Monday, August 25, 2014

Miyakojima triathlon, Japan's signature race

Whoa, this race report is way overdue. Can't be helped...stuff happens. It is 4 months after the race so I'll try to recollect the gory details as best as I can. In April we took our virgin voyage to the island of Miyakojima for arguably Japan's most famous and beautiful triathlon, and a long distance triathlon affair no less.

My training was pathetic, but I managed to finish under 12 hours. Barely. 11:58. That is 35 minutes slower than my ironman last year.

My times:

swim: 54:10 (3k), 243 place out of 1600
bike:  5:27:26 (155k), 531 place
run:  5:37:06 (42k) 966 place

total: 11:58:42,  671 place, 135 in AG of 250 finishers

I look at it as a family holiday with a bit of exercise in the middle of it. And we got to reunite with my mother's cousin Nishino san (pictured here) who runs a restaurant in the main town. The beaches are picturesque. Golden sand and aquamarine ocean. Paradise. You get the picture.

Swim: I felt pretty fine, was able to hit land in under 1 hour, which was satisfactory. I noticed Stan was tugging on his wetsuit in the T1 tent just ahead of me, so felt reassured that I had had a decent swim as he is in crazy shape. It was quite surreal to do a hard swim in such a beach paradise. My thoughts drifted back to my honeymoon in the Maldives, where I did leisurely easy swims while Meg did her easy yoga on the beach bungalow deck...Anyway, back to the race....

Bike: It started out fine and I was enjoying the great ocean views across bridges and along the north coast. But at 80k I was in trouble, having not done any long rides over 80k, and the view became rather secondary to the fatigue. My legs seized up, and my speed fell off a cliff.

I don't have the exact splits but I was doing something like 34k per hour for the first half and way below 30k per hour for the 2nd half. Much slower than my full ironman 180k bike ride last year. And this was only 155k. Oh well, different course, different year...I rolled into T2 with dogmeat legs...

Run: It was just a matter of finishing at this point. I knew I had nothing in the tank, and hadn't done any serious runs since Tokyo Marathon. And it was quite hot without cloud cover on the road. Meg and Ty were there at the 2k and 40k points to support me, which gave me a big lift. Thanks Meg! From 5k to 30k was pure torture, up and down monotonous hills on the highway across the island. The locals were genki, yelling out their version of gambatte every rest stop, which was nice. I tried the run steadily, but had to mix in walking after 5k or so. I did the walk and jog thing for most of the run.

Than at the 35k point, a woman about my age bolted by me. At the time, there were 2 Japanese men just in front of me doing the same walk and jog routine. To me she said nothing, but she really unleashed her dismay at the 2 men. She yelled, "what the hell are you doing?? Let's go! Get to the goal in under 12 hours, you chumps!" (rough translation). Than she took off. The men continued to jog and walk, amused and slightly embarrassed. But I started running. Hell, I wasn't hurting that bad, maybe I could get under 12 hours too. She really inspired me. I caught her at about 38k and kept going.

At 40k I saw my cousin and Meg and Ty soon after. From there, I picked up the pace to get in under 12 hours. And it was still daytime outside. Having raced through the finish lap, I felt like a zombie for a good 1 hour in the finish area as the fireworks and festivities climaxed in the track stadium.
It is a nice race and "must-do" for any triathlete in Japan or Asia. The local support is great, and the island beauty unparalleled in Japan. Highly recommended. Who knows, I might do it again someday and even train! Thanks to Stan for taking pics and good company during the weekend. Domo arigatou to my cousin Nishino san, wife, and daughter Yumi, who was a great help for our logistics.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Tokyo marathon #7

One day many moons ago in the 2H of 2013, I decided I wanted to seriously train for Boston marathon qualification, which was 3:25:00 for my age group. Several months and two +30k long runs later, I toed the line at Shinjuku for the 7th time, planning to hum along at 4:50 per k pace.

In the end, I came up short of my goal, my legs deserting me at the 35k point, but I did improve from last year and ran my fastest marathon since my PB in 2007 (3:08:49). You could say it is a good ramp for the all-important triathlon season featuring Miyakojima Strongman, Japan 70.3, etc.

