Friday, August 25, 2017

Hokkaido Triathlon, the inaugural race ユニックな北海道トライアスロン、満足って感じ

I have to say that Hokkaido is one of my favorite places on earth, winter or summer. World famous powder in Niseko in winter combined with cool, crisp, gorgeous greenness in summer. It also bears a touch of ancient Ainu heritage, although this has been reduced to place names and other superficial mementos. 

When my friend Jeff, a long-time Hokkaido resident, mentioned the 1st inaugural race at Toyako, I jumped all over it. And than threw the finish line...


I got 14th overall, which is very pleasing, as this was my longest distance in 3 years. Gory details below. 


The mass start was interesting. I swam hard to get away from masses, which paid dividends as there was no congestion after 200 meter first turn. The fresh water and lake are delicious to swim in. There's a steep cliff-like drop in water depth, scary and beautiful at the same time. A rather nice course design, after the first lap circa 700 meters, we landed amidst the roar of the crowd, waved to the admirers, dived in again, swam another 700 meter lap, landed again, got more glory, re-dived, than swam straight the final 600 meters to the adjacent beach/bike area. I did 38 minutes, so-so, but was saving lots of fuel for the bike....



It is a unique 138k bike course, which I originally thought was going to be a 4 hour plus affair, so kinda like a bike race with a little swim before and modest run after. 65% of race in the bike!

There were a few things that made this race unique. 

Long hilly bike. 
Little traffic control. 
Cool conditions in August. 
A large Hokkaido contingent. 

If your bike is your best discipline, particularly bike climbing, than this is the race for u. 

For your humble narrator, the first 50k felt fine. I was glad that most of the climbs were in the first half. 1280 meters of climbing with about 700 in first 60k. There was a major climb at the 100k point but it was fairly flat after that. 

At around 80k, a race official called out, "the leader is only 27 minutes ahead of you, gambatte kudasai!".
The 5 riders around me groaned. Needless information!

This was the first race I have done with open roads. They decided not to close the roads to cars and I now understand why. Most of the area is barren, and on a Sunday morning there is very little traffic. However, we were forced to slow down or stop over 10 times. A few times I had to wait for cars to pass but it wasn't too bad. The real challenge was getting over those hills with little fuel or aid along the way. My 4 hour target turned out to be too ambitious, I barely averaged 30 kph. I had little power for those last 40k.

4:42 bike, 138k, 22nd rank


I was really worried that my legs would be dog-meat by the run, but amazingly I was able to run at 5 minute pace straight off the bike. Admittedly I was super glad to be off Hillary's saddle. You can see my wide smile on the run.

I wondered where anyone was as I had not seen anyone I know since the swim finish. Than they all appeared out of the woodwork, literally. The run takes you on a beautiful journey along lake Toyako.

                                   Thanks to Paul's wife for the run shots!

 I passed Jess as he was finishing, than Ernesto came up from the rear and we ran together with his son in tow for 1k or so, which was nice and helped me keep a fast pace. Ernesto is a true hombre on the run and really pushed me. I tried to pull away, but he kept on reeling me in. Than we saw Paul at the turnaround coming strong. It was all happening on the run.

The first 10k was surprisingly smooth. Than I hit a dark period from 10-15k where I had to dig deeper to maintain that 5-minute pace. Once I hit the final turnaround at 16k I felt rejuvenated, and gathered my last reserves for the final 6k.


I came in at just over 5 minute pace which I was happy with, and did my now patented leap through the finish line. 

Check out the expressions on the finish girl's faces. Epic!


finish line euphoria with Ernesto and Paul


7:09, 14th place overall, 7th in AG (would have been 3rd in 50's age group, but to them I am still a young 40's whippersnapper...)

                                    Big thanks to Meg for the superb action shots!
                                    pure fun at Niseko Hilton
                          happy relaxing down-time after the race

Kudos to Paul, Ernesto, Jeff, Lesa, Jess!

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Toyama iki-iki triathlon: To the Top of the Mountain...いきいき富山トライアスロン:山登りは辛いよ

Mark-sensei, rising star Tibo, and Motozo endured a tough mountainous OD triathlon in Toyama last weekend. Since I've never been confused as a polka dot jersey guy, my expectations were rather low. I do fine in flat or downhill courses such as Oshima, Murakami, Aizu, etc. So this race was an experiment of sorts, one for a feather in the hat, and a good excuse to get over to the Sea of Japan. いきいき富山トライアスロン大会を完走しました。なかなか辛い山登りでしたが、なんとか年齢グループ10位でフイニッシュ。

Pre-race: Toyama ain’t close, but rather easy to get to. Our hotel was walking distance from the Toyama station, which serves the new Shinkansen direct from Tokyo in 2 hours and small change. The race organization was amusingly primitive with handwritten drawings of the race course and key points, and no air conditioning on a very hot July day. With electric trams and copious spring waters, Toyama is known for its environmentally friendliness, so much that the city has been designated an environmental model city by the national government for its efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. Perhaps this was the reason for lack of power point slides or air conditioners...

