Saturday, August 08, 2015

Kamaishi triathlon, a long trip to a little race

We made the pilgrimage to Kamaishi in Iwate Prefecture for the first revival of the olympic distance triathlon since the tsunami in 2011. A five hour voyage by Shinkansen and car, but it was worth the journey. The Kamaishi people are warm and welcoming and dazzled us with their energy. The heat was an issue though, despite the fact that Kamashi is some 500k north of Tokyo.

A little background on Kamaishi: It's a medium-sized coastal town known for its fish and steel factories. The town is directly exposed to the Pacific Ocean, so on March 11, 2011, it was devastated by the Tsunami. The town has a long history of dealing with tsunamis, and fortunately most lives were spared. But the physical and economic damage was immense. Rieko and Mike Trees set up a charity in 2011 and have been going back every year to help out. I thought it would be good to participate in this charity race of sorts. Mike couldn't make it this time, but Rieko, big Mika, and little Meeks all showed up and collected trophies.

I also have a soft spot for Kamaishi as it was my first triathlon ever back in 2004. Rieko and Mike also coerced me to go up 11 years ago. Some things don't change.

It was good fun to compare my performance with 11 years ago. I didn't have a blog or Facebook back than, but I remember it distinctly. I thought that I swam well, but was hugely disappointed to see almost no bikes on the racks at the T1 area. I spent most of the bike passing the slow swimmers and bikers, felt really fast on the run, but was far behind anyone competitive.

Swim: This time around my swim was about 5 minutes faster. The swim is in a protected harbor with no wake at all. I lined up in the front near Rieko, hoping to draft off of her, which was a mistake. I got swamped by aggressive guys in the 2nd and 3rd row. At about 100 meters in, someone punched the back of my head. That was the hardest I've ever been hit in a swim. I felt woozy and slowed, swam conservatively the rest of the way, using breast stroke every 20 strokes. Still my swim was 25 minutes, about 1 minute off a PB. In T1, all the bikes were still in the rack by my area, jogging my memory of 2004.

Bike: Still there was work to be done. This year the bike course was 26k despite the "olympic distance" billing. A big curvy hill inland for 13k and back. Compared to 2004, there was hardly anyone on the road but 16 fast swimmers including Rieko, a few relay guys, and the pros. I passed 5-6 bikers, saw Rieko a minute in front with her cheshire cat smile. After a few more passes, a young guy wobbled by me. I traded places with him with 1k to go, finished the bike in 45:46 not including transition, about 34.8 kph. Considering the hills in the first section, I was happy with that time.

Bike course here:

Run: It was getting super hot by the 10 am run start. I wasn't feeling super duper anymore but tried to accelerate to 4 minute pace. That did not happen so settled in at 4:30 pace. The run is a simple 4 x 2.5k course along the coast. There isn't much to see but plenty of Kamaishi folk to pump you up with water, sport drink, hoses, and cheer. It is fun to see everyone you know the course. Rieko and Mika traded pleasantries the entire run. There is also a longish 200 meter tunnel that is rather cool, so I used the tunnel to accelerate. I pulled in at 41 minutes and change.

I was 13th overall out of 170 age groupers and 4th in the 40's age group. Only 1 older guy finished in front of me, a great improvement from 11 years ago.

Many thanks to Rieko for organizing. We stayed at a deluxe Horaikan ryokan right on the beach near the swim start. Great to see Akiko and her husband Itaru, who drove up from Sendai.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Obuse half marathon: Must be a circus in town...

It had been 6 years since my last trek to scenic Obuse, Nagano, and far too long. Nanbanners have been racing the half marathon there for 13 years since its inception. It is a wonderful mountain getaway to visit during the sultry Japan summer. And why not tack on a half marathon in the middle of a 4-day weekend?

Megumi and Ty came along. We all enjoyed the cooler weather, green mountain backdrop, and ice cream!

The race itself was fun once we got there. I had to wake up at 4 AM. I think Chika, Meeks, and the others woke up at 3:30 AM, but I am a veteran to early race times. I was able to produce a decent result, much faster than my Shinjuku half (1:41) in January this year. I guess the triathlon training has helped my running the past few months. I did 1:34:04, a course PB for me. Two previous times were 1:36 and 1:38. (see 2009 blog):

The race started at 6 AM versus 7 AM six years ago, which helped a bit. The temperature was 23 degrees C, which was manageable although it felt hotter. I settled in corral A with Padraig, Alan, Teruyuki (Terry), and a ton of circus extras. I was going to try to stay with Terry as he had targeted 1:32 or so.

There were a few exciting speeches from race executives and runners and one very bizarre comment. A race official actually told us to run slow because it is not too hot...huh? he said "あまり暑くないけれど、頑張らないで下さい。” Go figure...