My prep was mediocre. Of course you never get to do as much as you would like to and this year was no exception. I managed two long runs of 30k in Yoyogi park and 32k on Oda field (27k) one very long Wednesday night last month. Thanks to the crew at Yoyogi park Sunday mornings for the great company over the winter. I managed 40-50k average per week in January and February, much too low for a decent time I thought. Race week prep did go smoothly. I thought I ate right, slept well, tapered ok, etc. My right calf was bothering me after the 32k run the last 2 weeks, but I wrote it off as a mild strain. On race morning, I met and reunited with some Nanbanners at the traditional Shinjuku Starbucks, greeted the nervously happy barbarian horde, sipped coffee, did my morning constitution, and headed for the B gate. I joined Keren, Jay, Don, and Frank at the gate, which was great company during the long wait before the gun....

My pace was ok at about 4:55 for the first 5k, but somehow I thought I was going too slow. The next 5k was about the same. My garmin was showing crazy splits of 4:20 and 4:05, so I knew that I couldn't trust the watch for the rest of the race. My first 10k was about 49 minutes, about 1 minute under my goal pace, which bothered me. I told myself to keep cool and not accelerate too quickly. I finished the 1H in 1:44:10, now about about 2 minutes under my goal pace.

I tried to step on the gas pedal slightly at the halfway point but really couldn't get back any of the lost minutes over the next 10k. At the 33k point the wheels really came off. I was putting in more effort but my splits were actually getting worse. 4:45, than 4:55, than 5:05....Boston was now becoming unrealistic. Than I hit the hills on the final 7k and laid a big old 27:40 split for 35-40k. A 3:30 marathon was even becoming tough. I just didn't have the legs or the motivation after knowing I was going to miss Boston, and cruised the final 2.2k at 5:40 pace. It was great to see our contingent on the course: Chiba san, Bob, Mika and Meeks, Stan, Derrick, Luke, Harrison, and some others I missed (sorry I wasn't feeling like superman this year). I came in at 3:33:33, my best time in 7 years, but missed my 3:25 goal.

My 5k splits:

24:42  humming
25:15 humming
25:04 humming
27:40 uh oh
12:47 (2.2k)

Being a veteran of Tokyo marathon, I went straight to the massage tables, changed, and got on to the train before the masses arrived at Big Site. Next I enjoyed several Yona Yona beers at the post-marathon party with the glowing finishers and supporters. Many thanks to Paddy for setting up the venue. I had no major physical problems, only sore and tight legs. It was great to see Mary and Gary visiting from Hong Kong. Of course my wonderful and lovely wife Megumi, who put up with my long training runs, deserves my greatest thanks.

Next stop, paradise city, Miyakojima Strongman!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Aizu triathlon, the HAT TRICK

You know how everything comes in threes? A, B, C....Crosby, Stills, and Nash, hat tricks, etc. Well, I did the Aizu triathlon in Fukushima this past August for the 3rd time, and got my 3rd PB of the season. I now have PB'd at all 3 distances this year, which took me 5 years to do for the half and full-ironman distances.

Swim: 26:39, 50th place  Swim was fine, about the same speed as last time.
Bike: 1:07:40,  47th place  Bike was fine too.
Run: 46:35, 109th place!  Run was improved since my knee injury, but I still have some work to do. 

Total: 2:20:54, 58th place, 6th in age group

From the numbers, you can see that my swim and bike are more competitive than my run. Paradoxically, my run used to be my strongest discipline as a veteran long distance runner.


beautiful Aizu


It was great to ride up with my old friends Keren and Stan, who both had sparkling races and PBs as well.
Highly recommended race, just a few hours from Tokyo. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Let's challenge Roth, Germany!  大きなチャレンジ

It's over 6 weeks since the big challenge in Roth, Germany. Normally I would update this blog soon after such an auspicious occasion as an ironman-distance triathlon, but a journey around the world after the race prevented such promptness.

