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...