Monday, May 25, 2009

Oxfam trailwalker 100k hike: Legs like dogmeat

2 days after completing my first 100k trailwalker thru an extremely difficult course in Hakone, my legs are still feeling like dogmeat. Perhaps it was the 4 weeks in a row of racing triathlons, half-marathons, and 10ks. Or that 5 hour 40 minute, 18k climb in the dark rain on Friday night. Whatever the case, I think the numbers better explain the journey.

Here they are:

9k: 1:56:10
CP1 break: 11:00
9k: 2:15:30
CP2 break: 31:34
5.5k: 1:03:13
CP3 break 33:48
12.5k: 1:59:51
CP4 break: 54:17
18k: 5:41:03
CP5 sleep: 3:53:41
9.5k: 2:03:14
CP6 break: 1:26:18
16k: 3:57:56
CP7 break: 1:39:13
13.5k: 3:48:01
CP8 break: 19:14
7k: 1:53:59

Total time: 34:14:02

Total break time: 9:31:43

Total hiking time: 24:44:47

Average hiking speed: 4.1 kph

Average speed including breaks: 2.9 kph

41st out of 119 teams**

**only 3 members

The course was fairly tough. And frustrating. I felt I had plenty of stamina in my lungs and was comfortable climbing past non-runners on the difficult ascents. The problem for me was my calves. I had severe tightness in my left calf just behind my knee from CP4 on to the finish. (the course consists of 8 checkpoints (CP), so about every 12k there is a check point where you can load up on calories, pop a squat, stretch the legs, etc.).

I was roped into the Mitsui Fudosan team at the last minute. My comrades were Kaga san, Iwamoto san, and Su san.

CP1-CP3 we buzzed along at a rapid pace...too fast actually. Mr. Su from China got cramps almost immediately after CP1. I thought we should slowdown the pace but we pressed on at a 5 kph clip, which is quite fast carrying heavy 6-7 kilo packs. We had no car support so we had to carry most of our supplies including jackets, flashlights, extra clothing, etc. Sure enough Su san pulled the plug at the 36k point at CP4 after a blistering 6.1 kph pace from CP3 to CP4. So now we were three.....

We tackled what proved to be the hardest part of the course next. CP4 to CP5. 18k, most of which was in the dark after a brief ramen pit stop. It started raining harder on top of things, and was up and down the entire way to CP5. Iwamoto san lead the whole way. He is a good hiker and we were glad to have him in front. I felt like I was cheating, drafting off him and borrowing his light. He was quite alert, calling out various dangers: branches, roots, sharp ascents and descents, etc...

All we could think about were CP5's sleep quarters. And infrequent human companions along the way were great. What a joy it was to bump into another group in the middle of the night rain! A lone ranger came up from behind us to our amazement with a couple of kilometers to go to CP5. Where's your group?, we asked. Oh, I left them behind for some reason...mind if I hang with you guys?...Sure!

We rolled into CP5 after 5 hours and 41 minutes of toil through the dark, wet mountain at about midnight. The check point at Daiyuzan Saijo-ji looked like a war zone. Bodies layed out left and right on the floor on yoga mats or without, clothing caked with mud, wet clothes hanging on the heaters, and first aid women taping up hiker after hiker. We quickly stripped out of our wet clothing and bedded down for a hearty 3 hour nap. The plan was to sleep until 3:30 am and be in full gear by the time the sun rose.

I only slept 1-2 hours as the room got noisy when other hikers piled in during the wee hours. A quick coffee at 3:45 am and we were ready to roll and meet the rising sun. My left calf had been bothering me since CP4, and I had hoped the sleep would magically cure the soreness, but alas, the pain was still there. It got worse and worse throughout the day. Thank god for advil...

But the hike to CP6 was a cakewalk, and I now looked forward to meeting Megumi between CP6 and CP7. Meg kept me alive on the tough climb. I knew we had more big climbs coming up after CP7, but the thought of Meg with us made it seem easier. I got my second wind.