The race itself was a great experience yet a painful run. I had a good swim, a fair bike, and a super-lousy run. That's the way an ironman tri goes sometimes. A little background on Roth. It is a tiny German town in Bavaria near Nuremberg, which comes alive every July during the Roth Challenge Triathlon weekend. Some, including Chrissie Wellington, declare Roth as "simply the best race in the world".

     simply the best

Roth actually used to be ironman Germany, but a falling out with IM led to the formation of the Challenge brand. With 5,500 athletes, it is the mother of the Challenge family and the world's largest long distance triathlon. It is supposed to be a fast course and holds the men's and women's records at 7:41 (Andreas Raelert) and 8:18 (Chrissie Wellington). So when Keren, Mika x 2, Dave, and other friends sounded their Roth horns, I took the plunge and signed up, nearly 1 year ago.

When April came around, I wasn't feeling very fit, having done only some modest running training for Tokyo marathon circa 40-50k per week. So I did the Japan half-ironman in June as a warmup race for Roth, and completely surprised myself with a big 30-minute PB (see below Nagoya the Magic Dragon blog). Hmmmm, could it be a double PB year? Motozo pondered...

                    let's challenge!
 I arrived in Roth 4 days before the race and soon was exploring the town and course with Dave and Mika. Many others from the barbarian horde could not make it for various reasons, so it was basically the 3 of us. It was nice to bump into Stefan, former nanbanner, and Alex from TiT Japan, who were both traveling with family to Roth.

                       willkommen to Deutschland

We got to hear some of the legends of the game talk about the challenge including Macca, Belinda Grange, and Juergen Zack. It was surprising to see so many Kona Ironman Champions at the arch rival company. Caroline Steffen, 2nd place IM Kona finisher, won Roth this year.

                                                     he's a fan

Dave and I stayed with a German family, the which was a good experience overall. Our host mother Claudia rolled out the red carpet and we really got a feel for the local culture. It was way more personable than a hotel, and very close to the race venue. We had an über BBQ Thursday night in Claudia's backyard featuring her daughter's boyfriend's cooking and son's expert commentary on German and US economics. On Friday, we did the pasta loading party which was delayed incredibly by a trucking accident (presumably it was carrying the coveted pasta). Saturday I feasted on carbs and some protein, dropped off the bike, and attended a really boring race explanation. 

On race day, I woke at 4 am, stuffed a full breakfast down, caught the 5 am bus, and had 90 minutes to clear out my system before my 7:15 am swim start. Weather was nice and cool in the morning. I was hoping it would stay like that for the bike and run....  

Swim, 3.8k, 2.2 miles:

The swim in Donau Canal is a single counterclockwise loop with a floating wave start. I got to the front of the group and swam hard when the gun went off, trying to get a little space from the main pack. After the first 50 meters, I relaxed, the fast guys started passing me, but there was adequate space, and everyone went pretty smoothly. 

              not so tyred.....

I got into a nice rhythm and decided to draft off a guy that passed me at 1k. I stayed with him for most of the swim, hit the final turn at around 1 hour, and landed 1:11:18, beating my last IM swim by 7 minutes.

Bike, 180k, 112 miles:

After a quick transition, I was in the saddle ready to explore the German countryside. The bike course itself is famous with lots of gently rolling hills, forests, and farmland, quite a peaceful contrast to the busy half-ironman course in Nagoya.

                                    a long way from home

I was looking forward to the Solarer Berg, the signature hill with a narrow corridor of screaming fans. It did not disappoint. Around 70k into the bike, I could hear the noise of the crowd as I approached the hill. After a right turn, I could see several thousand spectators, and got a mad rush of adrenaline. 

       the hills are alive....

After Solarer and the first loop I came in around 34 kph pace, 2:40, or 5:20 full bike pace, which was slightly ahead of my goal. The bike was still fun and quick until 120k when a number of factors caused me to fade badly, not least being general fatigue. I had done plenty of long 5 hour rides, nearly every week in May-June, but I suppose it wasn't enough.

        ....with the sound of music...                                                                                                                                                           

The sun and wind also dragged down my speed. Last but not least, I had a mechanical gear problem for the last 40k where my rear sprocket failed to shift into lower gears which forced me to do Solarer and other hills in 5th gear and up for final 40k. Dave and Mika had started before me, so I had hoped to catch sight of at least Mika during the bike.

                                                                                                                              are we having fun yet?

