Does the south really have a fell race? Answer, yes it does, well kind of. The Box Hill race is an FRA sanctioned BM graded race that has been held for over 37 years on roughly the same course. This years race sold out in 9 hours having opened at midnight and always attracts a very high quality field.
I’d looked at the course twice and managed a 1.30 and then a 1.12(mod hard). I’d predicted an acceptable (to me) racing time of 1.03-1.05 but conditions would clearly play a part in times.
The start is right up the butt end of Box Hill. The entire field was backed up slowly down a wide muddy path by the organise insistent on getting the front row lined up with a big old tree. This meant half the field were stood in a deep muddy puddle. I positioned myself optimistically on the front row and readied for the charge. After a rather polite “off you go” we charged at the 50m of mud before we hit the incredibly steep Eiger steps. It was skinny elbow on skinny elbow but this is where my 85kg came in useful. I was in the top 5 with my neighbour Tom Davies leading out the field. I gradually slipped backwards to the trig point at the top and was probably 25th by the time we turned for the “bombing off the Box” section. All the way back down towards Dorking we went losing all that height. What was the point? Ah yes, to allow us to have to do it all again.
I was already cursing the format and wondering whether there was any point to any of it given I was clearly not able to hang with the whippets overtaking me one by one. I had a quiet word and steadied the ship and started to feel better. The first 6 mins is pretty frantic and I started to feel stronger.
We climbed probably half of the height of Box Hill once again, I caught Tom and then we took a sharp right down a steep track down through the woods. It was very very slippy and muddy and steep. I let rip and was pretty much out of control and catching people. But it was only a minute and then a flat section saw us into the biggest climb of the day. I lost 4 or 5 places again and more negative thoughts came to mind as I was clearly not competitive on the steep ups.
We reached the top and hit a mile section that was gently downhill and actually had a bit of tarmac road. I reeled in about 5 people quite quickly. This was my domain now……then we turned into the boggy muddy stuff again. A few miles of crazy downhilling, steep little climbs and tit for tat with Tom Davies saw me pull out a 30s lead on him. As I crossed the road at Juniper bottom my dad popped up and yelled that I was in the top 30. Then we hit the brutal Juniper Hill climb and it was back to feeling awful and suffering. 6-7 mins or it and I was caught by two chaps. One was Tom. As we hit the top it flattened once more and I pulled away once again from them. I knew I needed a buffer for the final descent as Tom is a quality descender. Despite being only a mile from the finish we turned right and plummeted down the grass to the first zig zag on the Box Hill road climb. Then it was one final punishing grassy climb back up to the trig point. Tom made 25s up on me in a 2 min section and came grinding past me. I didn’t have an answer.
We descended the final Eiger steps again which were steep, slippery and incredibly dangerous. You wouldn’t want to fall head first down these.
We hit the bottom and I’d caught a Serpentine runner (2.42 marathoner it turns out). It was a 70m sprint back down the wide incredibly muddy start path. Another sprint finish! I caught, passed and comfortably beat him into the finish funnel.
I managed a 1hr6m36s time which was slower than I’d hoped. But the conditions under foot probably accounted for most of that. I’d say 1m-1m30s looking at peoples previous times. I was 37th (3 people ahead of me went the wrong way but are still in the results) and I was 8th over 40 and looking on Strava my time was the 3rd fastest ever for a body weight of over 82kg. I’ll take that.
I want to thank my father who stood out in the pouring rain on a day that was only 2 degrees. He took my clothing close to the start, he popped up at two places on the course and it means the world to me to see him out there. I want to make him proud. He’s my hero.
Race profile and a few stats below.
Race results are here. Shows me in 40th but 3 people took a little short cut apparently (by accident) so technically I was 37th.
My conclusions are:
1. I was right. My relative weakness is steep climbing. Despite working very hard at this I’m still not and probably will never be competitive. Power to weight ratio is poor. Just like on the bike.
2. I’m as skinny as I dare but still 85kg. I simply can’t compete with the 60-65kg skinnies. It’s like lugging an extra 20 bags of sugar around and most of it is useless bone I guess
3. I did beat myself up for a bit about not hitting my target times and not finishing in the top 20 (my goal). I’m over it now. Bob Graham is a different animal.
4. I’m reasonably competitive on the downhills. I didn’t lose any places going down!