Sunday, October 29, 2017

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Murakami triathlon, close but no cigar

Murakami tri;

Swim What happened?
Bike Not too shabby
Run Smoking

Train ride party

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Sado Astroman powers activated, 佐渡国際トライアスロン

There we stood at Sawada Bay overlooking the pristine swim conditions with months of preparation behind us, seconds away from a 7:30 am mass gun start. 2 of our 13 strong Tokyo team were already swimming and in for a long day, the A-type full distance/Ironman variety. 11 of us were poised for the B-type, about half-ironman distance plus alpha. 90 minutes earlier we had watched our A-type heroes Alisa and David B. start the swim on the same beach. Now it was our turn to get wet...

   smooth as a silk Sawada Bay、いよいよスタートだ

  …Flashback to 7 months ago…The journey had actually started when Keren made the trek to Sado back in February, met with the organizers, and asked them to secure slots for the TiT (triathlon-in-tokyo) team. Desperate to put the international back in Sado International Triathlon, they dutifully obliged. Makiko-san was a huge help with the translation and other logistical organization. Pretty soon after that there were 15 TiT triathletes signed up for the A and B races. 

We all arrived Friday and Saturday before the Sunday race, pampered in the opulent Osado Onsen Hotel in Aikawa, where they once found gold during the Edo period.

                                                     a room with a view 大佐渡景色

It was a fabulous hotel with excellent buffet breakfast, mouth-watering local fish dinners, and friendly service. 

hotel lobby, not much lounging for busy triathletes ホテル大佐渡だ!

 The Saturday race briefing was comical, featuring long-winded warnings on what to do if a missile strikes Sado. 1. Make sure everyone is safe. 2. Run! I was dying to ask them why they thought that Sado would be bombed…did Charles Jenkins or kidnappings have something to do with the paranoia? 

                                     ready for missiles?

Sado is rather odd-shaped, kinda like an asymmetrical figure-8 or 2 mushrooms attached by the stems. It is a huge island, Japan’s 6th largest with over 200 km of circumference. The A-course goes around both mushrooms, the B-course along the east mushroom only. Like many regions in Japan’s outskirts, its population has been hallowed out as young people move to big cities. The locals are thus extra excited to see visitors from the mainland. At 3:45 am Sunday morning we were up for our breakfast. For me it is pretty simple: rice, eggs, natto, fruits, coffee to get things going…It was 10k from the hotel to the start area, a bit far, and so some of us rode in the cars. Some biked. Everything went rather smoothly except for Alisa, who forgot her bike shoes. Makiko-san again saved the day and brought her shoes to the bike area while Alisa was swimming! We B-type racers had plenty of time between 6-7:30 am to test the water, watch the A-type and pros swim, and relax on the relax on the beach. 


The swim is an enjoyable and attractive 1-loop 2k swim in Sawada Bay leading into the Sea of Japan on Sado’s southern shore. The waves and wind had kicked up the day before, and there were rumors of a swim cancellation. But on race day the water was about as smooth as I have ever seen it, and we were ready to rumble. 6-7 of us were hoping for a fast start to get in front of the mass start and catch a draft from Ryano’s big frame. At least that was my foolish plan. With 739 swimmers starting together, I had grossly underestimated my ability to sight “flyin’ Ryan” or other speedy swimmers Ben, Jean-Marc, Keren, or Scott. I could see nothing but blue caps, black suits, and white water for the first 100 meters. But my strategy of swimming quickly started to pay dividends after 200 meters as I was ahead of the trouble behind, and I settled into a nice rhythm, drafting off 2-3 fellow swimmers. At the 900 meter first turn, my watch said 16 minutes. All systems were a Go. The next 200 meters to the next buoy felt easier, and I made the last turn towards the beach. Still no sign of the TiTs, but we would soon be reunited on the beach no doubt. With 500 meters to go, I started to feel slightly fatigued and lost some focus, but was jolted back to reality when a fellow swimmer headed out to what looked to be North Korea. He was literally swimming perpendicular from my direction. I made sure to sight the buildings on the beach after seeing that guy.  
                        happy to have my feet on the ground

I landed in 37 minutes, fairly happy with that as I had used energy frugally. Still no signs of the team, but there was Makiko-san and Martin’s wife Mani with a big-lensed SLR camera. Yes, money shots! I was very excited to see familiar people and ride Hillary Swank around the island coast. 

