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Is de Hel van Kasterlee echt zo'n hel?

Is the Hell of Kasterlee really such a hell?

, by Steff Overmars, 9 min reading time

A bucket list thing. Steff Overmars talks about his experiences during the Hell of Kasterlee and gives you tips for the right clothing and nutrition.

A bucket list thing, according to Steff. Steff Overmars participated in the Hell of Kasterlee and talks about his experiences in our new blog.

Last December I participated in 'the hell of Kasterlee', a very tough Cross duathlon of no less than 15 km running, 117 km mountain biking and another 30 km running. It is usually wet, dark, dirty and cold in December and that is why it is considered one of - if not the toughest - Cross duathlons in the world.

In Belgium this competition is really a big party and there are people everywhere along the sidelines who have the tap open since the early hours. Due to Covid, that was of course a bit less this year, but nevertheless the atmosphere was unprecedentedly beautiful.

For me, this was really a bucket-list race that I was already registered for in 2020, but that edition was canceled due to Covid. The 2021 edition did, but it was certainly borderline. Training for this competition was also quite difficult mentally because you had a lot of uncertainty and actually expected that it would not happen. I also became a father in October and suffered a last-minute injury. So it was by no means the perfect preparation, but I did enjoy it, endured it and of course I finished.

We have already read so many race reports so I will spare you those. That's why I'm going to mainly talk about how you can properly prepare yourself for such a specific competition, and in particular the material, clothing and nutrition.
In terms of distance, this is of course just a whole triathlon. Although I have already done an entire triathlon 18 times, this is a different story. A race in such cold weather where it is dark and where you have to deal with so much mud and the like, that is next level. So you have to have a good plan for this; both with the materials and the clothing and food.

The biggest difference with other competitions is mainly the temperature and let's start with the material. The race starts early in the morning and the running involves quite a few unpaved sections. You have to take that into account when choosing shoes if it has rained heavily, but fortunately this year the weather gods were kind to us.

The material really has to withstand a lot on the bike. There is always mud and sand and it is still very wet because the surface there is actually always wet. And that's where the specificity begins. On the bike it is super important that you start the race with new brake pads, because the sand there can completely eat up your brake pads in one ride. Because the surface is always wet, it is also extremely important that you clean the chain thoroughly and then grease it with a wet lube. If you don't do that, your chain will be completely dry after an hour and it won't be a fun day for you. To protect your bicycle, it is always a good idea to check the bearing to see whether everything is properly greased and you can, for example, provide extra protection for the bicycle with a certain Teflon spray.

The clothing is another important point of attention. You don't want it to be too cold, but you also don't want it to be too hot. You do this unique competition together with a coach/buddy who can provide you with new or dry clothing, materials and nutrition while cycling and he/she can cycle with you during the 2nd Run.

I actually start the 1st run with clothes that I would normally wear for a running race. But the start is early and dark in the morning; I prefer to wear a shirt and shorts during a match if it is not freezing. If it does freeze, I wear long pants. The transition zone is inside the sports hall and it is very important to take off that running shirt and put on a dry shirt before you jump on your bike. My cycling jacket is also hanging there, which already contains all my gels and materials so that I don't have to get them from somewhere. You can also choose to wear overshoes when cycling, but I think that is a bit of a waste of time. What I do do is rub my feet thoroughly with Vaseline before I put on my socks that morning and I put two plastic bags in my shoes so that I am reasonably sheltered from the wind and water.

It is advisable to always start cycling with several layers of clothing and preferably something on the warm side, because then you can always take off things and easily give them to your coach. Putting on gear is a lot more difficult when you ride on single tracks without stopping. The most important tip is to make sure you have an extra pair of your outer jacket or vest and also an extra set of dry gloves that you give to your coach. For example, if you fall early in the match or it only rains in the first hour, you can always quickly change to dry clothing, which did take some time, but the day is quite long and that will really help you later in the match. If you catch the cold, it's probably game over.

I had several options in terms of cycling clothing and I chose to wear a SLI cycle vest over 2 shirts and arm warmers. There was no real rain forecast, so the Fusion SLI windstopper should provide sufficient protection against the rain, but I can also easily take it off and put it under my shirt. If you choose a jacket or shirt with long sleeves, you will have them all the time and with arm warmers you can also roll them down to the wrist or take them off very easily when you are hot. I would always roll them down to the wrist because then you can easily put them on again when it is too cold. Aerodynamics is much less important in such a competition than in a normal triathlon on a time trial bike.

If it is not too cold, I also choose to ride with shorts and compression stockings. Leg warmers are very easy to wear, but once they get wet they are just heavy and still cold on your legs. Your skin dries much faster than clothing, but when it freezes it is often drier and you can ride with leg warmers. You really have to make this decision well in advance because it becomes a lot more complicated to put it on. Taking it off during the match is fine, but when you are wet it is also quite difficult. As with everything, it is important to test this during training in comparable circumstances. Make sure that you are also training with tension for a competition, because if you do a quiet durit it will of course feel very different.

When you come to the sports hall for the second time, it is good to quickly take off your wet cycling clothes and at least have a dry top and I also put on clean pants. Of course you assume an ideal scenario, but it is also important to give your coach a warm jacket, a hat and gloves. There is of course a chance that you are not having such a good day and that you are very empty while running. Then you can cool down very quickly in the winter and it is nice to have a warm jacket at hand. You won't need this in an Ironman at 2:00 PM in the blazing sun.

Power supply
A big difference with competitions in the summer is that it is colder and you therefore sweat a lot less. Normally during an Ironman I throw all my calories and salts into 3 water bottles and I drink them on the bike and then I drink extra water if I need it at the stations. When competing in the winter, I always recommend having solid food or gels with you. There is a chance that you will sweat a lot less than on a hot summer day and if you have thrown all your calories into liquid, you will also have to drink all that liquid. Now I have a much better opportunity to choose how much I eat and drink without mixing. But remember, you will probably be less thirsty but you will still be sweating so in training for this race try to weigh yourself a few times before and after training on the bike to see how much you have lost. The 226ERS Gummy Bars and high energy gels are especially useful for this. The high energy gels have 50g carbohydrates per gel. So you don't need to have a lot with you and you can always take half a gel and put it back in your cycling jacket. Because it is mountain biking, it is always useful to provide extra nutrition to your coach because it can be very easy to lose nutrition along the way. Also meet with your coach at a clear point where you know where he is standing and have him indicate the water bottle on your right side if you are on the right and on your left side if you are on the left. That sounds very logical, but that often goes wrong and then Tackling it is still quite a difficult matter. It is also useful to do it at the top of a hill or on the hill so that you do not have to try to grab a water bottle at 40 per hour. Also make sure that there is not a technical descent or something immediately afterwards, because then it will be difficult to put the stuff back in your pockets and in your bottle cages. In very cold weather it can also be nice if your coach can warm your water bottle with warm water or even tea.

This is specific to this competition, but you can of course also apply to other competitions in cold weather, for example the Norseman Triathlon or something like that. But the most important lesson is Make sure you have a plan and make sure you can carry out multiple scenarios on that day. If you have any questions about clothing, nutrition and other materials, you can always ask TriathlonWorld for advice.


Greetings, Steff




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Is the Hell of Kasterlee really such a hell?