Race around the Netherlands

2,000 kilometers in 8 days: An Ultra-Cycling Experience Report

Race around the Netherlands: An ultra-cycling race around the Netherlands

Martin and Christian are two long-time friends who have already conquered several adventures together on their bikes. Two years ago, they stood at the starting line of the Race around the Netherlands for the first time. In their first attempt, they had to abandon the race due to a swollen Achilles tendon. Find out in this experience report how they prepared and whether they crossed the finish line in 2024.

The key facts about the ultra-cycling event Race around the Netherlands

The Race around the Netherlands is a "self-supported ultra-cycling bike race." Participants must complete the designated route as quickly as possible, entirely self-sufficient and without any outside assistance. The distance of over 1,950 kilometers with more than 6,800 meters of elevation must be covered solely by individual riders or pairs. The time limit is eight and a half days. Besides the varying weather conditions, the main challenges include securing enough food and water. There is no prize money. All information about the ultra-cycling event Race around the Netherlands can be found on its dedicated page.

Preparation – Training, Packing, and Route Planning

Before standing at the starting line of the Race around the Netherlands with 260 other participants, there was much to do, primarily training. To cover 250 kilometers or more on a bike every day, one must prepare both body and mind. During the autumn and winter, we mainly trained indoors on an indoor trainer due to weather conditions. With two small children each at home, structured training is the most feasible option. We completed interval training about four times a week. However, in ultra-cycling training, it's not just the active structures that need to adapt, such as the leg muscles, but also other supporting muscles and passive structures. These include ligaments and tendons, the neck, and of course, the seating area.

As soon as it got warmer, we rode outside as often as possible. One weekend in March, we arranged a three-day training session to test ourselves and our gear. Each of us packed our belongings (as little as possible, as much as necessary) into special bikepacking bags on the bike. For a general overview of road bike training, we have our own article here. Additionally, we studied the route in the Netherlands to get a rough idea in advance of food points such as gas stations and supermarkets. For overnight stays along the way, we signed up with the organization "Vrienden op de fiets" (translated as: Friends of Cycling). This Dutch bed & breakfast network offers affordable private rooms or entire (garden) houses for €25 per night per person, including breakfast.

Two participants in the Race around the Netherlands ride their bikes towards the evening sun.

Race around the Netherlands – a race report in eight acts

Many different cyclists stand in the starting area of the ultra-cycling event Race around the Netherlands

Day 1 – Familiar Paths, New Impressions

As we finally stood at the starting line amidst the hustle and bustle with the other riders at 8 o'clock, we were naturally extremely excited. Time seemed to stand still before Michael – the organizer – waved the large Race around the Netherlands flag, sealing the start. Progress was swift from the get-go, and the long chain of cyclists riding through the narrow streets near the city of Arnhem seemed endless.

But those were by no means the only people on the road. It was King's Day in the Netherlands, a national holiday with parades and festivities in every major city. Often, we had to navigate very slowly through crowds and parades in the city centers.

Even the wind was not friendly to us on this day, but rather a challenge. Nevertheless, we were able to thoroughly enjoy the scenic highlights such as the "De Hoge Veluwe" National Park. The destination after 261 kilometers was the home of Arjen and his wife south of Enschede, where we had already fallen tired into bed two years earlier.

Day 2 – Not Again!

Shortly before 6 a.m., the alarm clock rang, and we staggered sleepily and already quite exhausted to breakfast. It was almost unimaginable that we wanted to ride nearly 280 kilometers today. However, we had already booked the next accommodation the evening before, so we had no other choice. During breakfast and on the first kilometers, two old acquaintances, Werner and his girlfriend Juliett, accompanied us. We had met them on the route two years ago and coincidentally encountered them again later at Arjen's house. We rode together for about 100 kilometers before Christian and I decided to pedal a bit harder and bid farewell to the other two soon after.