T1 was smooth. They give you a nice big crate to dump all your swim stuff. Plenty of space. I mounted Hillary at the line and got into chase mode for the first 20k flat bit across the middle of the island. This was going to be fun. Who would I ride into first? Great to be in a race with so many training buddies. First I passed JM but I had a feeling that that wouldn’t be the last time I saw him. Than Keren, than Ben, who was coasting down a small hill. I rode fairly hard at 37 kph for the first 20k, feeling exhilarated to be out of the water and back to one of my favorite islands. I slowed a bit after the first right turn at the other end of the island as there were some hills and I wanted to reserve some pennies for the 2H of bike and run. I was a bit worried that my legs weren’t fully recovered from the past 2 weeks of racing. The poor bike split in Aizu the week before stuck in my mind. Unsurprisingly, JM reeled me in and passed me at 30k. I increased the pace slightly and returned the favor. But that didn’t last long. He was clearly in strong bike shape. I let him go ahead at around 40k. My 40k split was 1:09, 35 khp. I wasn’t unhappy with that split, but still a long way to go with 2 big climbs. At this 30-60k point fatigue hasn’t set in yet, and you can still in enjoy the gorgeous coastal views. On a clear day you can see the mainland at the 35k point. It was partly cloudy which kept the temperature down to a manageable 24 degrees, but clear enough to admire the view. Aid stations were helpful and frequent, about every 20k. I missed the first one but got fresh water at the next 3 out of 4 aid stations. 


They were giving out water and coke, which was a bit confusing. I mistakenly took coke instead of water at 53k, so had to discard it without any water. I was eating 1 gel per hour plus some bananas and other fruits. I guess I took in 800 calories during the bike. From 30k to 80k there is very little elevation change along the coast. But how do you get from the coast through that mountain pass, back to the middle of the island? Tunnels and a big climb! At 80k we hit the hardest climb of the day, approximately 120 meter climb over 2k. It felt like we were standing still. I tried to stand up and pedal, but got cramps in my quads. I chatted with a few other riders, asking where the next hill was. It had been 11 years since I did this race, and I hadn’t memorized the exact mileage of the hill climbs down. After that big climb there is a quick downhill, than another 30 meter climb, than a long 5k downhill, than one last 3k climb. After that last climb you are at 94k and with the beach in clear view, you can start to ignore those aches and pains in your back and legs. The bike leg was 105k 11 years ago, which was etched in my mind. So when we passed 105k, than 106k, I was like, “WTF, when is this going to end?” After my little duel with JM on the bike, I didn’t see any TiTs for the rest of the bike. Where was the Ryano? Surely he couldn’t have smoked the bike with very little training. I finish the bike in 3:10, 3:18 with 2 transitions, about 34 kph. 

Run:I arrived into T2 and boy was I glad to get off Hillary’s saddle and jog into the transition. There were very few bikes (30) on the racks, a good sign. But would I have the legs for 21k after last week’s disappointing finish? There was JM in the transition yelling something at me. Great, we can run together for a while, I thought. I took the extra 30 seconds to put on socks, worth it for the extra foot comfort. I headed for the start line but JM did an about-face and went back to his bike. WTF?  I started running but he was nowhere in sight. It felt OK, not easy, not hard. But impossible to tell how I was going to run that early. 5:07 first 1k split. At about 1k Keren passed on his bike and yelled. That got me going. Next split 5:00. I took 20 seconds at the next aid station for water and cooling spray for my cramping hamstring. It worked! No pain in the hamstring. All numb. Next split 4:55. Now I was feeling somewhat normal at the 5k point. I treated the half marathon like 4 x 5k plus alpha. Just have to get through three more 5ks now….At 5.7k, I hit the first turn-around and saw JM running about 1 minute behind. We encouraged each other. I looked forward to seeing the others at the next turn-around point. Most of the run after you leave town is very flat rice fields, but you do have one incline at the 8k point.  I noticed some decorations on the side of the road. They looked like they were made by children and had electrical wires running from them. Ah, that must have been arranged by the local elementary school for the A-type runners for extra light at night time. What a nice gesture. 