Anyway, we lined up and suddenly a gun went off. I watched Podge drift off into the distance at 4:15 per k pace. I settled in a 4:30 pace. Terry was with me for the first 5k,  looked strong, shouted "you're going too fast" at Podge, and dropped me around the 6k point. Later I learned that he reeled in Podge with a sparkling 1:31 time. Way to go Terry!

I continued along at 4:30 pace. The course is pleasant with a few mild climbs in a mountain valley, but nothing too hairy. There are some nice mountains on the left side of the course for the first 10k, than you run thru a small town and back to Obuse. The biggest hill is around the 5k point so you have some momentum for the 2H of the race. I felt pretty good after 12k and started to work harder for the last 5-6k. I noticed Alan bearing down on me at 18k so worked a little harder to keep him at bay. I finished with 4:20 pace for the last 3k which was a good feeling.

The finish area is quite nice with plenty of fresh fruit, green grass, live music, and the necessary high school dancers. Big shout out to Chika for organizing the hotel, restaurants, and logistics.

The next two days were glorious ones spent in Iizuna kogen ski area, a 30 minute drive from Nagano city, and Yatsugatake. Meg and I took turns running around a gorgeous lake at 飯綱高原, and than I couldn't resist diving in from our paddle boat.

We stopped at Yatsugatake on the way back to Tokyo on day 4 and did the nostalgic Fujimi panorama gondola ride.

Obuse is a highly recommended trip for runners and just plain old citizens. Take an extra day to explore the area if you can. We used to have 20 runners back in the old days, but this time there were only 7 of us running. There are plenty of runners in costume so this is a bit of a circus race where you can place 134th out of 7,000 runners with a 1:34 time....

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Shimoda triathlon #3, homegrown and crispy

The 3rd edition of the homegrown Shimoda triathlon is done and dusted. We had surprisingly fortuitous weather. Many thanks to Greg Stevens for the precision timing. Youri was the top dog by a large gap, holding on to a big bike lead. Jay, Motozo, and Keren had an epic battle in the heated run. Charlie was a superstar in the water and on the saddle. Mika T. was the top female. Everyone started, finished, didn't get lost, and had a great time. Times and action shots are below.

Youri 2:19
Jay 2:25
Motozo 2:25
Keren 2:26
Charles/Makiko 2:38
Mika T 2:40
Emil 2:41
Stan 2:42
Dante 2:43
Niall 2:58
Ale/Greg 3:01
Naoko 3:01. Partial
Meeks 3:09

the forecast said rain, this is what we got

swim start, 6 AM, Sunday morning

You don't get a better swim view than this

ready to roll


high touch!

the podium

all out BBQ

Our favorite spot

White beach breakfast with all the fixings

Monday, June 29, 2015

Niijima triathlon: rough start in paradise

Niijima, a beautiful island near Shimoda and home of my 1st triathlon of the 2015 season. Niijima is one of the triathlons in the Izu island series. Since Shimoda is part of the Izu peninsula, it's only appropriate that I should represent the Shimoda people in the race. It had been 5 years since my last trip to Niijima.

To sum it up, a great island weekend but disappointing race performance. Good swim, fair bike, horrible run. I hope to avenge this race in Aizu and Murakami later this summer.

24:33 swim (a PB)
1:09:25 bike
52:06 run

2:29:12 total

I thought I might have a chance at my PB 2:17 from last year after a good swim start, but did not feel great on the bike, and really suffered on the run. Still scratching my head on the slow run part. I ran about 10 minutes in Murakami last year, but was more spent in Niijima. The hills hurt me also.

Travelled to the island on the jet boat with Keren and Phil.

Keren had a great race, a PB, and 1st in age-adjusted grouping. Phil did well, his first race in several years. This is us pre-race with Mihaela.

 wait for it... kampai!

 Chris Parry's twin brother...

A view to a kill from the puddle jumper...

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Murakami triathlon: season climax and the sea of Japan

Despite the hand injury last month, I had been feeling rather solid as we boarded the shinkansen bound for Niigata, and the final test race of the season, Murakami olympic distance triathlon. I had improved my bike and run times in Shimoda over the summer, crediting several rides down the coast and indoors, a running vacation in Hokkaido in August, as well as better running sessions on the track with the Nanbanners.

Pre-race: Thanks to Danai, we were shacked up 5 minutes from the swim start at the opulent Haginoya Grand Hotel. It had been several years since my last Murakami race, but these conditions looked enticing. The last race I did in 2009 was too hot and slow, and the 2008 race was foiled by a canceled swim. Toru had arranged dinner at the local Izakaya located conveniently down the street from the Haginoya, we were well fed the night before. Little did we know there was a snowboarder shrine next to the restaurant. More on that later...