We met Meg at exactly the halfway point and I immediately scoffed down the lasagna, tofu, and nuts that she had kindly brought from Tokyo. We had been living on onigiri, bananas and instant soup for 25 hours, so it felt great to eat real food, albeit cold.

Meg was the spark plug for us. She bounced up the trail with us, took some weight off my bag, spurred the conversation, and pretty soon we were at CP7.

After a shower and onsen break, we were joined by Kaga san and Iwamoto san's colleague from Mitsui Fudosan, and tackled another hard climb of 13.5k. Everyone was getting tired and tightening up, but we were brightened by our new supporters and the fact that were were 80% done. I took personal pleasure in counting every 500 meters, 200 signs in all. The counting process kept me going.

At the last checkpoint 8, we rushed through and hit the trail, knowing we only had 1 1/2 hours to cover 7k of tough terrain before nightfall. The initial climb was very steep, but I took solace in the fact that it would be over very soon.

My leg was now in dogmeat territory, and I had to lean half my weight on my walking stick to relieve the pressure. It felt like we were flying, high on advil, sport drinks, fruits, and nuts. We were passing almost all groups now. Nobody passed our posse of 5 since Meg had joined.

After that very steep initial climb it was all gravy. We were about 4k out and descending now before the last climb. Another 10 minute climb to the last peak and we were greeted with a georgeous view of the lake Yamanakako (the 3 of us are pictured above, near that peak). Down the hill and we were so close we could smell the finish. We passed 1 more group on the final 1k and barely needed the flashlights for the final bit. A big round of applause (atatatatakai hakushuuu) for Team Oakwood!

Later I heard that fellow nanbanners James, Phil, Ed, and others (I saw 2-3 other nanbanners on the course) finished in blistering times. Maybe something to shoot for next time...

Many thanks to Megumi for coming out on the second day at the crack of dawn. And also a big domo to Kaga san and Iwamoto san's colleague. And don't forget our sponsor Oakwood. Thanks Keren. See you in Tokyo soon!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Nijima Triathlon: The long and windy road

An excellent weekend was had by all at Tokyo's paradise island Nijima. I had a reasonably good result given the conditions in the olympic distance triathlon. I broke my PB by 30 seconds with a 2:25:21, which was as good as I could expect given the warnings of windy bike roads and hilly run course.

It was near perfect weather of 20 degrees C at the race start and the rain avoided our island for the entire weekend while it rained on the mainland.

My splits were as follows:

Swim: 25:22 (75th place)
Bike: 1:14:08 including T1 and T2 (35th place)
Run: 45:49 (32nd place)

Total: 2:25:21

32nd place out of 170 finishers, 141 male finishers

Many thanks to Phil the Ryano for his suberb organizational skills and impetus to get us out of Tokyo to the island in the first place. We all pledged to go back again soon (next year). That's it for the short version. For my normal ironmanish long version of the race and weekend keep on reading. Details of the weekend and race go something like this....

Prerace: On Phil's advice, we assembled the night before at the Takeshita marina for the slow 11 hour boat ride to Nijima, which turned out to be quite pleasant. The ship was huge, maybe 300 feet or so, and moved gently over the calm seas. I slept soundly for 5 hours until the loudspeaker reminded us of stops from Oshima at 5 am down to Nijima at 9:30 am.