                somebody get me a shot。。いててって感じ

At 9-11k I was losing steam. I tried to run with anyone that passed me. As I neared the 11k turnaround, I counted how many age groupers were in front. About 40 but no Ryano. He clearly had had a puncture or disappeared in T1/T2. The leading woman passed me at about 4:30 pace. No way I was going to pace off of her. A couple of guys passed me at 5 minute pace. I stayed with them for a few k. Finally, I got to the turnaround and took in everything I could get my hands on. Fruits, water, sports drink, sponges, and some more leg cramp spray. JM came in 2 minutes behind now. Keren came barreling up the hill next asking for the distance. Than the rookies, Tim first, he was having a Barnstormer of a day, than Ben, way under his target also. Than big Gareth, Scott, and Martin. It was great to see them and the high 5’s kept my mind off the pain in my legs and gut. 

                                           so close I can smell it!

Everything hurt but I only had 7k to go. Finally the Ryano appears after 5 hours of hibernation! And last but not least, my distant cousin Glenn Rubin from NY! I am relieved that my cousin did not drown.

But I am fading fast. The leg cramp spray isn’t working anymore. My splits are heading south, 5:20, than 5:30. At 18k I hit bottom at 5:55. I will not go over 6 minute pace. Only 2k to go to the little shopping area where there will be supporters. If only I can will myself another 3k. Somehow I do and my pace improves slightly. 2k to go and I can now smell the finish line. The shopping street is in sight as I am out of the hot rice field area now. I am running with a young guy, using him as a wind shield and pain distraction. 

We run through the downtown together. There are bikers pulling in to T2 and some officials yell at us to get out of their way. How can that be? Or are they the A-type? 

Now the end is in clear sight, and I revel thoughts of rest and beer. I pick up the pace the last 500 meters and drop the young guy. I don’t have anything left in the legs for the Glico jump through the finish line, and barely get 2 inches off the ground. But this course is done and dusted, I am an ASTROMAN again and it is a beautiful day! I did a 1:51 run, about 5:19 average pace.

Total time was 5:47:13 for 40th place overall and 7th in my AG. 

Fun with numbers: 57% of my race was on the bike 32% run 11% swim 5:47 in half-ironman 70.3 terms, about an extra 35 minutes for the bike, 2 minutes for the bike, 2 minutes for swim. 
5:10 half ironman on a hilly course? 

In summary, everyone enjoyed the course and soon after finishing many were already talking about next year. Maybe that was the post-race beers talking. 



There were some major breakthroughs from the rookies. Tim shattered his expectations with a 6 hour debut middle distance race. King of the rookies: Ben continues to be a rookie on a rampage with a tremendous 34 minute swim and 1:48 run Big Gareth brought home the bacon with limited training, smiling and chatting the whole way. Scott scored his first middle distance race with a nice swim, overcoming a mechanical issue on bike. Glenn accomplished his 2 goals: He did not drown, and he finished. 

                                rookies on a rampage、新入社員はすごい!

As for the old hands, in went down something like this…JM had a superb swim and bike. He actually was able to enjoy the view on the bike. Keren nearly nailed his AG podium, taking 4th after leading for more than half the race. The Ryano finished with almost no bike or run training. Martin did his thing in the water and also had a great swim split. Geraldine finished well before the sun came down, showing off her speed-walking skills. 

            comfortably numb

And kudos to the two A-type finishers, who went twice the B distance! Alisa grabbed 2nd in her age group and 6th overall out of 96 ladies with a sterling 12:28 time. It is very impressive considering the amount of training she does in strange hotel gyms around the world. Dave B. had a badly sprained ankle, but managed to finish the A race and make it back to the hotel with 20 kg of gear in hand. 