Shortly afterward, I felt pressure in my left Achilles tendon again for the first time. I was angry, disappointed, and close to tears. I took my heel out of the shoe and rode the remaining 150 kilometers through beautiful forests and the fortress of Bourtange. In the morning and in between, it was unimaginable for us that in the evening, after 276 kilometers, we would slip into our recovery socks just before Groningen.

Three cyclists riding side by side on a road in the forest
Two cyclists from behind riding along a dike with sheep and taking part in the ultra-cycling event Race around the Netherlands

Day 3 – Less Sea, More Sheep

The weather forecast for the third day was very good, but the wind forecast was rather poor: lots of sun and a stiff breeze from the southwest. This meant we would have tailwinds for the first 60 kilometers, but then we had to battle against the wind for the next 200 kilometers. Add to that the prospect of dikes and sheep, nothing else. At least my Achilles tendon had calmed down again.

In Groningen, at a raised bridge, about eight participants of the Race around the Netherlands gathered, recognizable by their fully loaded bicycles and cycling caps with large numbers on them. Naturally, conversation ensued, which meant we couldn't really take advantage of the tailwind. Surprised by the low average speed, we arrived at the sea, which somehow seemed to be absent at the moment.

At the big break around 2 p.m., we found that all attempts to find overnight accommodation with a private individual were futile. "Holidays," remarked a woman at the supermarket who had been following our efforts. Fortunately, we still found a hotel in the coastal town of Lemmer. The 120 kilometers until then were beautiful but monotonous and very exhausting due to the wind.

Day 4 – New Territory Ahead!

Today, we had three important intermediate goals in mind. Firstly, the total distance mark of 975 kilometers (half of the route), secondly, the 1,000-kilometer mark (within 4 days), and thirdly, the point where we had abandoned two years ago. That also meant finally entering new territory!

The headwind continued to blow strongly in our faces, but with the prospect of improvement, the first 90 kilometers of the day rolled smoothly. Now came the turning point: we no longer headed south but north. The rest of the day should be less exhausting due to the tailwind. This propelled us forward well, but unfortunately, it did little to help us in the tourist-overrun Edam (home of Edam cheese). There, we had to push our bikes along the four-kilometer-long promenade. The important milestones turned out to be less glamorous than expected, mainly due to our increasing fatigue.

In Den Helder, rain and Christian's information about his aching Achilles tendon marked the emotional low point so far. I was relieved that everything remained calm with me, which made it easier for me to understand Christian's situation. At least the last 20 kilometers of the day through the dunes helped to calm our spirits somewhat.

A cyclist taking part in the Race around the Netherlands carries his bike over a lock.
Two ultra-cycling cyclists from behind riding along a promenade where a lighthouse stands.

Day 5 – Trail Magic

Sitting at the breakfast table, we had mixed feelings. On one hand, the outlook for today was tailwind, a beautiful path through the dunes, and the cities of The Hague and Rotterdam. On the other hand, Christian was still struggling with his Achilles tendon. Nevertheless, we set off.

The scenery was truly unbelievably beautiful, but Christian grew quieter. Then suddenly, a stranger cyclist approached us. He had participated in the same event four years ago. Christian shared his problems, and the stranger mentioned that he had experienced exactly the same thing and what he had done to reach the finish line nonetheless: shifting the cleat of the clipless pedals all the way back on the shoe and taping the foot. We immediately put both tips into action, and Christian immediately felt an improvement. Cheerfully, we passed through The Hague and into the metropolis of Rotterdam. A huge city with a metropolitan flair akin to London.

Suddenly, at the traffic light behind us, we heard a voice: "Martin and Christian?" We couldn't believe it! It was Patrick, whom we had also met two years ago. He had found our names on the starting list and had been tracking our journey via our GPS tracker, intercepting us in Rotterdam, even though he wasn't participating in the race this time. Wow, what a moment. We rode together for a while, and by the evening after nearly 260 kilometers, we still thought, Wow, what a day!

Day 6 – A Crazy Day

Our host from the previous night provided us with an insanely great breakfast that left nothing to be desired. We started the day with the prospect of sunshine and tailwind, at least for the first few kilometers. Christian's Achilles tendon was "so-so," but both of us were struggling with seat problems. Seat problems, as well as irritation of the Achilles tendon, are not uncommon in ultra-cycling.

