Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Sado Astroman powers activated, 佐渡国際トライアスロン

There we stood at Sawada Bay overlooking the pristine swim conditions with months of preparation behind us, seconds away from a 7:30 am mass gun start. 2 of our 13 strong Tokyo team were already swimming and in for a long day, the A-type full distance/Ironman variety. 11 of us were poised for the B-type, about half-ironman distance plus alpha. 90 minutes earlier we had watched our A-type heroes Alisa and David B. start the swim on the same beach. Now it was our turn to get wet...

   smooth as a silk Sawada Bay、いよいよスタートだ

  …Flashback to 7 months ago…The journey had actually started when Keren made the trek to Sado back in February, met with the organizers, and asked them to secure slots for the TiT (triathlon-in-tokyo) team. Desperate to put the international back in Sado International Triathlon, they dutifully obliged. Makiko-san was a huge help with the translation and other logistical organization. Pretty soon after that there were 15 TiT triathletes signed up for the A and B races. 

We all arrived Friday and Saturday before the Sunday race, pampered in the opulent Osado Onsen Hotel in Aikawa, where they once found gold during the Edo period.

                                                     a room with a view 大佐渡景色

It was a fabulous hotel with excellent buffet breakfast, mouth-watering local fish dinners, and friendly service. 

hotel lobby, not much lounging for busy triathletes ホテル大佐渡だ!

 The Saturday race briefing was comical, featuring long-winded warnings on what to do if a missile strikes Sado. 1. Make sure everyone is safe. 2. Run! I was dying to ask them why they thought that Sado would be bombed…did Charles Jenkins or kidnappings have something to do with the paranoia? 

                                     ready for missiles?

Sado is rather odd-shaped, kinda like an asymmetrical figure-8 or 2 mushrooms attached by the stems. It is a huge island, Japan’s 6th largest with over 200 km of circumference. The A-course goes around both mushrooms, the B-course along the east mushroom only. Like many regions in Japan’s outskirts, its population has been hallowed out as young people move to big cities. The locals are thus extra excited to see visitors from the mainland. At 3:45 am Sunday morning we were up for our breakfast. For me it is pretty simple: rice, eggs, natto, fruits, coffee to get things going…It was 10k from the hotel to the start area, a bit far, and so some of us rode in the cars. Some biked. Everything went rather smoothly except for Alisa, who forgot her bike shoes. Makiko-san again saved the day and brought her shoes to the bike area while Alisa was swimming! We B-type racers had plenty of time between 6-7:30 am to test the water, watch the A-type and pros swim, and relax on the relax on the beach. 


The swim is an enjoyable and attractive 1-loop 2k swim in Sawada Bay leading into the Sea of Japan on Sado’s southern shore. The waves and wind had kicked up the day before, and there were rumors of a swim cancellation. But on race day the water was about as smooth as I have ever seen it, and we were ready to rumble. 6-7 of us were hoping for a fast start to get in front of the mass start and catch a draft from Ryano’s big frame. At least that was my foolish plan. With 739 swimmers starting together, I had grossly underestimated my ability to sight “flyin’ Ryan” or other speedy swimmers Ben, Jean-Marc, Keren, or Scott. I could see nothing but blue caps, black suits, and white water for the first 100 meters. But my strategy of swimming quickly started to pay dividends after 200 meters as I was ahead of the trouble behind, and I settled into a nice rhythm, drafting off 2-3 fellow swimmers. At the 900 meter first turn, my watch said 16 minutes. All systems were a Go. The next 200 meters to the next buoy felt easier, and I made the last turn towards the beach. Still no sign of the TiTs, but we would soon be reunited on the beach no doubt. With 500 meters to go, I started to feel slightly fatigued and lost some focus, but was jolted back to reality when a fellow swimmer headed out to what looked to be North Korea. He was literally swimming perpendicular from my direction. I made sure to sight the buildings on the beach after seeing that guy.  
                        happy to have my feet on the ground

I landed in 37 minutes, fairly happy with that as I had used energy frugally. Still no signs of the team, but there was Makiko-san and Martin’s wife Mani with a big-lensed SLR camera. Yes, money shots! I was very excited to see familiar people and ride Hillary Swank around the island coast. 