                                the host and hostess with the mostess

Huge thanks to Makiko-san and Keren for setting up the entire weekend, for tireless planning over 6 months................

           he had a tough day...どうするか?

Monday, September 04, 2017

Aizu triathlon: a humble sandwich, 会津トライアスロン。。景色がもちろん美しいけど...

Aizu was utsukushii as performance was not so utsukushii though...

However, I live vicariously through the exploits of friends. Mika Tokairin won her age group and really crushed the bike downhill course. Meeks and Steve K had strong races. I was still in recovery mode with little power on the bike...I did 2:28, 1 minute slower than last year. It was a humbling race, but with 2 mid/long distance races sandwiching Aizu in between, I cannot complain.


Swim: My swim turned out to be my best leg at 28 minutes, but this course is much slower than most courses in Japan with the exception of Oshima. The single buoy line with 3 tight 440 meter loops just doesn't cut it. Lots of anti-draft from swimmers coming from the opposite direction. Congestion most of the swim with the slow 1st wave swimmers jamming up most of the course. Got a bit of daylight after the 2nd lap.

                        with the 2 winners, Mika T. (AG #1) and overall #1

Bike: I did a 1:03 bike, 37 kph average speed. This sounds rather fast, but actually kinda slow given the favorable conditions (no wind). I have done 58 minutes on this course. I tried to stay with Misu-sensei on the bike,  but just didn't have the legs. He dropped me like a bad disease, and finished 3rd in his AG. My bike total was 1:08 including 2 transitions.

Run: Painful. 51 minutes of pain. 5:15 pace. 3 minutes slower than last year. I was cramping as I tried to run at 5 minute pace, and it was getting hot. Stomach cramps. I guess I shouldn't have experimented with the local fish cuisine. I just didn't have anything in the tank either. Quite a contrast to the half marathon in Hokkaido 7 days earlier where I ran 5:05 pace! I managed to pick up the pace around 7k and ran the last at 4:30 pace. Much too little, too late...ah well, humble experiences make you stronger, they say..

Totals: 2:28:18, 130th place, 22nd in AG.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Hokkaido Triathlon, the inaugural race ユニックな北海道トライアスロン、満足って感じ

I have to say that Hokkaido is one of my favorite places on earth, winter or summer. World famous powder in Niseko in winter combined with cool, crisp, gorgeous greenness in summer. It also bears a touch of ancient Ainu heritage, although this has been reduced to place names and other superficial mementos. 

When my friend Jeff, a long-time Hokkaido resident, mentioned the 1st inaugural race at Toyako, I jumped all over it. And than threw the finish line...


I got 14th overall, which is very pleasing, as this was my longest distance in 3 years. Gory details below. 


The mass start was interesting. I swam hard to get away from masses, which paid dividends as there was no congestion after 200 meter first turn. The fresh water and lake are delicious to swim in. There's a steep cliff-like drop in water depth, scary and beautiful at the same time. A rather nice course design, after the first lap circa 700 meters, we landed amidst the roar of the crowd, waved to the admirers, dived in again, swam another 700 meter lap, landed again, got more glory, re-dived, than swam straight the final 600 meters to the adjacent beach/bike area. I did 38 minutes, so-so, but was saving lots of fuel for the bike....



It is a unique 138k bike course, which I originally thought was going to be a 4 hour plus affair, so kinda like a bike race with a little swim before and modest run after. 65% of race in the bike!

There were a few things that made this race unique. 

Long hilly bike. 
Little traffic control. 
Cool conditions in August. 
A large Hokkaido contingent. 

If your bike is your best discipline, particularly bike climbing, than this is the race for u. 

For your humble narrator, the first 50k felt fine. I was glad that most of the climbs were in the first half. 1280 meters of climbing with about 700 in first 60k. There was a major climb at the 100k point but it was fairly flat after that. 

At around 80k, a race official called out, "the leader is only 27 minutes ahead of you, gambatte kudasai!".
The 5 riders around me groaned. Needless information!

