Greenleaf’s reign ends at the CEP Winter BallBuster

14th November 2016

Greenleaf’s reign ends due to storm, ready for Butler to serve up victory at the CEP BallBuster, while ruthless Purbrook steps up to become new female champion

On Saturday 12th November over 500 people met atop Box Hill at the crack of dawn, just like they have annually for the past 26 years, ready to take on the gruelling 40 mile duathlon challenge that is the famous CEP BallBuster. This race has a fearsome reputation in the duathlon community, renowned for being the late season test that only the toughest can complete. Two 8 mile runs up and around Box Hill sandwich a 24-mile bike section that is undulating and unrelenting. It’s known for being a bucket list event, selling out months in advance.

At 8am everybody had racked their bikes, and lined up ready to begin what was going to a physically and mentally tough next few hours. Front and centre was the recognisable figure of Andy Greenleaf, the man who smashed the all-time record in 2015, and was reigning champion. He had spoken in the build-up to 220 Triathlon magazine about the chances of beating his record, and although he was playing down the opportunity due to the forecast, there was inevitable chatter that he was here to write himself into BallBuster legend again. Alongside him were several other strong contenders, including Dan Blake (who finished 4th in 2015) and a brightly dressed, straight faced Yorkshireman called Gethin Butler. Unfortunately there was no sign of the reigning female champion (Ali Mount) but Ruth Purbrook was back to try and take the title after a 2nd place the previous year. The horn sounded and the race began, with the pack quickly disappearing into the mist on their first run lap.

Adding to the already ridiculous nature of the challenge ahead was the weather. Following an epic storm in 2015, participants must have believed that they were due better conditions this time. That’s not the BallBuster way though, and after an early sprinkle at dawn, torrential rain started shortly after the 8am start and showed no sign of stopping throughout the next five hours. This added an extra layer of difficulty to the already technical course, with officials deciding to extend the cut-off time so challengers could complete the cycle leg at a safe speed.

At the end of the first run it was unsurprising to see Greenleaf turn the corner first and storm into transition in just under 44 minutes, 90 seconds behind the record time, but comparable due to a slightly extended 450 metre addition to the run course. More surprising was to see Vanrisch Mclean following him just one minute behind, signalling that this was not going to be a one-horse race like last year. Neil Aitken, Blake and Butler also looked strong, hitting transition in under 50 minutes. They sped out on to the soaked roads of Box Hill ready to battle it out on two wheels through a scenic but testing environment.

Hundreds of others were also battling it out all over the course, with their eyes set not on the title, but just to finish the BallBuster test in demanding circumstances. Anybody who completes this 40-mile test deserves the utmost respect. Then news spread of a shock at the front of the pack, as the first to return their bike to transition was not the strong favourite Greenleaf, but Gethin Butler, closely followed by Dan Blake. Greenleaf returned his bike, with the section taking eleven minutes longer than 2015, and decided it was wise to retire. The tension cranked up as the last lap would now be to decide who would be crowned the new CEP BallBuster champion.

Impressively at this point Butler managed to push ahead further, pacing himself brilliantly, and managing to power through the partially flooded roads and up the zig-zag road one more time to cross the line and become champion. His final time of 2:48:20 included a negative split on the runs, and ultimately put him a comfortable six minutes ahead of the closest competition. The no-nonsense hero who represents Preston Harriers, claims that he ‘Doesn’t really do smiling’, but he must be (at least on the inside) after a brilliant win.

Much closer was the battle for second place, where Mclean and Blake pushed each other to the limit on the final section. It was obvious when they collapsed at the finish that they had expended every ounce of energy possible to claim the bragging rights. It was heartbreak for Mclean though, as although he had crossed the line marginally before Blake, he had also started the event a few seconds earlier, meaning Blake was awarded the second place on overall time.

It was another close battle in the female race, with Sara Thomas leading for much of the race, but a brilliant final run from Ruth Purbrook (representing Ful-On-Tri) saw her overtake the pack and take the title in 3:25:50. Bethan Male was a close second, with a total time of just one minute more, with Thomas eventually finishing third. Shortly after she finished Purbrook said “It was so cold out there. I couldn’t feel my feet on the cycle and that made it the hardest part”.

The team from Science in Sport had provided energy products to keep the athletes on track, and these were being snapped up by those on the course. Some riders had taken the sensible option of upgrading their bike for the day thanks to British Bike Hire, giving them the crucial edge they needed to help them hit their goals.

Challengers continued to finish over the next couple of hours, although inevitably there were a decent number of people having to drop out due to the size of the task at hand. One finisher was former Woking, Crawley and AFC Wimbledon goalkeeper Andy Little, who swapped saving balls for ‘bustin’ them. Andy had completed a full distance triathlon earlier in the year, and used the CEP BallBuster to complete 2016 in style, finishing in an impressive 3:47:29. In total there were 322 finishers on the day (both individuals and relays) which was remarkable given the nature of the task and the conditions on the roads. All the results can be found here:

Human Race would like to thank everybody who came along to the event, and show appreciation to the wonderful crew and stewards, who kept smiling and helping throughout the atrocious weather. A special thank you goes to spectator Colin Mitchell, who kindly took numerous photos at the event despite the less than ideal conditions. He has made his pictures available at this link:

The CEP BallBuster will return on Saturday 4th November 2017 and you can pre-register for a place now by visiting the website.