I finally caught Mika around 170k. It was nice to chat as I had not seen any familiar faces for several hours.
My second loop slowed to 31 kph. I rolled in to T2 in 5:36:02, which was still nearly a 1 hour improvement from my last ironman.

                             hop hop hop

Run, 42k, 26 miles:

And than there was the run, which was my strongest suit many moons ago. I pulled out of T2 feeling relieved to be off the bike, but my body really ached from head to toe. Still, I was able to run a good clip for 5k at 5:30 per k pace.

              das not good

Than it went pear-shaped. My whole body cramped at the 15k point including my arms! I tried the patented Jay Johanssen run/walk approach for 15-35k. I needed to run a 4 hour marathon to break the 11 hour barrier, but this faint hope went out the window at 20k. Despite the constant harassment from drunken spectators, I wasn't able to pick up the pace at 25-35k.  I had to pull over every 200-300 meters for water, food, and rest.

      danke Christiane!

It was all very painful and a fight to stay moving forward. Mika returned the favor to me about halfway thru, looking fresh. She is a great runner. At arond 40k, Joachim spotted me and shouted encouragement. I somehow was able to run the final 2k without breaks. Hoo Haa! I brought it home in 4:30:37 for the run.

                                                 はいラストスパート! finish this!

My total time was 11:26:11, over half an hour PB, but don't feel like I crushed the race, rather the contrary. It challenged Motozo. Maybe I need a coach? Congrats to Stephan, Alex, Dave Sims, Mika. Simzee had a gutsy race on limited long training. Mika was the heroine du jour, running many men down and breaking 12 hours.
       the 2nd ironman: Henley on Thames

Aftermath: What made it extra tough was a 2.5 week business trip tagged on the day after the Roth race. 4 am the next day, I was rushing to Frankfurt airport, flying to Geneva, and toiling the Swiss heat in a monkey suit. 2.5 weeks, 31,000 air miles, and several countries later, I returned to Tokyo. Kudos to Dave for taking my bike back to Japan!

         incredible weight/height loss in San Francisco...

A big DOMO to all of you that followed the race live, and to many friends and family who supported me through thick and thin. Next stop, うつくしまトリアスロンin 会津, beautiful Aizu. The olympic distance tri should be a piece of cake!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Nagoya, the magic dragon, at Japan 70.3 half-ironman、名古屋のマジックドラゴンズ、アイアンマン70.3セントレア知多・常滑ジャパン

There must have been some magic Nagoya dragon that huffed and puffed on Hillary Swank and your humble narrator that memorable Sunday, June 9, 2013. It was a complete 180-degree turnaround in events. I went in with pretty low expectations with a laundry list of concerns. Not least was the fact that I had suffered from tonsillitis 3 weeks before the race and wasn't able to train for the 2nd half of May. May 6-12: 8.3 hours, May 13-19: 5.3 hours, May 20-26: 0 hours, that's right, a big donut! An average of 6.6 hours per week in past 2 months had me scratching my head and thinking...

....can I do this without crashing and burning?

                      Lixil: the link to good living!
Pre-race: On Saturday, I hopped on the shinkansen and was down in a flash to the Chubu Centrair Airport. By the way, this is a great race for someone looking to do a half-ironman close to Tokyo, in on Saturday morning, out Sunday afternoon, back watching Nadal kick butt in the French open final Sunday night in the comfort on your own home. The official name could actually be the longest ironman event name in history....ready for this...Lixil ironman 70.3 Centrair Tokoname that?

                               he's a stud

On top of my lack of training hours, it was a stressful pre-race Saturday, as the omnipresent Whit Raymond, official ironman announcer, broke the news that wetsuits might be prohibited due to high water temperatures. Than back at the hotel I discovered a broken tire valve on my rear wheel tubular with only 3 hours to get my bike assembled and checked in. (Note to myself; use black cats instead of Sagawa Transport). After a painfully long train ride with rear wheel in hand to the bike mechanic area, an extremely efficient bike handyman fix of valve without tubular replacement (these puppies are expensive!), another long train ride back to hotel, than a 10k ride/warmup to the bike area, just in time for the bike check-in cut-off at 6 pm, I was ready for a well-deserved carbo-load and lights out.                                                                                                                                                          

Race day was a complete turnaround. I woke up at 5:45 am hungry and alert, wolfed down a full breakfast including essential natto/egg/rice, yakisoba, washed it down with coffee, arrived at the start area with 1 hour to go, welcomed by Whit's booming voice, and my 2 new mates, UK Richard and Swede Martin. I was also pleasantly affirmed by Ricky May that wetsuits were allowed and he also procured from May Storm that all-important 2 inches of tape for taping gels to the bike.