This was the first race I have done with open roads. They decided not to close the roads to cars and I now understand why. Most of the area is barren, and on a Sunday morning there is very little traffic. However, we were forced to slow down or stop over 10 times. A few times I had to wait for cars to pass but it wasn't too bad. The real challenge was getting over those hills with little fuel or aid along the way. My 4 hour target turned out to be too ambitious, I barely averaged 30 kph. I had little power for those last 40k.

4:42 bike, 138k, 22nd rank


I was really worried that my legs would be dog-meat by the run, but amazingly I was able to run at 5 minute pace straight off the bike. Admittedly I was super glad to be off Hillary's saddle. You can see my wide smile on the run.

I wondered where anyone was as I had not seen anyone I know since the swim finish. Than they all appeared out of the woodwork, literally. The run takes you on a beautiful journey along lake Toyako.

                                   Thanks to Paul's wife for the run shots!

 I passed Jess as he was finishing, than Ernesto came up from the rear and we ran together with his son in tow for 1k or so, which was nice and helped me keep a fast pace. Ernesto is a true hombre on the run and really pushed me. I tried to pull away, but he kept on reeling me in. Than we saw Paul at the turnaround coming strong. It was all happening on the run.

The first 10k was surprisingly smooth. Than I hit a dark period from 10-15k where I had to dig deeper to maintain that 5-minute pace. Once I hit the final turnaround at 16k I felt rejuvenated, and gathered my last reserves for the final 6k.


I came in at just over 5 minute pace which I was happy with, and did my now patented leap through the finish line. 

Check out the expressions on the finish girl's faces. Epic!


finish line euphoria with Ernesto and Paul


7:09, 14th place overall, 7th in AG (would have been 3rd in 50's age group, but to them I am still a young 40's whippersnapper...)

                                    Big thanks to Meg for the superb action shots!
                                    pure fun at Niseko Hilton
                          happy relaxing down-time after the race

Kudos to Paul, Ernesto, Jeff, Lesa, Jess!

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Toyama iki-iki triathlon: To the Top of the Mountain...いきいき富山トライアスロン:山登りは辛いよ

Mark-sensei, rising star Tibo, and Motozo endured a tough mountainous OD triathlon in Toyama last weekend. Since I've never been confused as a polka dot jersey guy, my expectations were rather low. I do fine in flat or downhill courses such as Oshima, Murakami, Aizu, etc. So this race was an experiment of sorts, one for a feather in the hat, and a good excuse to get over to the Sea of Japan. いきいき富山トライアスロン大会を完走しました。なかなか辛い山登りでしたが、なんとか年齢グループ10位でフイニッシュ。

Pre-race: Toyama ain’t close, but rather easy to get to. Our hotel was walking distance from the Toyama station, which serves the new Shinkansen direct from Tokyo in 2 hours and small change. The race organization was amusingly primitive with handwritten drawings of the race course and key points, and no air conditioning on a very hot July day. With electric trams and copious spring waters, Toyama is known for its environmentally friendliness, so much that the city has been designated an environmental model city by the national government for its efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. Perhaps this was the reason for lack of power point slides or air conditioners...

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing and outdoor

Swim: The swim area at Toyama Bay is somewhat similar to Murakami Triathlon on the Sea of Japan. Except that the swim course in Toyama is actually less protected and hence we did have some chop. I didn't swim too hard and felt the positive effects of the hard tri-k swim sessions at Shiba Koen and Yoyogi gym. 

I was in the 3rd wave with Mark, and noticed him just ahead after the first 750 meter lap. I pulled up to Mark, hoping that we could work together on the 2nd lap, but he swung out far left, so I abandoned that idea. I tend to swim faster with more focus when I am pacing off other swimmers, particularly when I know their speed and style. 

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, ocean, sky, outdoor, water and nature

I hit the beach in 26 minutes, not nearly as fast as last month's exploits in Takeyama. I foolishly hoped my minor 20 second lead on Mark would hold up for part of the bike. 

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Bike: Mark was gone by the time I got out of T1. My transition wasn't terrible, just too much to do. Wetsuit removal, put on helmet, sunglasses, switch on bike garmin, put on bike shoes and run to the exit unclipped. The whole ordeal took about 1 minute. I guess I need a new garmin and helmet with built-in visor. I also need practice mounting with shoes clipped in to the pedals.