Swim: Conditions were a little cool for a swim at 18 degrees C water temperature, probably my coldest tri swim ever, but I wasn't too worried. Sure enough, once I started stroking, I was warm and toasty after a minute or 2. I was able to porpoise in the shallow water for 100 meters and found myself amazingly ahead of my entire wave for a good 200 meters until the fast guys swamped me. I got around the second buoy and headed back to the beach and was happy to see 12 minutes on my watch at the halfway point. I am on PB pace if I can only maintain this speed I thought to myself as I porpoised by a few tired swimmers. Rounding the final buoy I was in a good groove as I had been drafting off the poor guy in front of me for the entire lap. I checked my watch and saw 19 minutes with about 300 meters to go. Cool! I stepped on the gas pedal and hit the beach in 25 minutes, a new personal best! (I was happy with that, but unfortunetely later I discovered that everyone had a good swim, so it wasn't just me!).
Bike: The T1 transition was less than perfect. I decided to skip the socks (a mistake), couldn't get off my wetsuit fast enough (need more vaseline next time), and forgot to put enough power drink in my gel mix. I ended up dehydrating myself on the bike, but I guess it didn't slow me down too much. I forgot to zip up my shirt, so had to slow down on the bike course to do that without crashing. The bike course started out quick down the first 3k stretch, but than we hit the hills and I groaned. It was very technical and bumpy most of the way. I was praying that my bike Hillary didn't crack under the pounding. The first 13k lap was tough enough. The next 2 laps were somewhat easier as I got used to the bumpy and windy terrain. But I felt like I was playing catchup, trying to get my time close to 1:10. I finished the bike with a fairly miserable 1:14 including the 2 transitions, about 1:11 without transitions. Again, T2 was too slow as I had a bad stomach cramp, which immobilized me for several seconds as I stretched out the swollen muscle. I did enjoy the competitive feeling of the bike. It was fun to try to catch up to Phil. He was surprisingly fast on the swim and bike, and I couldn't close the gap much on the bike. I could see my friends Jay, Mary, Sumie, but didn't spot Mika or Dave.
Run: After a feeble T2, I headed up a giant hill still feeling woozy from the stomach cramp. I had to pull over for a pee, as I hadn't been able to sweat much on the bike. Than I discovered my shoelaces were untied and pulled over again. Dammit my run time is going to suck also I thought. There was no way to figure out what speed I was going as is typical of the Izu island series races, so I had to wait to the 5k point. Actually at 3k turnaround point I sighted Phil shuffling along just a few hundred meters in front so I had somewhat of a gauge on how I was doing. On my way down the hill to the 5k point I saw Jay about 6-7 minutes behind so I knew my Jay cushion was somewhat safe, although as many know Jay does have a dangerous run. At the 5k point I saw Mika with camera on the side. I asked, "what happened??!!". She said she would tell me later.
I started to feel better after going thru the big hill at about 6k, waved to the elderly people in wheel chairs and accelerated for the last 4k. I got thru the first 5k in 23 minutes and did the second 5k in 22 minutes. I guess I lost about a minute on the first 5k with the pee and shoelace breaks, so splits were about even.
The best news was that I achieved a new PB, albeit a mere 30 seconds, in a pretty tough course. I hope to shave several minutes off the PB next month in Oshima and/or Murakami as I am running pretty well and swimming fairly well. I need to put more bike rides together in the next few weeks though. You can see by my bike ranking of 35 versus run rank of 32 despite a 1 minute break that I have some bike work to do. A few transition drills wouldn't hurt either. In retrospect, the Fuji Susono half marathon last week probably hurt me a little on the run and bike, as 6 days was not enough recovery time. Fuji was hotter and hillier than I had imagined, but that is a sho ga nai.
Thank you Mika for helping Phil with the organization and taking all the groovy photos. The big zannen for Mika was a breathing problem on the swim, which forced her to pull out. It is disappointing to not be able to test yourself on the course, but I hope that it will be a blessing in disguise for Mika. Hopefully she will be more motivated to train on the swim for her ironman debut in Canada this August. Gambatte Mika!
A final word on Keren, our tri guru. Keren, you were sorely missed in Nijima and we all wish you well in Australia. We hope for a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing you toe the line in one of September's triathlons.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fuji Susosososonononono 1/2 marathon taikai

A hot and hilly scenic detox pressure cooker. That is how I would describe Fuji Susono 1/2 marathon in 10 words or less. I know this has been well said, but those first 5k were tougher than nails.

