Date: June 1 2014
Location: Tokoname, Aichi, Japan
Distance: 1.9 / 90 / 21.1
As one of the major races in Japan, I’ve been keen to check out the Ironman 70.3 Japan for a few years. Although having not heard too many favourable reports, the proximity to home (a short flight from Chitose to Centrair Airport in Nagoya) and convenient access (race is based around Centrair Airport) made it worth adding to the race schedule. The timing of the race also fit well into the overall training calendar as the Kona build starts to ramp-up. Also, having raced Challenge Taiwan six weeks earlier, I was keen to get into another half Ironman soon for a shot at redemption after the poor performance in Taiwan.
We made this a family affair, and it was awesome to have Yuumi and the kids come along to cheer form the sidelines, although I underestimated the amount of luggage one triathlete, one wife, one toddler and twin babies can require, let alone fitting it all into one room in a business hotel!
Since Taiwan, my swim has been suffering for some reason. I can’t put my finger on it, but just seem to be swimming slower – I recovered well from Challenge, and energy levels have been fine – a mystery to me… Bike and run have both been going well, and I definitely felt fitter overall than I was in mid-April.
Ironman 70.3 Japan is an interesting location for a race. Situated in Tokoname, just south of Nagoya, and right by the Centrair International Airport, built on a man-made island. The race expo, race registration, pre-race meeting, and post-race awards party are all held within the main airport terminal itself. It’s a very industrial part of Japan, and a bit of a concrete jungle.
The weather for race day was forecast to reach a maximum of 34°C, which made me very nervous after my meltdown in the heat of Taiwan, where it was only 29°-30°C. With the industrial aspect, and amount of concrete surrounding the course, the whole place just felt HOT.
32:01 (4th in Age Group)
My swimming had been sub-par since the Taiwan race – I’m not really sure why, but everything has just been feeling slow & heavy. Energy levels were fine, and had completing most sessions without any trouble, I just can’t seem to complete intervals at the same speed as in March/early April.
The swim course was a simple rectangular out-and-back route in the ocean inlet, semi-protected by a man-made island that was a touristy beach area, which was home to the start/transition area.
The race was a wave-start format – professionals started at 8:30am, then M30-34 at 8:31, then my group (M35-39) at 8:35. I lined up at the front of about 200 athletes in my age group, and felt relaxed as the cannon fired.
There was a short 150m straight line out from the beach before turning left onto the long rectangular course, and I was able to stay in front of the pack and turn the first buoy in the lead.
Looking ahead, I could already see we would soon catch the slower swimmers at the back of the first age group wave. The next 800m was a busy period, zigzagging slower swimmers from the group in front, avoiding being kicked in the face by those suddenly switching to a breaststroke frog kick, and keeping an eye out for anyone wearing a light blue swim cap (signifying my age group) who I might be able to sit behind and save a bit of energy.
After making the turn at the far end of the course, it became apparent the we were suddenly swimming ‘upstream’ against a strong current, and quite a bit of incoming ocean chop. Everyone was affected, and I could feel the pace slow, as the effort increased. I just kept my head down, focused on turning over the arms, sighting regularly so as not to get dragged off course by the current, and staying strong until the swim exit.
Based on my recent swim form, I had expected a slow swim, but still thought I would be able to reach the swim finish in under 30 minutes, so was surprised to see 32 minutes displaying on my watch as I got to my feet on the sand. In hindsight, it was slow for everyone, even most pros (who would normally average around 21-23 minutes) were swimming around 27 minutes.
2:19:12 (1st in Age Group)
After a long 600m run from the changing tent, I found my bike and sprinted out of transition 1 (T1) and onto the 90km bike course.
The bike course is renowned as the ‘ugly’ side of this race. 4 laps of a 22.5km loop through a very industrial factory/wharf area. The course is filled with U-turns and sharp 90° corners, which makes it difficult to find a steady rhythm, as well as using up lots of energy each time you have to stand up and power out of each corner to get back up to speed. It’s also extremely dangerous in parts, with some very narrow sections where athlete traffic heading in both directions had to share one single lane of road – this made it scary on the later laps when the course was full with 1600 athletes, and we were lapping/passing slow back-markers.
I’m loving my new bike, the CEEPO Katana, and am starting to ride well on it after taking some time to dial in my position and get used to the bike’s geometry and Rotor Q-Ring cranks. I was quickly able to start catching riders in front, and passed a dozen or so riders in the first couple of km. For the most part, the bike was quite uneventful – Raynard Picard, a 30-34 age grouper from Mexico, and I rode together virtually the whole 90km – keeping the legal 7 meters apart, whilst keeping the pace solid and pushing each other down the road.
The key for the bike leg was to stay alert and concentrate on the course and other riders, and I noticed on the last lap that my concentration was starting to sway as I began to feel the toll of the heat and hot bike pace for the past 70km. On a couple of corners I braked too late, and also rode through a couple of deep potholes, luckily no puncture. I kept reminding myself to concentrate, and stay in the moment.
