Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Murakami "triathlon": the little fish that got away

Prerace: We had a pleasant ride up to Murakami, splendid sushi lunch in Niigata, than a shock as we arrived into Murakami city. The waves in the Sea of Japan were monstrous, the biggest I have ever seen. It was cool, rainy, and windy, but other than that a perfect day! We ditched the idea of a practice swim and went for a short bike ride before escaping to the shelter of our ryokan, which was near the beach starting point.

Morning prep was chaotic as the bike “doctor” wrongly assessed my rear wheel as an untrue wheel instead of making a simple adjustment to the 2 little screws that could. I finally got the wheel straightened with 40 minutes to start time, missing the body marking window. How naked I felt!

Swim: There was none! It was exciting to watch the pros swim into the perfect storm. But us mortal men and women wanted no part of that surf. They resembled a bunch of seals rocking up and down in the swells. I have to say they were moving very well for all that white water. As the swim is usually my Achilles heal, I wasn’t too disappointed to skip to the bike and run.

Run 1K: Instead of a 1.5k swim, the race started with a 1k beach run, followed by the normal bike and run. We started running 5 minutes after the first group. I was surprised to see the first group come in at 4:30 to over 5 minutes, as I had expected them to be faster. But as soon as we started running I could see why they had come in slow, as the sand was deep and well, sandy. It must have been the equivalent of running up Akasaka gosho hill for 1k. I started the run with Keren, Jay, and Anthony. The 3 of us tried to stay with Jay, but he soon sped ahead, and we came in pretty much together at about 4:44, 10 seconds behind Jay. But our well-versed transition tactics allowed Keren and myself to drop Jay in T1….

Bike 40k: The bike was a bit hairy going up a steep hill immediately after mounting Hillary Swank, than a few sharp turns thru the curves of the outskirts of Murakami city. At the last left sharp turn a rider passed me, than slowed down directly in front of me. I had some choice words for him, than accelerated and dropped him to teach him a lesson. Once I was out of the town, there were little problems with space or navigation, and I looked forward to a fast and clean bike ride. At 10k, I was averaging 38k per hour and liking the idea of a 1:04 bike. Keren road up to me and said, “we’ll be flying on the way back with this tailwind”….hmmmm I wondered…..
I tried to drop him a few times, but couldn’t. Than Keren tried to drop me, but to no avail. This “drop the Cervelo P2C game” continued to about the 39k point...I liked the 20k turnaround as we could see all our friends, shout out encouragement, and estimate how everyone was doing. Most of the pros and fast guys in front of us were in big pelotons alla Tour de France. The headwind was fierce going back to base though, and we slowed to 37 kph, gradually passing the last of our age group leaders. I was liquid carbo-loading relatively well, but wasn’t sure how much gas I would have left in the tank for the run. Still, with the headwind, I finished at 36.5 kph, slightly slower than my speed at Oshima tri in June.

Run 10K: I peeled off my Nanban rengo bike jersey at the transition, and after a 30 second transition, gave chase to Keren, who had slipped by me once again at the transition. Again the steep little hill at the start of the run was tougher than expected, and I felt I was at my max throughput for that first 1k. At the 1k point, the sign said “1k” and my watch read 3:40. No wonder I’m feeling drained! But the marker must have been wrong, because at the next 1k my watch said 8:30, and I hadn’t slowed that much. I was losing sight of Keren again, and wondered if I would be run down by other fast Nanbanners (Jay). In hindsight, I should have given chase, as the course became windy and it was too easy to lose sight of runners ahead. Once I lost sight of Keren on the first turn, I had little company from ahead or behind, and must have slowed. 3k and 4k were tough, but at the half way point I caught sight of Bevan lumbering along. I was gaining on him, but then realized he was 1 lap or 5 minutes ahead of me! But that gave me some encouragement, and I accelerated thru the 2nd 5k. My first 5k split was 21:40. I could picture Jay blistering along at 3:40 pace, but did not see him anywhere on the course. Still, I felt better and picked up the pace. I was passing runners again and only got passed 2 or 3 times on the run. I liked the downtown area of Murakami and there were tons of locals doing the “gamba gamba” cheer. At the 8k point I hadn’t seen anyone from my age group in ages, and began to fantasize about winning my age group. That hope and fear of being run down by Jay pushed me to my fastest 5k split ever in a “triathlon”, 20:12.