Image may contain: bicycle

I could see Mark about 50 meters ahead as I mounted Hillary Swank (blue P2C Cervelo), tried to accelerate, but there was an awful sound coming from the back tire. This hill climb was going to be hard enough without mechanical problems. I tried to loosen the brake by twisting around while coasting. 
This resulted in sharp cramps in my abdomen and only a halfway loosened brake. As I dealt with the cramps and Hillary's moans, I noticed that I was getting passed by bikers on the first hill. At the 20k point, I finally pulled over to a full stop and loosened the brake all the way. After that Hillary's complaints resided as I headed up the mountain somewhat relieved. 

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         Hillary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

The last 10k was going to be a serious climb and test of meddle, so I didn't go 100% for the first 30k of the ride. It was a rather gradual climb of 560 total meters over 37k, and 300 meters over the last 15k. There were 3-4 steep hills where I had to shift my lowest gear and stand up. I hadn't changed my rear cassette so was a bit worried about getting up those steep climbs, but it turned out to be manageable. 

The last climb of about 2k was very tough though. On that last hill I was maxed out, in my smallest gear, and standing. As I passed a race volunteer in slow motion, I pleaded with her to tell me how far it was to the top. She, of course, had no concept of distance, saying "mo chotto" (just a little further), and "nan kiro mo nai" (not more than 1k). It always amazes me how little race supporter actually know about where they are on the course. I brought Hillary home in 1:21:52, which is meaningless given the hills and short 37k distance. Average speed was 27.1 KPH with 207 watts of estimated average power. 

Run: To my surprise, the bike rack in my age group was mostly empty with the exception of Mark and 2-3 others. So I wasn't having such a terrible day. I racked Hillary, slid on my racing shoes, and pulled out of T2 with no hat or shades. T2 is actually in the parking lot of Takeyama Sanroku ski area, which means you have to run up the mountain from T2. That first ascent up the ski slope nearly killed me. The earlier wave athletes, Mark, Tibo, and a few others were flying down the hill while I climbed. I thought about walking as the walkers that I passed weren't moving much slower than me. But I gritted my teeth and coerced myself into running all the way minus one pee brake. Meg and Ty were on the course cheering like crazy which was a huge help!

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor   iki-iki gamba gamba yare yare!

Ann and Miki-san boosted my spirits also. At the top of the run course I took 2 cups of water and doused myself. Things were heating up. Where was that rain in the forecast?
As I raced down the hill I thought only 2 more laps of this? Finishing the 2nd lap felt good though. At least I wasn't going to suffer the humiliation of getting lapped by Mark. It was impossible to pace how fast I was going. Uphills were 5:30-6 minute pace, downhills 4 minute pace, much slower than a flat course, needless to say. 

  bad storm coming
Image may contain: 1 person, standing, shoes, shorts, sky, outdoor and nature  better run to the top of the mountain

As I rounded the last run to the finish chute, I thought, whey not finish in style? So I gathered, coiled, and launched into a mini-long jump on the finish line. Thankfully Meg was there to capture the insanity!

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            mother, I'm flying!

Epilogue: It was one of the most gorgeous setting for a race finish. A ski resort with light shamrock green grasses and dark plush pine green forests. We feasted on local sushi and curry, savoring that post-race euphoria. Given the A to B course design, we eventually had to make our way back to Toyama, which was a 30k ride down the mountain.

Originally I wasn't too excited by the idea of cycling 30k after a race, but it turned out to be a scenic ride along the river valley. And it was easy riding down the mountain. I think I averaged a faster speed on that post-race ride than the actual race. Go figure. 
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                                                    We like it on top!

38th overall
10th in age group

Image may contain: people standing, mountain, sky, outdoor, nature and water

"Mountain in the shadow of light, rain in the valley below, Well you can say you're Peter, say you're Paul, Don't put me up on your bedroom wall, call me the king of the mountain"  -Midnight Oil