                             carbo-roading  居酒屋に炭水化物が多い

Jay, Alex, Ricky, and me were sharing a large room, so everyone pretty much woke up together at 6 AM, ate breakfast, put on body number decals, and rode bikes to the start area. I had my traditional natto, egg, rice, miso soup meal before the race as I knew the late 10 AM swim start would provide plenty of digestion time. It was super sunny at the swim area so I sat in the shelter during as the pros hit the water at 9 AM.

                                           the sea of Japan   日本海
We gathered at the beach 10 minutes before 10 AM. I did not really have a detailed swim strategy this time, just hoped to make it to the first turn without too much bumping. The course is an L-shape. You swim out straight to the first buoy/boat, hang a left turn, swim 600 meters parallel to the coast, make a U-turn, swim back to the original boat, hang a right, and you're home. The gun went off suddenly and many of us were not ready. Luckily I had my goggles on, so just hit my watch and tried to find a passageway through the coveted left side of the mass start. I made it to the first turn without much trouble, and as things started to open up I spotted Matt's big frame just ahead, accelerated to his massive draft, and coasted behind him for most of the swim. At the turnaround, my watch said 12 minutes, a good sign. A quick calculation, 2 x 12 plus alpha = 24 minutes and change, meant that I could be on my way to a fast swim and a banner day. I made it to the beach alongside Matt in 25 minutes flat, basically my ETA.

The transition was a bit hairy as it always is without much practice, and by the time I had mounted Hillary Cervelo Swank it was 28 minutes or so. Slightly dejected, I stepped on the gas and started passing the fast swimmers. The course felt swift and fine. So fine that I wondered if we had a slight tailwind going out. Anyway it felt good and I was doing 38-39 KPH for the first 10k. After the ride out of town there is a sharp turn, than a large incline and decline which is a bit scary, with Hillary rocketing up to 60 KPH at some points. Than it settles down for the next 15k or so to the turnaround point. It was smooth sailing pretty much all the way. I like this turnaround point as you can see your fast mates ahead and gauge how fast you are. I am usually 6-7 minutes behind Simzee, and on this day I was 4 minutes or so behind, so all systems were a GO. It might have been my imagination, but the pros lead pack and chasing pack didn't seem as far ahead as usual, so this was an encouraging sign, however real it was. By the 25k point, I got "stuck" in a large pack of 10+ riders. I could not pass these guys even if I wanted to, so rode with the group for the remaining 15k. It turned out that I was riding with Danai but did not recognise him. He didn't notice me either. We were both ultra-focused!

I pulled into T2 with a solid 1:04 bike, close to my fastest split ever, a PB looking like a strong possibility if I could just nail the run. I came off the bike with a total swim/bike time of 1:31, so needed a 48 minute run to crack my 2:20 PB. This seemed likely as I was feeling fairly fine. That being said, on the first 1-3k there is that inevitable feeling of death on the run. Your body is telling you to slow down or stop. Your mind says go. On this day, the mind conquered the body. The body shook off the pain and fatigue, and by 5k I knew this was my day. I pulled up to Danai at 2k, chatted briefly, and pulled away. This pass was also encouraging as Danai is usually ahead of me on the track. At the 5k point, I had done 23 minutes or so, and I fantasised about a 2:18 total time, a big PB. I liked how the course is marked every 1k which gives you some extra motivation every 4 minutes. My splits were getting better at 6k, 7k, 9k, my watch said 2:13:35, and I increased my pace in one final spurt. I crossed the line at 2:17:31.

swim: 25:35
bike:  1:09:09 (includes T1 and T2)
run:    42:47

total: 2:17:31

57th overall
3rd in age-group

                                A big, fat PB! I am very exciting...

I hung out at the finish line and happened to check the official times on the board. To my amazement, I had scored a 3rd place in my age group, which meant a podium appearance in a major race. This was definitely not in the plan. It should be said that 5 of my esteemed colleagues (Mark, Brett pictured below) in the 50-54 age group were faster than me, but I'll take it! I suppose that guys in their 40's have less time to train than 50 year-olds? Or maybe they are just plain faster. Mika T. also grabbed 2nd place in her AG, and Alex got 2nd as well.

                                          Well done TITs! 親父パワー

It was great to stay over an extra night and slow easy 50k ride through the mountains and coast on Monday morning. We tried to persuade Jay to join us, but he had to get back to his busy social schedule in Tokyo.

                                          a real athlete 平野歩 銀メダル

We met Ayumu Hirano, snowboard silver medalist at the Sochi Olympics, that night at the Bagu restaurant. Needless to say, he wasn't very pumped up to chat with us.

                                                   half-pint and mama-chan

                                            the morning after ride 美しい村上

Monday, October 06, 2014

Shimoda homegrown triathlon #2

The 2nd Shimoda home-brew triathlon was in September, after a very hot summer which included CP's inaugural Atami triathlon in August. Rumors are flying on a possible unification Izu-series triathlon in the making, so keep your ears to the ground for those exciting developments. We had some newcomers to the mix and returning Izu warriors.