T1 was smooth. They give you a nice big crate to dump all your swim stuff. Plenty of space. I mounted Hillary at the line and got into chase mode for the first 20k flat bit across the middle of the island. This was going to be fun. Who would I ride into first? Great to be in a race with so many training buddies. First I passed JM but I had a feeling that that wouldn’t be the last time I saw him. Than Keren, than Ben, who was coasting down a small hill. I rode fairly hard at 37 kph for the first 20k, feeling exhilarated to be out of the water and back to one of my favorite islands. I slowed a bit after the first right turn at the other end of the island as there were some hills and I wanted to reserve some pennies for the 2H of bike and run. I was a bit worried that my legs weren’t fully recovered from the past 2 weeks of racing. The poor bike split in Aizu the week before stuck in my mind. Unsurprisingly, JM reeled me in and passed me at 30k. I increased the pace slightly and returned the favor. But that didn’t last long. He was clearly in strong bike shape. I let him go ahead at around 40k. My 40k split was 1:09, 35 khp. I wasn’t unhappy with that split, but still a long way to go with 2 big climbs. At this 30-60k point fatigue hasn’t set in yet, and you can still in enjoy the gorgeous coastal views. On a clear day you can see the mainland at the 35k point. It was partly cloudy which kept the temperature down to a manageable 24 degrees, but clear enough to admire the view. Aid stations were helpful and frequent, about every 20k. I missed the first one but got fresh water at the next 3 out of 4 aid stations. 


They were giving out water and coke, which was a bit confusing. I mistakenly took coke instead of water at 53k, so had to discard it without any water. I was eating 1 gel per hour plus some bananas and other fruits. I guess I took in 800 calories during the bike. From 30k to 80k there is very little elevation change along the coast. But how do you get from the coast through that mountain pass, back to the middle of the island? Tunnels and a big climb! At 80k we hit the hardest climb of the day, approximately 120 meter climb over 2k. It felt like we were standing still. I tried to stand up and pedal, but got cramps in my quads. I chatted with a few other riders, asking where the next hill was. It had been 11 years since I did this race, and I hadn’t memorized the exact mileage of the hill climbs down. After that big climb there is a quick downhill, than another 30 meter climb, than a long 5k downhill, than one last 3k climb. After that last climb you are at 94k and with the beach in clear view, you can start to ignore those aches and pains in your back and legs. The bike leg was 105k 11 years ago, which was etched in my mind. So when we passed 105k, than 106k, I was like, “WTF, when is this going to end?” After my little duel with JM on the bike, I didn’t see any TiTs for the rest of the bike. Where was the Ryano? Surely he couldn’t have smoked the bike with very little training. I finish the bike in 3:10, 3:18 with 2 transitions, about 34 kph. 

Run:I arrived into T2 and boy was I glad to get off Hillary’s saddle and jog into the transition. There were very few bikes (30) on the racks, a good sign. But would I have the legs for 21k after last week’s disappointing finish? There was JM in the transition yelling something at me. Great, we can run together for a while, I thought. I took the extra 30 seconds to put on socks, worth it for the extra foot comfort. I headed for the start line but JM did an about-face and went back to his bike. WTF?  I started running but he was nowhere in sight. It felt OK, not easy, not hard. But impossible to tell how I was going to run that early. 5:07 first 1k split. At about 1k Keren passed on his bike and yelled. That got me going. Next split 5:00. I took 20 seconds at the next aid station for water and cooling spray for my cramping hamstring. It worked! No pain in the hamstring. All numb. Next split 4:55. Now I was feeling somewhat normal at the 5k point. I treated the half marathon like 4 x 5k plus alpha. Just have to get through three more 5ks now….At 5.7k, I hit the first turn-around and saw JM running about 1 minute behind. We encouraged each other. I looked forward to seeing the others at the next turn-around point. Most of the run after you leave town is very flat rice fields, but you do have one incline at the 8k point.  I noticed some decorations on the side of the road. They looked like they were made by children and had electrical wires running from them. Ah, that must have been arranged by the local elementary school for the A-type runners for extra light at night time. What a nice gesture. 