My final official times were:

Run 1k: 4:44 (52nd place out of 372 finshers)
Bike: 40k: 1:08:41 (41st place)
Run: 10k: 41:52 (71st place)
Total: 1:55:17 (50th place, 7th in age group out of 56)

So my bike was more competitive than my run, though I was happy with the run time. This seems to be a recurring theme. Anyway, I was happy with my 7th place in my age group, my highest place in a triathlon, disappointed that I couldn’t catch Keren, but I finally beat Jay!

Congrats to Keren for placing 2nd in his age group, and Jay placed 3rd with such a sparkling run that we all, in our drunken shinkansen revelry, memorized his time (36:48) on the ride home. Many thanks to Yumiko and Chris for setting up our ryokan, which had a fantastic onsen view of the Sea of Japan. I would do this race again in future, and thoroughly enjoyed being with the group of friends we had up there. Now on to the last event of my final triple feature this month, Choshi triathlon in Chiba this Sunday. Choshi ga ii ka naa…I am even more glad I signed up for this race now that Murakami swim was cancelled, as I can now go for a true PB. Looking forward to some R and R after 6 triathlons including 3 ironman events this summer! See you on the track.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sing for the Moment

The hot equatorial climate lived up to its billing, which meant a challenging bike and harsh run for this northern Asian habitant. However, I was happy to complete the race with a fairly competitive time despite low training hours since July Zurich ironman, finishing 14th in my age group of 200 men.

Singapore half ironman (70.3 miles)

Prerace: Morning prep went relatively smooth: a 5 am wake-up call, banana and cereal with toast in the hotel room, 6 am stroll to the start point, body markings, last minute bike air/adjustment. I felt unusually mellow before the race as I had gotten the big one done in July. Keren and I had the same start times at 7:35 am, so after the bikes were prepped, we made our way down to the beach to watch the pros and other age groups start before us.

Swim: I didn’t know what to expect from the swim, as this was my first tri without a wetsuit, but I knew my stroke was better than in previous races. The course looked fairly simple: 2 X 900 meter rectangular loops counter-clockwise. Although there was a staggered start, the 2 age groups in our start were huge with over 300 people, so there was much bumping and kicking at the high speed water entry. I thought the crowdedness would subside after 200 meters, but it never really did. I hugged the left side, foolishly hoping to reduce the distance. It seemed overcrowded with slow swimmers, but I thought it would clear out. I got kicked by a breast stroker and karate chopped by a free stylist, taking the kick squarely in the cheek and goggles. Despite the high traffic levels and lower buoyancy, I settled into a nice rhythm. By about 500 meters, I checked my watch and saw 11 minutes, slightly slower than normal wetsuit pace. The first loop was 20 minutes or so, and I ran by a roaring crowd on the beach, waved to Megumi, and dived in for 1 more lap of love. The 2nd loop went relatively smooth and I was able to use more freestyle than usual. I got held up by drowns of breastrokers from earlier age groups. Despite the increase in freestyle usage, I ended up with 41 minutes for 1.9k, slower than my 1:17 for 3.8k in the ironman Zurich. I blamed the lack of wetsuit buoyancy. Anyway, I was happy to get out of the water in 1 piece after all the kicking, punching, biting, scratching, and other horseplay...

T1: The transition took over 3 minutes as I went for socks, bike shorts, gloves.