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing and outdoor

Swim: The swim area at Toyama Bay is somewhat similar to Murakami Triathlon on the Sea of Japan. Except that the swim course in Toyama is actually less protected and hence we did have some chop. I didn't swim too hard and felt the positive effects of the hard tri-k swim sessions at Shiba Koen and Yoyogi gym. 

I was in the 3rd wave with Mark, and noticed him just ahead after the first 750 meter lap. I pulled up to Mark, hoping that we could work together on the 2nd lap, but he swung out far left, so I abandoned that idea. I tend to swim faster with more focus when I am pacing off other swimmers, particularly when I know their speed and style. 

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, ocean, sky, outdoor, water and nature

I hit the beach in 26 minutes, not nearly as fast as last month's exploits in Takeyama. I foolishly hoped my minor 20 second lead on Mark would hold up for part of the bike. 

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, outdoor and nature
Bike: Mark was gone by the time I got out of T1. My transition wasn't terrible, just too much to do. Wetsuit removal, put on helmet, sunglasses, switch on bike garmin, put on bike shoes and run to the exit unclipped. The whole ordeal took about 1 minute. I guess I need a new garmin and helmet with built-in visor. I also need practice mounting with shoes clipped in to the pedals.

Image may contain: bicycle

I could see Mark about 50 meters ahead as I mounted Hillary Swank (blue P2C Cervelo), tried to accelerate, but there was an awful sound coming from the back tire. This hill climb was going to be hard enough without mechanical problems. I tried to loosen the brake by twisting around while coasting. 
This resulted in sharp cramps in my abdomen and only a halfway loosened brake. As I dealt with the cramps and Hillary's moans, I noticed that I was getting passed by bikers on the first hill. At the 20k point, I finally pulled over to a full stop and loosened the brake all the way. After that Hillary's complaints resided as I headed up the mountain somewhat relieved. 

Image may contain: bicycle and outdoor
         Hillary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

The last 10k was going to be a serious climb and test of meddle, so I didn't go 100% for the first 30k of the ride. It was a rather gradual climb of 560 total meters over 37k, and 300 meters over the last 15k. There were 3-4 steep hills where I had to shift my lowest gear and stand up. I hadn't changed my rear cassette so was a bit worried about getting up those steep climbs, but it turned out to be manageable. 

The last climb of about 2k was very tough though. On that last hill I was maxed out, in my smallest gear, and standing. As I passed a race volunteer in slow motion, I pleaded with her to tell me how far it was to the top. She, of course, had no concept of distance, saying "mo chotto" (just a little further), and "nan kiro mo nai" (not more than 1k). It always amazes me how little race supporter actually know about where they are on the course. I brought Hillary home in 1:21:52, which is meaningless given the hills and short 37k distance. Average speed was 27.1 KPH with 207 watts of estimated average power. 

Run: To my surprise, the bike rack in my age group was mostly empty with the exception of Mark and 2-3 others. So I wasn't having such a terrible day. I racked Hillary, slid on my racing shoes, and pulled out of T2 with no hat or shades. T2 is actually in the parking lot of Takeyama Sanroku ski area, which means you have to run up the mountain from T2. That first ascent up the ski slope nearly killed me. The earlier wave athletes, Mark, Tibo, and a few others were flying down the hill while I climbed. I thought about walking as the walkers that I passed weren't moving much slower than me. But I gritted my teeth and coerced myself into running all the way minus one pee brake. Meg and Ty were on the course cheering like crazy which was a huge help!

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor   iki-iki gamba gamba yare yare!

Ann and Miki-san boosted my spirits also. At the top of the run course I took 2 cups of water and doused myself. Things were heating up. Where was that rain in the forecast?
As I raced down the hill I thought only 2 more laps of this? Finishing the 2nd lap felt good though. At least I wasn't going to suffer the humiliation of getting lapped by Mark. It was impossible to pace how fast I was going. Uphills were 5:30-6 minute pace, downhills 4 minute pace, much slower than a flat course, needless to say. 

  bad storm coming
Image may contain: 1 person, standing, shoes, shorts, sky, outdoor and nature  better run to the top of the mountain

As I rounded the last run to the finish chute, I thought, whey not finish in style? So I gathered, coiled, and launched into a mini-long jump on the finish line. Thankfully Meg was there to capture the insanity!

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, basketball court and outdoor
            mother, I'm flying!

Epilogue: It was one of the most gorgeous setting for a race finish. A ski resort with light shamrock green grasses and dark plush pine green forests. We feasted on local sushi and curry, savoring that post-race euphoria. Given the A to B course design, we eventually had to make our way back to Toyama, which was a 30k ride down the mountain.

Originally I wasn't too excited by the idea of cycling 30k after a race, but it turned out to be a scenic ride along the river valley. And it was easy riding down the mountain. I think I averaged a faster speed on that post-race ride than the actual race. Go figure. 
Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoor
                                                    We like it on top!

38th overall
10th in age group

Image may contain: people standing, mountain, sky, outdoor, nature and water

"Mountain in the shadow of light, rain in the valley below, Well you can say you're Peter, say you're Paul, Don't put me up on your bedroom wall, call me the king of the mountain"  -Midnight Oil