Goose pimples and slippery conditions at the BallBuster

Veteran age-grouper Mark Kleanthous returns to the famously tough duathlon on Box Hill


I heard about the first BallBuster at a previous Human Race event in 1990. I’d done a few run-bike-run events – called biathlons back then – so I thought I knew what to expect. I discovered it’s definitely a tough event, especially as sports nutrition was still relatively new back then.


This year I was competing in my 31st triathlon season. This year my training has been different from any other year as I trained for the Marathon des Sables, known as the ‘toughest footrace on Earth’: a 251km self-sufficient running race over six days in the Sahara Desert.

Although I did still get in some bike and swim training, my emphasis until June was on running, when I started to focus on Ironman Wales. I recovered quickly after Tenby so decided to improve my bike fitness for the BallBuster.

In the past I would have trained on the course, but having raced in Surrey many times before (including going up Box Hill during RideLondon 100) I felt I did not need to. The course had not changed for 25 years – I even remember the drain covers in the same places!

Race day

Back in 1990 I was in the lead group of five, and was even at the front during the first run. This time, 25 years later, my expectations were very different.

I arrive early at Box Hill to register, and give an interview to organisers Human Race about what it was like to race back in 1990 and what my plans are for this year’s event. On my way to get my bike I recognise a helper called Colin, who’s been a volunteer for 22 years! “That’s dedication,” I think to myself.

I rack my bike and help a few others who I can see have never done a multisport or duathlon event before, then go for a short run to warm up. This year I’m definitely looking to complete, unlike 25 years ago when I was looking to be competitive on the podium or even win it.


The competitors sing ‘Happy Birthday BallBuster’. I get goose pimples and try to relax. I don’t want to shoot off in the lead like in 1990. I finish the first 12km run comfortably in 54:33mins, placing me 76th overall.

I’m pleased with my bike split of 1:22:53 over the three-lap 36km bike, especially considering the wet slippery conditions.

I overtake some cyclists out training up Box Hill on my final lap of the bike, and even manage to lap some fellow BallBuster competitors.

I take my time on the tricky wet corners – I took risks 25 years to get a podium place, but I don’t bounce so well now at 53 years of age!

Final run

The final run is a challenge due to my reduced running mileage since Ironman Wales, but I always knew I would run the whole way.

During my previous races at Box Hill I only really remembered the one big climb of Box Hill, this time I notice anything more than a slight incline during the bike and run.

I take advantage of the much needed drinks station at halfway into the final run: I’m fairly sure that all we had back in 1990 was water and orange squash.

As I approach the finish line I start to work harder again, and feel very proud of myself for being the only competitor to finish 25 years later.

I get a little emotional when I hear Jasmine Flatters announce my name and give me a mention for competing in the very first BallBuster. Jasmine has been involved in every Ball Buster event and I remember her back in 1990.

In the first event I knew most of the competitors because it was a small niche group of multisport athletes – this year I hardly knew anyone! After I finish I go to cheer competitors up Box Hill and even gave Matt Baird from 220 magazine a cheer as he runs to the finish.


Will I be back again? Almost certainly. I was even asked if I would come back for the 50th anniversary – never say never. I will be 79 so almost certainly the oldest in the 75-79 age group. If you can’t beat them, outlive them!