More than 2.700 athletes take part in this iron-distance event that takes in the sights of the world-famous Netherland’s city. Located just 20 minutes from the centre, more than 40,000 spectators line the 3.8m swim, 180km bike and 42.2km run with flat courses.
Where: Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Size: 2,700 athletes
Reviewed by Jack Macaree in 2016 (half distance)
- Practice open water swimming and anticipate a lake full of weeds. The Almere organisers admittedly have to ‘mow’ the lake for race week due to the high volume of growth but the water itself is crystal clear.
- Registration can take place on the Friday or the Saturday morning of the race so don’t panic about timings too much. Being Europe’s oldest triathlon and second only to Hawaii globally, all of the volunteers are exceptional.
- Free parking is available directly opposite the transition area offering complete convenience for participants so take advantage!
- Aerobars are essential! Despite being a pan flat course the wind more than makes up for the lack of hills so look out for 20-30km headwind for at least half of the course.
- Transition is assigned by race number, this includes a bike rack spot and run gear rack. So again, no need to get down early, your place is already reserved.
- Take every single wet sponge you can get your hands on. It was 28 degrees on race day despite being mid-September and the run course has very little wind. There are plenty around the route but I avoided them on the first lap as I was worried about chaffing but they were essential to not overheating, I left it too late and really had to slow the pace to prevent me over heating completely.
- Enjoy the occasion and soak up the atmosphere, the crowd are electric on the swim, bike and run, the run especially.
Official race video:
What’s the organisation like?
Challenge Almere is hands down the best organised sporting event I have ever participated in. This was my fourth half Iron on top of 20+ Sprint/Olympic tris and 15 half/full marathons.
You can register and rack the day before if you want to benefit from a bit more of a lie in but I got to the event at 6am race day and was registered and racked
within 15 minutes. Parking is well organised and positioned just next to the race village, free and opposite transition, you get a voucher when you register. So don’t pay when you get there. You can easily park up, go in to the transition area and recheck tyre pressures etc. and put your kit back in the car. All volunteers were friendly, spoke English and were able to answer any question I had.
The race village is very limited on race morning so if you need any last minute supplies make sure you get there the day before race day. But there is plenty of fluids and food throughout the course. There are also two hotels directly opposite the race village but these sell out fast so book early if you’d rather stay local.
Enthusiastic volunteers are at all of the aid stations on the bike and run course and the aid stations are well fuelled with gels, bananas, water and energy drinks. The run course is loops so the support is exceptional, loads of aid stations and loads of local companies and spectators out in full force, great for keeping moral up as your energy starts to run out.
It was 28 degrees on race day and Challenge Almere were fully prepared for this with sponges, and more than enough aid stations, I have competed in events where they do not adjust for changes in weather and it can have very serious consequences on lots of competitors.
What’s the course like?
The swim is a 1900 metre one lap course in the Weerwater. Practice swimming in open water in a lake full of reeds and growth.
They do literally have to ‘mow’ the lake at the start of race week as there is so much growth under water so you will be swimming above and through reeds through most of the race. The water is crystal clear so you make sure you are comfortable swimming in those kind of conditions. There are also a lot of swans but there are over a 1000 of you in the water so they aren’t a big deal, though surprisingly brave nonetheless. Spectator-wise there is plenty of room on the Esplanade for support crews to cheer you in and out of the water. There is a ramp in and out of the water right next to transition so no danger of treading on something sharp/painful.
The bike course is one loop on long, sweeping closed roads. It is non-stop pedalling so try and train in a similar kind of environment, maybe even a velodrome session if you can find one locally. There is no traffic to avoid and it is a single lap so the pack spreads out quickly. You will not stop once, and unlike climbing courses, there is no respite on the declines here, you will be pedalling without a break for 90km, in fact it was 93km (which they put in the small print) but after 90km of non-stop pedalling (often into the wind) you do feel those extra 3km.
The course is so flat and fast it’s easy to get over excited and cycle too quickly, especially with the adrenaline of race day and other riders around you. I cycled 3kmph quicker than my training pace for the first 80km but then really felt it on the last 10km (13km) so make sure you monitor your pace accordingly!
There are some amazing views on the bike course of wind farms and lake Markermeer (700 square kms) so try and remember to look up from time to time. The roads are in great condition so slick tyres and light tubes are great for this race.
The Run is three laps of 7km route on tarmac though some bits of the path do have grass next to them if you want to give the knees a break. The footpaths weave around the Wearwater where you did the swim so there are no long straights, which I personally find much easier mentally. There are spectators everywhere along the run which really helps and there is an aid station almost every kilometre so no need to carry gels or water. Watch out for the McDonalds 50 yards from the track at one point, it is very tempting, one hero actually bought a large fries on his final lap!!
It was extremely hot on the day but the organisers had this covered. It’s here you really benefit which has not happened on other races I’ve ran, there were plenty of volunteers with endless wet sponges and a hose pipes to help keep you cool.
You run along the esplanade and back through the race village on each lap which really helps boost morale as you want to be the next person turning left down the finishing straight!
How difficult is Almere Half Iron distance triathlon?
On paper, Almere is a race where you would expect to set a PB but don’t let the short transitions and flat surfaces fool you into thinking this is an easy course.
The swim is staggered starts depending on age and sex so the melee isn’t too intense but if the sun is out it is very hard to see the next buoy and make sure you are comfortable swimming in clear water, above and pushing through reeds.
The bike is non-stop and intense due to the long sweeping closed roads and 20-30kmph head winds. It is also 3km longer than usual so prepare for these factors.
The run is pleasantly flat but on a hot day and with no wind, you really need to focus on your hydration and keeping cool but the organisers provide everything you need to manage this properly.
What’s the atmosphere like?
The crowds are huge in and around the Esplande/Transition area but do thin out on the bike course but there is plenty of scenery to keep you occupied or have a quick chat with other competitors along the way. Everyone’s race bib has their home country on so you have a good idea of if they’ll be able to understand your breathless murmurings. Along the run course the crowds pick up again and you’ll barely go 50ft without a big crowd of locals and spectators cheering you on, with lots of different music throughout the course to help keep you going.
Every racer I spoke to on the bike and run and even after were very friendly. The sense of camaraderie is huge, especially as a huge percentage of the field stay on the esplanade after they finish to cheer all the other runners across the line, all the way down to the last runner from the full distance race.
What is there to do Apres race?
Obviously you can join everyone else on the esplanade to cheer the other competitors home. There is a bar right next to the finish line so try and have some euros in your kit as a huge percentage of finishers will stay and have some beers, share war stories and cheer everyone else over the line to a spectacular welcome reception.
But there is also a plethora of bars and restaurants right next to and within half a km of the race village and if you want to go further afield it is a 40 minute train to Amsterdam central.
For more on this race and to book your place click here.