Saturday, August 08, 2015

Kamaishi triathlon, a long trip to a little race

We made the pilgrimage to Kamaishi in Iwate Prefecture for the first revival of the olympic distance triathlon since the tsunami in 2011. A five hour voyage by Shinkansen and car, but it was worth the journey. The Kamaishi people are warm and welcoming and dazzled us with their energy. The heat was an issue though, despite the fact that Kamashi is some 500k north of Tokyo.

A little background on Kamaishi: It's a medium-sized coastal town known for its fish and steel factories. The town is directly exposed to the Pacific Ocean, so on March 11, 2011, it was devastated by the Tsunami. The town has a long history of dealing with tsunamis, and fortunately most lives were spared. But the physical and economic damage was immense. Rieko and Mike Trees set up a charity in 2011 and have been going back every year to help out. I thought it would be good to participate in this charity race of sorts. Mike couldn't make it this time, but Rieko, big Mika, and little Meeks all showed up and collected trophies.

I also have a soft spot for Kamaishi as it was my first triathlon ever back in 2004. Rieko and Mike also coerced me to go up 11 years ago. Some things don't change.

It was good fun to compare my performance with 11 years ago. I didn't have a blog or Facebook back than, but I remember it distinctly. I thought that I swam well, but was hugely disappointed to see almost no bikes on the racks at the T1 area. I spent most of the bike passing the slow swimmers and bikers, felt really fast on the run, but was far behind anyone competitive.

Swim: This time around my swim was about 5 minutes faster. The swim is in a protected harbor with no wake at all. I lined up in the front near Rieko, hoping to draft off of her, which was a mistake. I got swamped by aggressive guys in the 2nd and 3rd row. At about 100 meters in, someone punched the back of my head. That was the hardest I've ever been hit in a swim. I felt woozy and slowed, swam conservatively the rest of the way, using breast stroke every 20 strokes. Still my swim was 25 minutes, about 1 minute off a PB. In T1, all the bikes were still in the rack by my area, jogging my memory of 2004.

Bike: Still there was work to be done. This year the bike course was 26k despite the "olympic distance" billing. A big curvy hill inland for 13k and back. Compared to 2004, there was hardly anyone on the road but 16 fast swimmers including Rieko, a few relay guys, and the pros. I passed 5-6 bikers, saw Rieko a minute in front with her cheshire cat smile. After a few more passes, a young guy wobbled by me. I traded places with him with 1k to go, finished the bike in 45:46 not including transition, about 34.8 kph. Considering the hills in the first section, I was happy with that time.

Bike course here:

Run: It was getting super hot by the 10 am run start. I wasn't feeling super duper anymore but tried to accelerate to 4 minute pace. That did not happen so settled in at 4:30 pace. The run is a simple 4 x 2.5k course along the coast. There isn't much to see but plenty of Kamaishi folk to pump you up with water, sport drink, hoses, and cheer. It is fun to see everyone you know the course. Rieko and Mika traded pleasantries the entire run. There is also a longish 200 meter tunnel that is rather cool, so I used the tunnel to accelerate. I pulled in at 41 minutes and change.

I was 13th overall out of 170 age groupers and 4th in the 40's age group. Only 1 older guy finished in front of me, a great improvement from 11 years ago.

Many thanks to Rieko for organizing. We stayed at a deluxe Horaikan ryokan right on the beach near the swim start. Great to see Akiko and her husband Itaru, who drove up from Sendai.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Obuse half marathon: Must be a circus in town...

It had been 6 years since my last trek to scenic Obuse, Nagano, and far too long. Nanbanners have been racing the half marathon there for 13 years since its inception. It is a wonderful mountain getaway to visit during the sultry Japan summer. And why not tack on a half marathon in the middle of a 4-day weekend?

Megumi and Ty came along. We all enjoyed the cooler weather, green mountain backdrop, and ice cream!

The race itself was fun once we got there. I had to wake up at 4 AM. I think Chika, Meeks, and the others woke up at 3:30 AM, but I am a veteran to early race times. I was able to produce a decent result, much faster than my Shinjuku half (1:41) in January this year. I guess the triathlon training has helped my running the past few months. I did 1:34:04, a course PB for me. Two previous times were 1:36 and 1:38. (see 2009 blog):

The race started at 6 AM versus 7 AM six years ago, which helped a bit. The temperature was 23 degrees C, which was manageable although it felt hotter. I settled in corral A with Padraig, Alan, Teruyuki (Terry), and a ton of circus extras. I was going to try to stay with Terry as he had targeted 1:32 or so.

There were a few exciting speeches from race executives and runners and one very bizarre comment. A race official actually told us to run slow because it is not too hot...huh? he said "あまり暑くないけれど、頑張らないで下さい。” Go figure...

Anyway, we lined up and suddenly a gun went off. I watched Podge drift off into the distance at 4:15 per k pace. I settled in a 4:30 pace. Terry was with me for the first 5k,  looked strong, shouted "you're going too fast" at Podge, and dropped me around the 6k point. Later I learned that he reeled in Podge with a sparkling 1:31 time. Way to go Terry!

I continued along at 4:30 pace. The course is pleasant with a few mild climbs in a mountain valley, but nothing too hairy. There are some nice mountains on the left side of the course for the first 10k, than you run thru a small town and back to Obuse. The biggest hill is around the 5k point so you have some momentum for the 2H of the race. I felt pretty good after 12k and started to work harder for the last 5-6k. I noticed Alan bearing down on me at 18k so worked a little harder to keep him at bay. I finished with 4:20 pace for the last 3k which was a good feeling.

The finish area is quite nice with plenty of fresh fruit, green grass, live music, and the necessary high school dancers. Big shout out to Chika for organizing the hotel, restaurants, and logistics.

The next two days were glorious ones spent in Iizuna kogen ski area, a 30 minute drive from Nagano city, and Yatsugatake. Meg and I took turns running around a gorgeous lake at 飯綱高原, and than I couldn't resist diving in from our paddle boat.

We stopped at Yatsugatake on the way back to Tokyo on day 4 and did the nostalgic Fujimi panorama gondola ride.

Obuse is a highly recommended trip for runners and just plain old citizens. Take an extra day to explore the area if you can. We used to have 20 runners back in the old days, but this time there were only 7 of us running. There are plenty of runners in costume so this is a bit of a circus race where you can place 134th out of 7,000 runners with a 1:34 time....