Horst, Holland - despite being somewhere you probably have never heard of is a wonderful venue for a race. Certainly in the summer it boasts fantastic vistas and a homely feel to the town that you just don’t get in many other race venues. Like most of Holland it is the sort of place where although the roads are closed to traffic during the race Give Way to bicycles is the law – if only everywhere was like this! So it was, after a flight from Heathrow to Dusseldorf and a bus, courtesy of the wonderful people at Nirvana, that Beth and I found ourselves in the sunny locale of Horst en de Maas, a sleepy town clearly vibrant with activity due to the influx of 500 plus people for the Powerman Duathlon a race that includes the European Sprint Duathlon Championships (5k/20k/2.5k).
Our preparation for this race wasn’t the most specific as we are making our comeback to racing long course triathlon this year. 2012 and 2013 saw us focus solely on running with us competing and completing up to the Ultra distance. As we knew that 2014 was going to be a triathlon year we did a couple of Duathlons at the end of 2013 to get ready and it was at one of these that we qualified for the Horst race and also did the Lake Logic Triathlon organised by the Event Logic – I had the ignominy of getting my second ever penalty (for my race number being at the back on the run but did manage to still take out the AG). So with our focus being on the longer stuff this put the Horst race in perspective for us but we wanted clearly to do our best without tapering into it and losing time training for our longer events.
Registration took place in the Berkel Sporthall in the centre of town. Luckily our hotel was just a mile from the race venue and registration – a quick walk in through town and we were ready for the Opening Ceremony and race brief. We arrived in time to get a front row seat in order to see and hear all the important information… more on that later. The Opening Ceremony was quite the spectacle, after two rousing songs from Quintella, Horst’s own vocal group who bizarrely enough sang a couple of African numbers, the flag procession and a street dance production with accompanying music that should have some sort of Parental Guidance disclaimer, we were ready to soak in the 5 minutes of race brief! The main points of the race were covered, but they really took the word Brief literally.
We were up early Saturday morning and went for a 20 min run around the lake before breakfast. After breakfast we joined a group that was going out to recce the bike course. The bike course was a flat 20km loop which took you from the town out into the countryside with a good number of turns and one dead turn before returning into the town and transition. If you think of a criterium type course or a Belgian “Kermesse” then you won’t be far wrong. We had a little look at the start of the run course but it was going to be wholly in the town with a great number of turns and again a dead turn; we weren’t going to leading and it was already well signposted so there was no drama there.
As we are accustomed to the ‘stupid o’clock’ alarm call for Long Distance triathlon racing our race start of 14:00 was something that we don’t often experience and leads to it’s own problems of ‘what do you do’. The long distance Duathlon race started in the morning however we held off from going to watch the start and had a breakfast at our normal time and then relaxed and did some stretching before cycling down to the race venue late morning. The Elite long distance (15k/60k/7.5k) athletes were on their second run leg so I was able to cheer on an athlete I’ve helped out, up and coming Pro, Joe Skipper as well as the other athletes. Given the ‘kermesse’ nature of the course it wasn’t a surprise for me to see the Belgian, Rob Woestenborghs, leading the way and eventually winning.
Very quickly 14:00 rolled around and it was time for the off. This race was always going to be on right from the gun and to that end it didn’t disappoint. With it being a multi start race and without identifying letters you did not know really who was in which AG so it was a case of just going hard. My (Neil) race plan was to pretty much run a 5k PB time then settle on the initial bike section through the twisty section in town then go hard on the bike treating it as a ‘turbo’ type session then hang on in the last run. I pretty much succeeded in this and concentrated on the process rather than the outcome which is something that I encourage all of my athletes to do. The race for me was over in an hour and two minutes and I ended up 4th in my AG narrowly missing 3rd by 2 seconds and 2nd by 13 seconds although I did not know that those racers were in my category. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, would certainly recommend it and potentially will go back to Horst; possibly next year for the Long Distance race. The highlight for me was the way the whole town embraced the races and the racers, it was well organized by Powerman, well supported, well marshaled and the competitors competed in the correct spirit of racing – I’d almost say ‘how it used to be!’
My (Beth) race plan was to go hard from the start. My new philosophy is to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and let me say for 1 hour 11 minutes I was uncomfortable! With every race experience no matter where you come in the rankings there is always something to learn and take away. Watching the children’s race while waiting for the age groupers to start made me think of how fun this sport is and how fortunate I am to be able to participate at this level. The confidence gained from racing and winning my Age Group in an ETU Championship event will see me in good stead for the upcoming long distance triathlons this year.
All in all, a great race and one that anyone who has aspirations for sprint or long distance Duathlon should consider. It was very well organised and well attended by some quality athletes. We were pleased with our performance, despite it not being a specific goal. To quote Arnie – we’ll be back!