The first kilometers by the sea went smoothly, and we contemplated how far we could go today. We thought "really far!" until we suddenly noticed a road closure. Due to bridge construction, we were supposed to have a 30-minute standstill. The construction company had set up a refreshment point with coffee and cookies especially for all waiting cyclists. Pretty cool, we thought. After resuming our ride, we suddenly faced headwinds, and with each additional kilometer, it became colder and foggier. Meanwhile, the paths were completely covered with sand. And suddenly, in the city center of Goes, an older man lay motionless on the ground under his bicycle. Many passersby rushed to his aid, and we were able to continue our journey. What a day! Although we had already booked a hostel room, things went so well at the end of the day that we considered riding further than the 235 kilometers to the hotel. However, the rain radar predicted a heavy thunderstorm, which hit us just as I was on my way to the shower.

Three cyclists are waiting at a bridge construction site, drinking coffee and eating cookies
One road is completely flooded with water.

Day 7 – The Wind Goes Crazy and the Rain Follows Suit

The rain was not only our companion throughout the night but also expected to stay with us the next day. So, in the morning, we were met with headwinds and rain, while in the afternoon, there were some climbs and sunshine. It was indeed a real battle against the elements, and when would a flat tire be more inconvenient than now? A nail pierced through my tire, resulting in a 20-minute stop.

Then the rain eased a bit, but the headwind intensified. We continued our struggle southward until we had to tackle the first of 11 climbs. Some of them were manageable, while others, with gradients of up to 22%, were extremely challenging. Our goal was to conquer each summit without dismounting, and we actually succeeded. At one point, we even had to pass through a road completely flooded by the rain overnight.

The highest point was the "Drielandenpunt" at an altitude of 322 meters above sea level, where the borders of Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands meet. The last two climbs of the day were a breeze, yet we arrived at the hotel only shortly before 9 p.m. after covering 205 km. The bikes were dirty, but the outlook for the next day was excellent.

Day 8 – Offense is the Best Defense

For the last time, the alarm clock rang just before 6 a.m., for the last time, we pulled up our sports compression sleeves (you can learn all about compression sleeves for cycling here), and for the last time, we sat on our bikes exactly at 7:21 a.m. On this final day, the kilometers stretched out like gum under a shoe on a summer day. Simply going through the last hours on the bike held no appeal for us anymore. Therefore, we decided to switch to full race mode.

We were somewhere in the race between positions 180 and 220, but now we acted as if we were vying for the podium. We aimed to cover the last 222 kilometers with a break time of under 30 minutes and an average speed of over 25 km/h. This game injected the needed momentum into the endeavor. Many of the other participants of the Race around the Netherlands rode in this mode the entire time, but it sufficed for us on the last day.

Just before 5 p.m., we crossed the finish line and were applauded by the cyclists present. Michael, the organizer, congratulated us and took the finish-line photo. And even Patrick was there – what a finale!

Two finishers stand in the finish area of the Race around the Netherlands and are happy.

Conclusion of the Race around the Netherlands

Christian and Martin took 7 days, 10 hours, and 15 minutes to finish the Ultra-Cycling Race around the Netherlands. During the race, they consumed approximately 70 chocolate bars, 3.5 kg of potato salad, and various pastries; they replenished their energy reserves with over 10 liters of cocoa and 12 liters of juice. Placement is not crucial for them, but with their time, they are in the last third of the starting field. Of the approximately 260 starters, just under 200 finished within the time limit. However, for the two participants, the placement in an Ultra-Cycling Event is not decisive; it's about the many impressions, contacts, and personal challenges. Despite the numerous aches and pains, it was an unforgettable adventure for Christian and Martin. On the way back home, they debated which Ultra-Cycling Event they would tackle next.

Gallery of the Ultra-Cycling Event Race around the Netherlands

Here is a gallery with many pictures that Christian and Martin took during the Race around the Netherlands.

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