Ironman Japan 70.3 Boat Race Centrair Tokoname Triathlon.
I think that is the official name for this race, but for me it can be summed up in three letters – NVG. Not Very Good. My performance, the race organisation, the course, the expense – all Not Very Good. After being a bit scathing of IMUK and Watarase races recently I’m wondering if I’m too harsh/negative on some of these races but I prefer to think I’m a realist. It’s an interesting dilemma - we all want to be ‘positive people/glass half full and all that’ but if something’s not good, why say that it is? Then you’ve got no credibility when you actually rate something highly but you think everything’s great. As I didn’t do so well in IMUK or Japan 70.3 I was wondering if my opinion on races is tainted by my own performance but I probably did my best ever all-round race in Watarse this year and still rate it the worst triathlon I’ve ever done so I hope my opinion has still has got some cred.
This was the first ever ‘official’ half Ironman (70.3if you must) in Japan. We had hoped this race was going to come to Lake Toya near Niseko, but the local cops scuppered that idea. It’s very difficult to get roads to ride bikes on in Japan, as the key to society here is social harmony, and races upset this. This race was in Nagoya - a place I didn’t know much about except they like pork cutlet soaked in miso sauce and the headquarters of Toyota are here – it’s sometimes called “Toyota Town”. The race web site had some graphic of a plane and said the expo was in the airport, so I had visions of some unused airport terminal and a runway we could hammer at 45km/h on. I wasn't the only one, but unfortunately not so much. The race sold out in about 6 hours to general entries and if you wanted to enter after that you had to book through the JTB (Japan Travel Bureau) but this had to include flights. As we thought we’d be coming from Hokkaido this was no problem for us, but Ness had to go back to Aus for dental work and I had to come back to Tokyo to cover staff shortage at Tokyo Physio, so there was no point flying. When they told me the flights were going to cost 78,000yen ($1,000) I dropped out of the race. They told me the fee we had paid for the entry (40,000 yen each for me and Vanessa – about the most expensive race I’ve ever done was non-refundable). Still no way I was going to pay that for the flights to a “C” race - I was still out.
About 5 days before the race friends started telling me my name was still down on the official start list so I thought maybe I could make a cheeky appearance and travel by train –which I did. When I went to register they had a “cancelled” next to my name but I played the dumb gaijin (foreigner) and they gave me the timing chip and race numbers.
The race-briefing they made such a big deal of attending was a bit of a joke. Whit Raymond ran it, and though I think he’s the best announcer in the business he is not a race organiser and knew nothing about this race. It was as if they grabbed him from the plane and threw him in front of us. ‘I think the swim course is shaped like this and we’re going anti-clockwise not clockwise’ – scrawls on the board. We don’t have any big buoys so we’ve got some sailboats at the turning points to sight/as buoy. ‘The start of the bike is rough I hear be safe’. The question time: “Is the run course two laps or one it’s not clear on the map?”. 'Umm not sure just follow people, next question’. “Is the bike hilly or windy?”. ‘It might be not really sure’....and on it went until poor ol’ Whit wound it up mid sentence before anyone could ask anymore questions. The whole atmosphere of the meeting was farcical with an underlining ‘isn’t this a bit ridiculous’ in everything he said. The kicker was that there was only one aid station on the bike and they would give you PET bottles of water only, not in a bidon (normal cycling bottle). For 40,000yen entry this pissed me and many other people off, but was typical for triathlons in Japan at least they weren’t serving water in cups on the bike like they sometimes do here. Transport to the start was to cost 2,000yen and the pre-race meal was convenience store style sandwiches – we were wondering where our 40,000yen went to? I thought this race being an official M-Dot race might be a level up on the typical races, but it was becoming apparent it was just the same, just with a triple priced entry fee that was flowing back to WTC, the police and the race organisers.
I started in the second wave of the swim – 5 minutes after the first wave (pros and under 35’s). Not a big fan of the age divided wave starts, nd the faster under 35 Agers got to swim and ride with the slower pros which is an advantage, but there you go. I lined up at the swim start next to Jenson Button who was doing the swim and bike legs with another mate doing the run. He’s a pretty similar level to me so I was disappointed not to race him overall (beat him off the bike and his relay team by a few minutes, but he’s a 37:xx oly distance runner – so it would have been interesting!
