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, 8k...at 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.)

Shimoda homegrown triathlon #1

We held our first inaugural triathlon in Shimoda in June, and followed up with a second in September. It was a bit hairy with the organisation but turned out to be a great experience. We had about 10 triathletes. Stan won by a mile, Jay was second, and Petr a surprising 3rd place despite no clip-on pedals or wetsuit. Mika T. also had a strong race. Chris, Matt, Youri, Asaka, Rhino, and Motozo were the other athletes. Brett and Alessandra were a great help with the timekeeping and refreshments. 

Pre-race: Thanks to Brett ランナー, we had a special guest over at the beach house, Mr. Hosaka Yoshihisa. He is a running legend and lives in Shimoda and popped over bearing gifts and a huge smile. You won't believe this but he ran a 2:34:23 marathon at age 59, and I think he holds the world record for over 60 year olds also. He trains everyday by running up Shimoda's steep hills. Food for thought for us mortal men. 

Anyway, back to the triathlon. My plan was to go over the olympic distance swim, bike, and run course with everyone on Saturday, and do the race on Sunday morning at 6 AM in order to avoid the traffic on the highway. This worked out fairly well except that I was a bit tired on Sunday morning from all the biking, swimming and running the prior day. Some others had done long bike rides on Saturday also, so this was pretty much a training weekend. We had great weather and bikers were extremely excited by the views at Irozaki during the bike ride. I didn't use any buoys or markers for any of the course, but there weren't that many wrong turns during the race. We had a magnificent BBQ in the back yard, did a final race briefing, and it was off to bed at 9 PM much do the dismay of one Chris P.

Swim: Amazingly, everyone showed up at 5:50 AM, and we started at 6 AM sharp, swimming from the north side of Kisami Ohama beach south towards Toji. The water was pretty cold and I was worried about the 2 guys swimming without wetsuits, so I kept looking back to make sure they were still OK. I came out just after Youri with Matt on my tail, which was more a factor of leading a group that wasn't totally clear on where they were going, rather than my swimming speed. 

Bike: Although I was leading my own race at the bike start, I got passed by Stan very early while still in Shimoda, and tried to stay with him, but soon lost contact on the first major hill out of town. (Note to myself; I need to do more hill work). I was soon joined by Matt, Jay, and Petr, a triathlon unknown with great potential. Jay and I traded 2nd place positions throughout most of the ride while Petr watched curiously from a short distance. 

Run: By the run, I was pretty drained, and struggled to continue running on the big inclines. Petr and Mika were resilient on the run, flying effortlessly through the uphills. I finished just at around 3 hours, while Stan the gold medalist was around 2:40. After post-race discussions, we determined that the run was actually over 10k, which made for a very slow run given the extreme uphills in Toji. 

     swim      bike      run     total
Stan:  31:31  1:14:10  51:45  2:40:50
Jay:   34:55  1:18:35  52:39  2:51:09
Petr:  34:30  1:25:20  52:15  2:54:00
Mika:  35:40  1:21:00  55:00  2:55:05
Matt:  31:55  1:23:40  59:20  2:59:25
Moto: 31:30  1:24:45 1:04:20 3:03:20
Chris:  34:10  1:29:18  1:12:20 3:12:20
Youri: 30:55  1:25:35    ------       -------  
Asaka:  -----  1:43:50  1:05:35  ------- 
Aless.:  -----   -------     1:06:55   -------

Post-race: the brunch and party were fantastic afterwards, all you can eat buffet at the White Beach Hotel, world cup soccer featuring Japan, coffee, beer, and all the fixings. It didn't matter much that Japan lost the match. A successful start to the homegrown triathlon in Shimoda had been born, and we were very exciting.

We pledged to do this again soon...

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!