                                                               Ricky Martin and Motozo
Swim: Standing on the beach with Martin and Richard, we speculated how the supposed current was going to play out. Of course your humble narrator had been too busy taping said gels to his bike, and missed the swim warm-up. Alas, the horn sounded and we were off. It was a wave start so only about 240 other guys to avoid, which opened up pretty quickly. I swam super-easy for the first 300 meters, than pushed it a little harder, got to the 900 meter turnaround buoy in around 17 minutes. I thought that was a little faster than I usually swim, but I'll take it! I swam pretty conservatively on the way back as well, mixing breast stroke every 20 strokes or so, mainly as a vision mechanism, drafting off the occasional fast swimmer. I was happy to hit the shores in 35:21, which was a huge swim PB for this distance. 

                                                                 look at those buggers go...

Bike: I hopped on Hillary after five and a half minutes of T1 madness. This would have been 2-3 minutes had it not been for my wetsuit misplacement folly and long distance to T1 from beach. Never mind, I was saddled up and ready to grind it out. I started peddling at around 37-40 kph and thought it must be the fresh legs. After 10k, I was averaging 37 kph and marveled at the massive PB in the making. I didn't feel any discomfort or fatigue....yet. The bike course had changed from what I had heard, but was still technical and treacherous. The course had 4 x 22.5k loops with five 180-degree turns each lap, 4 of the turns bunched together within 5k of each other. There were also six 90-degree turns and narrow areas where race marshals blew whistles incessantly and screamed "slow down!!!" It was crowded and required full attention, eyes on the road all times. I was afraid to glance at my garmin speedo for fear of hitting something.

                                                                     got drugs?


At the halfway 45k point, I was still at 37 kph, around 1:14:00, without feeling much pain. Than, at 55k, my lower back began to ache. I tried to enjoy the pain alla Tyler Hamilton, but it doesn't really work for me like those guys in the tour de France. I guess Tyler had more dope in his system than your humble narrator. Anyway, my dope-free back kept getting more and more painful and eventually screamed "get off this bike!". Anything, even a half-marathon in the heat, is better than 2 more minutes with Hillary. After the 3rd lap, I heard someone yell out my name, and quick glance led me to believe that my cousin Satoru had made it to cheer me on. Nice! a boost of energy was just what the doctor ordered. Somehow, I made it through the last lap, thinking of Satoru and the half-marathon "fun" ahead. 悟ちゃん、応援してくれて、本当に助かりました。I rolled in at 90k with a bike time was 2:29:11, average of 36.2 kph, another huge PB. Needless to say, I was quite pleased with that.

                                             wondering when I would hit the wall...

Run: My T2 time of 3:00 is deceptively slow given the long run in bike shoes to the change area. Anyway, I hit the ground running at 5-minute per kilo pace. I was sans GPS, but the course was well marked every 2k. I ran with a skinny guy briefly, and his GPS said 4 1/2 per k, so let him go fry bigger fish. I was a little surprised I could run at this pace after a few k, being in new territory with PB swim and bike splits. I thought I would hit a wall you can probably guess, this never really happened. I felt good throughout most of the run, consuming drinks and salt tablets liberally every 2k. At the halfway point (10.5k), I calculated that I needed 5 minute k's to get me in under 5 hours, and stepped on the gas pedal slightly. I knew the 11-20k would be the hard part, but I fought off the heat and fatigue fairly well. At 16k, I got another huge boost from my younger cousin Mari. まりちゃん、応援はどうもありがとう!
                                               nothing like the scent of a finish line...
I was at 4:41:00 at the 18k point, and could taste the finish line. I heard Whit's booming voice at 20k, remembered how he had dissed me in China for coming in at 6 hours in that pressure cooker, and felt satisfaction in beating that by over an hour 5 years later. I exalted at the finish line, guts pose and all, thrilled to crack 5 hours with plenty to spare.