My time was very slow, a personal worst (PW) since 2002 when I started running with nanban rengo. But it was a decent detox workout as I sweated profusively for 100 minutes at high altitude, and a nice warm-up for my first triathlon of the tri season next weekend in Nijima.

My time was 1:40:54, about 6 minutes off my goal.

69th place out of 350 in my age group.

It did feel satisfying to pass many runners on the last 5k as I was able to use my long strides to my advantage down the last stretch.

Splits were:

5k: 26:23

10K: 23:09

15K: 24:26

20K: 22:31

1.1K: 4:23

A huge ooohhtsukare to Jay for his efforts to organize and direct the barbarian horde to victory. Chiba san and Yuka chan also deserve thanks for their constant support.

A big danka to Joachim and Christiana for the swell fotos and pleasant ride down from their home in Kamakura on Saturday.

Megumi finished the race without problems (buji ni kansou shita), which was yokatta give her bad fever/flu over the past week. Meg came in at around 1:51, not bad at all give the heat, hills, and fever.

These photos are of various shots from the beer halls and blueberry lodge scenary. The beer was a delicious microbrew which we couldn't abstain from the night before the race. Nonetheless, it was so smooth that I suffered little hangover, and soon sweated all poisons out of my system during the first 5k climb.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Ooooiiii Ito! Izu training bike ride

I followed Phil Ryan's advice and circled Izu peninsula in 3 days with my buddy and former colleague Nigel. We headed out Monday morning, took the 8:30 am Shinkansen to Mishima, and rode 100k heading south from Mishima station (near Atami), caught a nice river bike path until Izu shi, hung a right after Izu shi and headed over to the west coast. Just before we reached the coast, Nigel was ''nearly hit'' by a car at the entrance of a long 1,000 meter tunnel. The driver behind him saw him at the last second and hit the brakes, making a loud screeching noise. This caused the driver behind him and car coming from opposite direction to slam on their brakes, which made an aweful chorus of screeches. I was in front of Nigel and heard the screeches but continued thru the tunnel...when Nigel didn't come thru after 10 minutes, I about-faced, went back in the tunnel and searched for him, fearing the worst. About 1/4 of the way back in I saw him walking his bike on the narrow pedestrian path inside the tunnel. Whew!From than on we followed 136 gingerly all the way down the west coast to Matsuzaki. Beautiful views along the west coast in between tunnels and huge hills. Continued to the southern tip on 136 until nightfall, stayed at a little minshuku about 30k west of Shimoda. We were starving and fortunate to find a very kind obasan who took us in and fed us royally even though it was well past feeding hours.
We were passed out at 10 pm after copious amounts of locally caught fish, mountain veggies, miso, fresh wasabi, sake, and beer.
Tuesday morning was an easy 25k ride after 2 large mountain passes into the flats of Shimoda, in time for lunch at the Paradise Cafe in Ohama. Nigel pulled the plug at Shimoda and headed back for the station. I stayed at Bruno and Tamiko's new place in Shimoda and bumped into 2 shouken gyoukai friends in the same neighborhood.

Wednesday I woke up at 4:30 am for another monster ride thru heavy rain, wind and hills on the east coast from Shimoda to Ito. I think the harsh weather actually enhanced the highs of ride: georgeous seaside views of huge seas pounding on the rocks, and almost no cars from 5-7 am. I was cold and wet but feeling alive! Took me about 4 hours to do 60k. Thought about going another 25k to Atami but I was literally shivering on my bike at Ito, so pulled the pin and jumped on the next odoriko from Ito station. The Ito bike ride was the hardest ride of the 3 days and probably harder than those 6 hour 150k Saturday morning rides last summer on the Arakawa.

Overall, a nice way to get in to shape: 200k of hard mountain riding!

If you want hill training with scenic views and great beaches, go to Izu...