The winner was Brett, edging Jay by a smidgen. Petr was strong, fast, and quick with a joke again. Motozo did a little better. The Rhino suffered a flat tire. Naoko and Alessandra had a nice swims. Meeks finished the race without incident but injured her pinky tendon playing basketball at the post-race party! Steve delivered the goods despite a pain in the gulliver that week. Dave D. came through in a big way, providing valuable Shimoda tri history. Keren offered lifesaving support and general constructive moral support. Did I leave anyone out?

Brett           2:28
Jay              2:31
Petr             2:35
Motozo       2:38
Naoko/Fab 3:03
Steve          3:24
Meeks        3:33

Dave D.

It was a more competitive race thanks to Brett and company. We all were faster on the bike and run. Look out Murakami!

As usual we rode the course on Saturday, and did the race on Sunday morning, 6 AM. The Rhino called the meat guy, and we had a full-on barbie before the race briefing. We had some newcomers, so the race explanation didn't get much easier. (Note to myself: get some buoys and chalk for the roads.) I did shorten the running and swimming pre-race day, which helped. On race morning, it felt like we were getting up for an Ironman race, quietly sipping coffee, eating cereal at 5 AM.

Due to excessive photo ops and a slightly larger group, we started 15 minutes late. The course was the same as the first one, an out-and-back-swim from Ohama towards Toji beach. Brett and the Rhino bolted out of the gate and quickly gapped the main group. Unfortunately neither had done the first triathlon in June, and mistakenly made the turn towards the beach too early.

I continued to the turnaround point, hoping that they would follow. It turns out they followed others behind, and lost valuable minutes. Owing to that navigational error (partially your narrator's fault no doubt), I finished the swim in the lead, with Naoko nipping at my heals.

The bike course was the same as the first race in June, 1 large 35k loop from Ohama to Irozaki along the breathtaking southern Izu coast, return inland through rice fields, followed by a small 4k loop to Toji beach and back.

As in the first edition, I was soon reeled in by Petr, Jay, and Brett. We formed a small peloton for most of the bike (drafting rules are loose due to lack of marshal budget). None of us 4 riders had the inclination or motivation to break out of the pack. I had a hand injury which prevented me from riding aggressively as it ached on road bike handlebars. We rode together for most of the 2H of the 40k bike.

My bike time was much improved from the first  Shimoda tri, somewhat helped by the mini-peloton and more indoor bike training over the summer. Brett and I came in about 1 minute ahead of Jay and Petr. I knew I didn't have a chance against these running specialists, so just hoped to run a decent time, pacing off the leaders...

Run: It turned out to be a showdown between Brett and Jay for the coveted gold medal. Brett had a minute lead off of Jay. I finished the bike with Brett, but his T2 was very fast, so I was 20 seconds behind to start the run. Jay soon wailed by me, followed by Petr.

We modified the run to be 3 small 1.3k loops near Ohama beach over the wood boardwalk, than 1 large 6k loop through the bamboo forest, horse ranch in Toji, Toji beach, and back to Ohama beach. I was going about the same pace as Petr during the first 3 small loops in Ohama, but lost contact with him on the final small loop.

Brett was able to hold off Jay. Petr was 3rd. I think Jay can lay claim to the most Izu series points this summer with a gold medal at Atami and 2 silver medals in Shimoda.

As usual we rambled over to the White Beach Hotel for full breakfast with all the fixings and the awards ceremony. Brett had a sparkling time of 2:28, which is quite fast for that hilly bike/run course and includes him getting lost on the swim. He had a tremendous 39 minute run on that mountainous terrain.

 swim      bike      run     total
Brett:   33:17  1:15:55  39:32  2:28:44
Jay:     30:43  1:19:12  41:13  2:31:08
Petr:     31:23  1:18:06  46:27  2:35:56
Motozo:  28:52  1:20:20  49:07  2:38:19
Naoko/Fab: 29:12  1:34:48  59:27  3:03:27
Steve: 46:04  1:45:39 52:46 3:24:29
Meeks:  39:10  1:49:42  1:04:18 3:33:10
Dave D.: 34:07  1:34:45    ------     -------  
Rhino:  30:21  --------   57:26    -------- 
Ian:     -----     ---------    1:37:40   -------
Aless.: 36:55  ---------  57:23   ---------

An added benefit was the 3-day weekend, which meant we could relax the next 2 days and even ride the next day back to golden Irozaki. A big thanks to the Rhino's friend Joe for the timing results, and great photos from Ian and Ale!

And it should be said that Meeks is recovering nicely from her pinky finger injury. (Note to myself: don't play basketball after a triathlon race.)