                                                                    let there be light...

My official times were:

swim: 35:24, 45th place age group out of 243 in AG, 290th overall out of 1,380 total, 1:51 per 100 m pace
bike: 2:29:11, 29th place, 184th overall, 36.2 kph pace
run:  1:42:47, 38th place, 252nd overall, 4:52 per k pace
total: 4:55:51, 38th place, 232nd overall

                                             lots of 5's, but love the 4 the most..

Post-race thoughts: I am still trying to figure out how and why I was able to perform much better than previous races despite my limited training. Of course I did have high quality training sessions with namban every Wednesday at the track, and a long glorious golden weekend with the Don of Shimoda helped the bike and run endurance. I am sure the challenging half-marathon up and down Mt. Fuji at the Fuji Susono half-marathon did not hurt my running confidence. 

                                                                   Mother, I'm flying
                                                    yes, it was Fuji Su So so so so so so so so NO

I did take Bevan's keen advice and forced myself to stay in the aero position for at least 2 long rides in May, although they were under 80k. Perhaps it was the new cloud racer running shoes alla Keren's Oakwood party? Or was it the positive energy from Megumi's perfect cube champagne birthday party last week? Could it possibly have been those long Sunday Yoyogi morning runs with Terada, Brad, Brandon, Jay, Petr back in the winter? Or was it the awe-inspiring performance by Ishida san, taking 4th place in his age group, just missing another Kona slot by 1 place?

Who can say?

Coming soon, the real challenge of 2013!

Challenge Roth, Germany, July 14, (full ironman distance without the M-dot brand)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

元三はハーフだ。Motozo ha hafu da. Fuji Susono half-marathon

2009 Fuji Susono barbarian horde

Fuji Susono half-marathon is one of my favorite half-marathons in Japan. Last time I ran it was 2009, I described it as a "hot and hilly scenic detox pressure cooker". This time around it was hot and hazy sans Mt. Fuji view. Given the heat and hills, I was happy with the result, which was actually 1 minute faster than my 2009 race. My splits were:

5K: 25:31 uphill
5K: 24:20
5K: 23:45
5K: 21:14 downhill
1.1k: 4:40

Total: 1:39:49, 80th in age group 

2013 barbarian horde

Did I mention the heat was a big factor? The official temperature was 23 degrees C on race Sunday, but it felt like 30 C in the blazing sun, and was quite a contrast to the cool rainy Saturday. I lined up on the track start with 5-6 nanbanners all aiming for 1:35-1:40ish times. It was awesome to run with so many friends. I dueled in the sun with Rie, Chika, Jon, Teruyuki, Anthony over the first 10k. I was generally passing runners on the flats, but getting passed by some on the uphills, which were prevalent over the first 10k. At 10K Chika was 近い, and she accelerated past all of us except for Terry. I couldn't really answer her attack, and marveled at her strength and cadence on the hot hills despite the fact that she was wearing long running tights and 2 shirts. I was overheating in my singlet and shorts and tried to run in the few patches of shade I could find. 

At around 13k I started to feel stronger, and knew that it was mostly downhill to the finish. Still I was surprised at how slow my 5k splits were considering I ran under 20 minutes last month at the 5k time trial. I sighted Chika at 17k and started to reel her in, but it wasn't easy. 

Ty and Anzu busied themselves while the runners toiled...

At 20k, I got a big boost from Megumi, Gary, Anzu, and Ty on the grassy sidelines. Ty was super excited to see daddy, much different from Tokyo marathon where he fell asleep!
A big thanks to Chika san for organizing the weekend, including 2 onsens and 2 tabehodai meals. The German brewery and Filipino band did not disappoint the night before the race as well. Of course, thanks to Megumi, who was a superstar attending to the special needs of our little running prince the whole weekend, and managed to take some great pics. It was a great thrill to see Meg and Ty during the race. A big domo to Chiba san for all that you do.

Next stop, Nagoya half-ironman in early June.