Surviving the Hounslow Classic – Race Tips from Ben Duffus

With the Hounslow Classic almost upon us, it’s time to look at how to make the most of your hard earned fitness on race day. Ben Duffus, the winner of last year’s race knows a thing or two about this course and he’s very kindly pulled together four very important tips as to how you can get the most out of your run in this stunning, yet brutal run in the Blue Mountains.

While the event might be four or so weeks away yet, many of you who’ll be having a crack at this one will be entering your last week or two of big training; and there’s no better place than those last few big runs to practice what you’re going to do on race day. Ben’s tips are extremely timely and I’m sure many of you will heed Ben’s advice in your final few training runs. Take it away Ben…

  1. The race doesn’t finish at the bottom of the first descent, so save something for the final climb. Assuming your taper goes well, you should arrive at the start line feeling fresh and ready to go. So it can be very tempting to bolt from start, and doing so would probably even feel “good”. With both the 21km and the 68km races starting at the top of the mountain range, it can be easy to get caught up in the “fresh legs” feeling and bomb down the first descent. Such a tactic, particularly in the ultramarathon, will probably come back to haunt you later in the day in the form of blown quads. Instead, hold back a bit, and especially those doing the ultra should feel like they are taking it “too easy” at first. But don’t worry there will be plenty of opportunity to smash yourself later on the way back up!


  1. On the long stair climbs, make use of any handrails available. Personally, I like to adopt a “hands on knees” hiking style on stairs, but others prefer a more upright stance. Everyone will be hiking most of the stairs and you should find what style works best for you in training. But regardless of technique, everyone can benefit from shifting some of the load from the legs to their upper body by grabbing onto any hand rails available and hauling themselves up. This will quite often be a natural response near the end of the race when legs are tired, but try doing so early on in the race to help preserve your legs.


One for the Skyrunning Calendar, the Hounslow Classic in the Blue Mountains
One for the Skyrunning Calendar, the Hounslow Classic in the Blue Mountains


  1. Don’t underestimate the rolling hills at the top of the cliffs! Looking at the course profile, there are 4 main climbs in the ultra and 1 main climb in the half marathon. It can be easy to mentally neglect any other sources of vert throughout the race. I was certainly guilty of this last year, and during the final major climb was preparing myself for the final few kilometres to be completely flat. Instead of enjoying the final stretch home, I was unpleasantly surprised by every single (stair filled) up and down between Neates Glen and Govett’s Leap (note that the course has changed and now finishes at Allview Escape). Be mentally prepared for several little up and downs to complement the main climbs/descents as well. This will help you stay positive, which will in turn not only allow you to enjoy the experience more, but will also help you push harder and go faster.


  1. It’s a tough race, so at some point you are probably going to hurt a bit. Reduce the hurt by taking advantage of the distractions this course offers you. The most obvious is the spectacular scenery; take in the view from time to time, to remind yourself of why Skyrunning is such a beautiful sport! By (temporarily) shifting your focus from yourself to your surrounds, your perceived level of exertion can decrease.


The ultramarathon is also an out and back course, which means you have the privilege of getting to run/hike past all the other runners in the event, as they travel in the opposite direction. Smile, say hello, and by just exuding positivity, they will in turn send positivity your way, which will lift your spirits and again, this can lower the perceived level of exertion. Friendly checkpoint volunteers (or personal support crews) offer another great source of effort-reducing positivity, so smile lots and say thank you!

Most of all have fun and when the going gets tough, remind yourself of why you are doing the event. If it’s the challenge of the mountains, then of course it’s going to be exactly that: a challenge. So, look forward to the “rough patches” because pushing through them will be incredibly satisfying and rewarding.

If it’s the beauty of the mountains that attracts you, then stop to smell the roses and appreciate just how lucky you are to be in such a scenic part of the world. Whatever it is that drives you, keep that in mind and you will hopefully have an enjoyable and memorable day out in the most beautiful part of the Blue Mountains.

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

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