With less than 1km to go on the bike, just as I was feeling happy to have survived the bike, I came to pass another back-marker. Although I called “passing” from behind, which he appeared to have heard initially, he suddenly veered straight out in front of me right at the moment I was about to go past him. Travelling at 40km/h, and with nowhere to go, my life flashed before my eyes as I had to avoid him quickly, and smashed straight into a large orange traffic cone, and through onto the wrong side of the road, into a stream of oncoming bike traffic!! The cone went flying into the air, both my feet came out of my pedals, and somehow, somehow, I (a) didn’t plow head-on into an athlete coming in the opposite direction, and (b) stayed upright on the bike! Quite a few expletives exited my mouth, and Raynard had witnessed it all from behind, pedalling up alongside me with a “dude, you are soooo lucky”!
Shaken, I actually rolled straight past the bike finish and entry into the transition area, and was suddenly 20 meters down the road before I realized, and had to quickly back-track, before finally making my way into T2, happy to be safely off that bike course.
1:30:51 (5th in Age Group)
In the run changing tent, Raynard and I shared a joke about the near death experience, but then he was gone in a flash! I took a few extra seconds to recompose, and try to prepare mentally for the half marathon ahead – the day was now close to peak temperature at around 34°C.
The goal for this run was survival, and I really didn’t have any expectations other than that, as the experience in Taiwan 6 week prior has made me put some pretty big question marks over my running ability in the heat.
Although hot & tired, I actually felt pretty good right away and was able to trot along quite comfortably- although it was still early days and I was nervous to push the pace. I broke the run down into aid stations, situated every 2km – rather than thinking of the whole 21.1km distance to cover in the brutal conditions, I decided to focus on the eight-and-a-half to nine minutes it would likely take me to reach each aid station.
The run course entailed a loop of about 5km around the man-made island which the start/transition area was located on, before a 15km run south along the concrete coastline to the finish near Centrair International Airport. Point-to-point runs can be tough, because although you can see the destination in the distance, it just looks so far away, which can be quite challenging mentally.
At each aid station I made it a priority to grab as many cold wet sponges and dump as much cold water over my head and ZOOT IceFil Arm Cooler sleeves as possible, then grab a drink, and also force down some kind of calories (gel/Coke). Although I always have the intention of eating on the run, I always seem to fail to keep the nutrition uptake regular, which I think has been a problem in other races previously – this is something I really have to work on, so I forced myself to eat a bit more on this run.
I kept a regular check on my pacing, and although I didn’t want to overdo it, I was feeling quite comfortable at around 4:15-4:20/km pace. Before I knew it I was though 8km, and still feeling relatively good at this pace. Pre-race, although around 4:20/km was a pace I had set as an optimal target, realistically I had thought that if I could just hold 4:30-4:30/km for as long as possible in the heat, then just survive until the finish, it would be a good race.
As the aid stations ticked by, I stayed cool and hydrated, and stayed in the now. People talk about getting in the ‘zone’, and this was one period in time where I felt like I was able to zone-out of everything else, let the eyes glaze over, and almost be in a meditative state for the whole run. Uncomfortable, yet comfortable at the same time.
At about the 16km point, I was passed by Singapore speedster James Middleditch (M40-44 age group), who was motoring, and went on to claim the honor of first age grouper. A cople of professionals had also passed me on the run, but otherwise I hadn’t seen many other athletes out there – I had expected to be passed by droves of faster runners!
To reach the finish in the tough conditions was a relief, and I knew I was possibly in a podium place in my age group – didn’t actually find out the result until back in the hotel a couple hours later. But the biggest success for me personally was that I had managed to put together a run which I really wasn’t sure I would be capable of. 90 minutes for a half marathon has always been a target that I didn’t know would be attainable or not, and to hit the mark spot-on, averaging 4:18/km in such difficult conditions was what I am happiest about from the race – a real confidence boost!
Total time: 4:28:01
Placing: 1st M35-39 Age Group | 9th Overall | 2nd Age Grouper
So, an unexpected success in Tokoname, which I’ll take away a lot of confidence from. Still need to regain my swim mojo, and there’s always work to do to improve in all three sports – but all-in-all very happy with where my fitness is currently at, and great to grab another age group win! Not really worth much, it’s kind of nice to be the 35-39 age group winner for both full and half distance Ironman races in Japan!
Huge thanks, love and respect goes to my superstar wife Yuumi, who possibly had a tougher day out than I did. Waking at 5am, feeding and preparing a 2 year old, and 9month old twins, then a train to the start area, followed by a day in the heat, multiple baby feedings, lots of waiting, and more train travel between the start and finish areas – all while trying to stay cool and keep the kids comfortable and happy! It was awesome to have the family cheering from the sidelines, and a boost each time I saw them – rock star! Bonus thanks to our great friends who live in the area, Tristan and Naki for their huge support over the weekend!
Next up are a couple of short Olympic distance races in Hokkaido – the Hascup/Chubetsuko tri double over consecutive weekends in late July/early August. The focus from this point is to work solely towards being in peak condition for Kona in October – the next four months will fly by, and I’m looking forward to the journey!