Hell Revisited: HellRider Adventure Duathlon 2013
The HellRider is sold with the tagline, The Devil’s Duathlon and is unlike any other run/bike event in the multi-sport racing calendar. It’s devilishly simple, a 5 km trail run lap followed by a 8 km mountain bike lap and repeat to see how many you can do in eight hours. You can enter as a teams of three, five or, if you’re after a real challenge, as a solo competitor.
Last year I’d managed to come second in the solo category but, with a change of venue to the Hambledon Estate near Henley on Thames and some solid training over the winter, I hoped to move up a step on the podium. Despite a very poor weather forecast, the rain held off while I was setting up in transition and, after a quick race briefing, I was ready for the 1000 start. I quickly identified the previous year’s winner Iain Payne on the line and, with him having got a bit of a jump on me on the first run last year, I vowed to keep him close. My tactics were to go reasonably hard on the first run to get clear of traffic for the bike and then to settle into a steadier tempo. Looking over my shoulder after the first couple of hundred meters, I could see Iain sat just behind me and it was obvious he had the same race plan.
The first kilometer of the run was fairly flat but it then ramped up into the first climb. Iain and I alternately pushed the pace and, although we were only minutes into eight hours of racing, we were running hard. It was a game of bluff and double bluff that continued for the whole of the first run and it was only on the third and final climb that I was able to open up a small gap. With just over 5 km run and 150 m climbed, I tackled the steep downhill into transition with Iain snapping closely at my heels.
A woeful transition on my part let him take the lead but, as long as I remained on the same lap as him, because of the race rules, I was in with a shout. As long as you finish whatever lap you’re on before the 8-hour mark passes, even if it’s 7:59:59, you can head out onto another lap and, if two competitors finish on the same number of laps, the fastest competitor over that lap wins. I reckoned if we finished on a bike, Iain would have the edge but, in a head to head run, I was confident I could topple him.
I didn’t worry me too much then to see him pull away and, having gulped down the first of many Torq gels, I slotted into my long distance diesel race pace. The bike lap opened up with a grassy slog, before a fast descent and then the biggest climb of the lap. I spun a low gear and kept my heart rate steady. Even at this early stage of the 7.5 km / 180 m lap, it was obviously a tougher proposition than last year’s course and, with some tight unsurfaced singletrack sections, definitely more technical. Riding well, I was confident Iain wouldn’t be pulling too much time out on me and that I was consolidating my second place. I then heard the sickening hiss that every cyclist dreads, I’d punctured my front tyre. Fortunately, within a few rotations, the sealant did it’s job and, crossing my fingers that it’d hold for the rest of the race, I pressed on. Driving hard through a flat section though, I missed a way-marker and, it was only when I came across a marshal I’d passed early on in the lap, I realised I gone wrong. Kicking myself, I turned around and rode hard in the opposite direction. I was livid at myself for having been so stupid and, by having added an extra 2 km to the lap, undone all the good work of the first run. I rode the rest of the lap angry but, by the time I’d been through transition and headed out for my second run, I’d calmed myself down, reasoned it was a long day when anything could happen and just got on with the job.
My navigational mishap had dropped me to fourth place but I was confident I’d still be able to reel in some time, stay on the same lap as Iain and be in with a chance of the win. I felt strong on the second run and rode off for my second bike lap with renewed confidence, energy and a determination to go the right way. After just 2 km though I heard that sickening hiss again, this time from my rear tyre and this time far more serious. A flint had gashed a massive rip in my sidewall. It was too big to patch on the trail, so I couldn’t even put and tube in and, after a major meltdown in the forest, I was faced with a 5 km trail run in bike shoes and pushing a bike. My day had gone from bad to catastrophic. I did some mental sums while running and reckoned that, with my diversion on the first lap and now this, Iain would have been able to pull a lap ahead. I’d lose more time in transition swapping my spare wheels in and, as my cleats dug painfully into the balls of my feet with every stride, I decided to quit once I got back into transition.
Fortunately my long suffering wife had arrived to support me and, after I’d had another mini meltdown, she persuaded me to at least head out for another run lap, calm down and make a decision then. I’d dropped to ninth place but, as the run went on, the pressure of racing lifted and I decided to make the best of a bad job, use it as a solid training day and just plough on. I that run I moved back up to eighth, a strong and incident free third bike saw me retake second spot but, with Iain still putting in consistent laps, my only hope was for him to have some sort of mishap.
As the race panned out, on each lap Iain was taking a bit of time out of me on the bike and in transition and I was taking about the same back from him on each run. This status quo remained and, as I headed out on my eighth and final bike lap, I knew only Iain and I had done that many but that he’d be logging a running lap of honour to take the win. With that in mind, I cruised round with Dafydd Hollis, who was riding easy with the 3 man team win in the bag, and reflected on a real roller coaster of a race.
I learned a lot about myself and was proud that I’d dug in and carried on, although a large part of that was down to my wife. The event was brilliant, the new Hambledon venue beautiful and the course tougher but more fun than the old one. It’d been a great day’s training and, with 8 run (41.6 km / 1272 m) and 8 bike (60.3 km / 1564 m) laps, my legs had certainly been put through the mill. Iain definitely deserved the win and, although it would have been great to have gone shoulder to shoulder right down to the wire, his performance was staggeringly strong. Hopefully we’ll both be fit next year and we can re-kindle our HellRider rivalry.
If you’re after a real challenge I can highly recommend that you put yourself down for the solo race next year or, if you’ve got an Adventure Racing team and fancy a summer event with a difference, give the team race a go. The atmosphere is brilliant with racers continuously coming into the transition area and, with camping onsite, a real festival atmosphere.
Top 3 kit choices for surviving Hell
Giant XTC Composite 29’er 0
The same bike as I rode last year and reviewed here. I’ve upgraded the wheelset from the fairly heavy stock wheels to a pair Stan’s Crests on Hope Hubs. This has given the bike a bit of extra zip and has significantly lowered the weight. It was already a great bike but, with this upgrade, it’s brilliant and ideal for mile munching XC type events.
Inov-8 TrailRoc 235
Again a product that I’ve previously reviewed on the site and, after putting a decent number of miles into them since that review 8 months ago, I can report that any durability concerns I had were completely unfounded. For speedier transitions I swapped in a set of elasticated laces and for any trail conditions except truly deep mud, they’re superb all rounders. Despite having to be content with second place on the podium at HellRider, they have tasted victory at the Evil Sheriff Off-Road Duathlon back in November.
Compressport Pro Racing Triathlon Short
For events that combine running and biking, triathlon shorts are brilliant and these are the best ones I’ve ever worn. There’s enough of a chamois to protect your undercarriage while riding but it’s not too big and obtrusive and doesn’t cause any discomfort or chaffing while running. Sizing is determined by measuring both the top and base of your thigh and, despite not having any sort of drawstring, the fit is spot on and they don’t suffer from any riding up or slipping down. The fit is very snug, supportive and compressive and they do take a little while getting on but, once in place, they’re not at all constrictive. With the best part of a marathon run, including an ascent and descent almost equivalent to Ben Nevis, and a decent amount of mountain biking, my quads certainly took a bit of a battering. However I didn’t have a hint of cramp during the race and post-race soreness was minimal. I’m convinced of the benefits of compression both during and after exercise and, especially in a race with lots of climbing and descending, I’ll always opt for shorts or tights that offer it. Other features include grippy silicon to minimise slipping on your saddle and, as they’re designed with triathlon in mind, they dry super quickly too.