Bike: The bike ride was also more crowded than I had reckoned it would be for 2 reasons: 1. The highway was relatively narrow with extended no-pass danger zones. 2. I was in one of the last swim starts, and thus was trying to pass most of the 1,400 riders in the field. I was cruising at 34-35 kph, and felt satisfied by the pace, but was a little frustrated with the lack of space and giant pelotons forming. “Is this the Tour de France or what?” a fellow rider commented. The course was 3 X 30k loops from the east coast to downtown Singapore. There wasn’t much to look at except the huge ferris wheel, construction projects, and skyscrapers. It was really hot on the unshaded highway. I was chasing Keren, and finally caught him at 75k turn. We rode together as there was still little space on the last lap. It didn’t help things when a motorcycle race staff perched himself on the divider line. Several of us nearly hit him and I yelled, “Get the f___ out of the way!” The bike course really exposed the lack of experience of the course organizers. There was hardly any solid food aid, a lack of drinks, narrow course, and obstacles such as that motorcycle that could have been avoided. We noticed a lot of crashes and a huge amount of DNF’s. Perhaps I was spoiled by the copious amounts of power bars, bananas, gels at the Zurich ironman. Anyway, at the 90k point, I wasn’t feeling so genki due to the lack of nutruition, high tempeture, and lack of bike training (I had only done 5 rides in the past 8 weeks). I tried to convince myself the run was a different race with different muscles, but didn’t feel confident as I dismounted Hillary. My bike time was 2:38:50, a PB.

T2: 2nd transition took too long, almost 3 minutes, as I forgot to take off my bike shorts and ran the wrong way initially.

Run: At 11 am in equatorial Singapore after 3 and 1/2 hours of swimming and biking, I dreaded the ominous half marathon in front of me. I started along the run course fully exposed to the direct sunlight and thought, “where is the shaded run course hyped by the course directors?” Nightmares of China’s IM haunted me as I hit the first of 3 7k loops. At 1k the sign said: 1k: 1st loop, 8k: 2nd loop, 15k: 3rd loop. I thought sardonically, “only 96% of the run left, Motozo!” At 2.5k turnaround, the course volunteers yelled “keep going!”, although I was supposed to turn around. Singlish for gambatte? I could see Keren moving at a blistering pace, already 2-3 minutes ahead of me, trying to run down our posse (Mika, Vanessa, Bevan) and anyone else in his path. At least the Mika (smiling torpedo) versus Keren contest was going to be interesting to watched as I plugged along at 5:30/k pace. At the next turn (6k), Keren had closed the gap with Mika, and they were both pulling away from me. Kawaii so, Motozo! With little fuel left in the tank, I dismissed the idea of catching them and focused on running the best time possible, which was a 5:25:00 at my current pace (1:57:00 21k run). I felt the heat and lack of nutrition taking its toll, and again was disappointed with lack of solid food on the course. The only solid food was bananas, and they weren’t even chopped up. Amazingly, they had delicious watermelons, oranges at the finish line, but not during the run when we needed the nutrition the most. After the 2nd loop (14k), I was more confident I could finish without walking alla China IM. I was really tempted to pull over and walk, but Megumi’s encouragement really kept me going. I did like how the back of the run course went thru a grassy bit and thru some palm tree cover. Hey this is Singapore! At 16k, I started the 5k countdown and began counting the kilometers, 100 meter intervals, paces, all of it to keep my mind off the fatigue. 5k, 4k, 3k, 2k, 1k to go…a tiny spurt at 500 meters to go got me under 5:25:00.

Official times:

Swim: 1.9k: 41:53 (14th place out of 161 age group finishers)
T1: 3:41
Bike: 90k: 2:38:50 (28th place)
T2: 2:46
Run: 21k: 1:57:44 (14th place)

Total: 5:24:56 (14th out of 161 age group, 133 overall)

Congrats to Keren, Mika, and Vanessa for podium finishes.
Keren was the star with a well thought-out and executed race. Most impressive was his run in the hostile heat. Omedeto to Mika, the celebrity queen of Singapore, for a gutsy run despite a heel injury. Thanks to Megumi for constant support and candid photos. It was a wonderful event and experience, but I will have to have a hard think before signing up for another hot weather ironman event.