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...
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.
bike: 1:09:09 (includes T1 and T2)
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