Tri chap fairly quickly who was struggling a bit but pretty soon after that a different Army chap cruised past followed fairly soon after by a fella who made me feel like I was walking as he disappeared into the distance very quickly! So I had lost 2 places but hey ho sub 3 was the goal and I had to just run my own race. On to the downhill section and I did get some respite as holding a decent pace is much easier but then I hear that disconcerting sound of footsteps approaching again and another chap overtakes and puts a pretty decent gap in to me, this feels all wrong when you are over 2.5 hours into a race and running at 6:30 pace! A girl by the side of the road around now says I am in 16th place which gives me a lift as I have never been this far up the field before. Only about 2 miles to go now with pretty much just the climb left and I see the Army chap up ahead who cruised past me in mile 1, I wasn’t expecting to see him again as he looked super smooth earlier but this race can bite you on the arse if you overcook yourself. I went past him just before the left turn on to the Zig Zag and he sportingly gave me some encouragement, I raised my arm in acknowledgement as speaking was not easy at this point. At the bottom of the hill I have 2:46:30 on the watch, just 13 minutes or so of agony to go and it’s in the bag! Just suck it up and get on with it.

More encouragement when I see the final chap who had overtaken me a couple of miles back coming slowly back to me, I seem to be pretty strong going uphill even though I don’t do much specific hill training so I was pretty confident I would reel him in. Having a target also gives you something to focus on and distract your brain when it is screaming at you to STOP…. which is handy! I catch him by hairpin 2 and it’s just the long straight and final turn to go but the minutes are ticking away and it is still just under a mile to the finish line, crazy thoughts of slowing down and having a nice little walk break are ignored. Round the final right hander and now finally I know it’s done as I have 2:57 on the clock. I cross the line in 2:58:39 for 14th place overall, 4th in my age group, a massive 10 minute PB on the course and a huge personal goal achieved …..satisfying stuff ☺
I will be back again in March the 8th time but can say with some certainty that I will not be taking another 10 minutes off!