                somebody get me a shot。。いててって感じ

At 9-11k I was losing steam. I tried to run with anyone that passed me. As I neared the 11k turnaround, I counted how many age groupers were in front. About 40 but no Ryano. He clearly had had a puncture or disappeared in T1/T2. The leading woman passed me at about 4:30 pace. No way I was going to pace off of her. A couple of guys passed me at 5 minute pace. I stayed with them for a few k. Finally, I got to the turnaround and took in everything I could get my hands on. Fruits, water, sports drink, sponges, and some more leg cramp spray. JM came in 2 minutes behind now. Keren came barreling up the hill next asking for the distance. Than the rookies, Tim first, he was having a Barnstormer of a day, than Ben, way under his target also. Than big Gareth, Scott, and Martin. It was great to see them and the high 5’s kept my mind off the pain in my legs and gut. 

                                           so close I can smell it!

Everything hurt but I only had 7k to go. Finally the Ryano appears after 5 hours of hibernation! And last but not least, my distant cousin Glenn Rubin from NY! I am relieved that my cousin did not drown.

But I am fading fast. The leg cramp spray isn’t working anymore. My splits are heading south, 5:20, than 5:30. At 18k I hit bottom at 5:55. I will not go over 6 minute pace. Only 2k to go to the little shopping area where there will be supporters. If only I can will myself another 3k. Somehow I do and my pace improves slightly. 2k to go and I can now smell the finish line. The shopping street is in sight as I am out of the hot rice field area now. I am running with a young guy, using him as a wind shield and pain distraction. 

We run through the downtown together. There are bikers pulling in to T2 and some officials yell at us to get out of their way. How can that be? Or are they the A-type? 

Now the end is in clear sight, and I revel thoughts of rest and beer. I pick up the pace the last 500 meters and drop the young guy. I don’t have anything left in the legs for the Glico jump through the finish line, and barely get 2 inches off the ground. But this course is done and dusted, I am an ASTROMAN again and it is a beautiful day! I did a 1:51 run, about 5:19 average pace.

Total time was 5:47:13 for 40th place overall and 7th in my AG. 

Fun with numbers: 57% of my race was on the bike 32% run 11% swim 5:47 in half-ironman 70.3 terms, about an extra 35 minutes for the bike, 2 minutes for the bike, 2 minutes for swim. 
5:10 half ironman on a hilly course? 

In summary, everyone enjoyed the course and soon after finishing many were already talking about next year. Maybe that was the post-race beers talking. 



There were some major breakthroughs from the rookies. Tim shattered his expectations with a 6 hour debut middle distance race. King of the rookies: Ben continues to be a rookie on a rampage with a tremendous 34 minute swim and 1:48 run Big Gareth brought home the bacon with limited training, smiling and chatting the whole way. Scott scored his first middle distance race with a nice swim, overcoming a mechanical issue on bike. Glenn accomplished his 2 goals: He did not drown, and he finished. 

                                rookies on a rampage、新入社員はすごい!

As for the old hands, in went down something like this…JM had a superb swim and bike. He actually was able to enjoy the view on the bike. Keren nearly nailed his AG podium, taking 4th after leading for more than half the race. The Ryano finished with almost no bike or run training. Martin did his thing in the water and also had a great swim split. Geraldine finished well before the sun came down, showing off her speed-walking skills. 

            comfortably numb

And kudos to the two A-type finishers, who went twice the B distance! Alisa grabbed 2nd in her age group and 6th overall out of 96 ladies with a sterling 12:28 time. It is very impressive considering the amount of training she does in strange hotel gyms around the world. Dave B. had a badly sprained ankle, but managed to finish the A race and make it back to the hotel with 20 kg of gear in hand. 

                                the host and hostess with the mostess

Huge thanks to Makiko-san and Keren for setting up the entire weekend, for tireless planning over 6 months................

           he had a tough day...どうするか?

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