I started the swim really well and after 300m was in front of our wave, but due to the race briefing I was navigating to the boat as I thought we had to go around it. Turns out it was only for sighting and was 100m from the buoy so I had to change course and had lead my merry crew of followers down the wrong path too – sorry guys! Navigating was tough with no sighting buoys so just kept heading in the general direction trying to visualise Whit’s rough sketch on the whiteboard that looked like a rectangular lollipop. After the last buoy I thought I had to pass one more buoy (at the T of the lollipop) before heading in, but couldn’t see the buoy and people around me where heading into shore (actually swimming in all directions). After stopping and swimming breaststroke several times to look for the buoy and decide what to do, I decided to head into shore and hope I was not DQ’d by a paddle boarder. I think everyone did the same. Enjoyed swimming in the ocean for a change but aside from that – shitty swim. They landed us about 300m from T1, so there was a looong run to get to the bikes – hate that after a swim – the heart-rate skyrockets.
I had a host of mechanical issues recently and got my bike back from the mechanic at the race (my mechanic was the official mechanic at the race). I took it for a ride and it felt so weird I returned it to him telling him it was dangerous. No – I found out – turns out I’d been riding it with a sloppy head set/steering for a long time and he had fixed it. My ‘weird’ was actually normal. He fixed my warped disc that had been rubbing and convinced me to race with it despite me carrying a more friendly road wheel from Tokyo – this was a mistake due to the hilly, tight and rough nature of the course but I didn’t want to let him down. Coach Woody had told me to ride the first 30kms moderate to hard, and then hammer the last 60kms as fast as I possibly could. I was salivating at the prospect a first to have a licence to smash it! Unfortunately from my first pedal stroke I knew my legs were not at their best today. And further evidence to my theory pretty much everyone races their bike leg as fast as they can anyway, they just kid themselves they are holding back. I’m not sure why my biking is inconsistent – some days I bike like a rock star some days like a chump. Today I was a chump.After my pre-race Facebook proclamations and a subsequent slow bike time I’ve since received letters of condolences from Tobjorn Sindballe, Bjorn Anderson and Chris Lieto and they asked me to return my “Uber-Biker-Blow-Up-On-The-Run’ membership card to them – fair enough, will do guys, I'm all talk.
Despite being told it was 3kms - the first and last 12 kilometres were done on the horrible beachfront elevated pathways / esplanades town planners in Japan decided were a good idea some time ago. I’d ridden on these on Tour De Chiba social rides before, but it was a bit embarrassing to have to ride on them in an ‘international’ race. The concrete was about 2metres wide and had many large cracks that had separated. Lots of sharp turns and short rises made this area ‘interesting’. A French pro who had travelled for the race afterwards was telling me how disappointed he was in the race and said “I would not even take my mountain bike to these placez”....but maybe we triathletes are just too precious?
The ride had many very sharp tight turns and over 100metres of climbing - I was very happy I had my bike serviced before this race or I would have been into some barriers for sure. The one (in)famous Aid Station was classic Japan. On the first loop I missed it completely (I never thought you could ‘miss’ an aid station on the bike but I did - went straight by not even knowing it was there...). You had to leave the course completely, go into a parking lot and stop to receive some of the PET water bottles. It was the sort of aid station/lunch spot you get on social rides and cringe worthy for an M-dot race. To make matters worse the ride on the cracked footpaths saw maybe 50% of athletes have water bottles eject; so there was this double whammy of thirsty riders and this crappy aid station. D’oh. I did the whole ride by myself and was bored/frustrated throughout. Legs just weren’t co-operating at all.
The run course was pretty good, but a few too many U turns. The Japanese love to run you up and down dead ends on run courses to make the most of space. The support from volunteers throughout the race was a highlight. There were 1,200 of them on the course (most without much to do except say “Gambatte” and “Fighto”), but they did so with gusto and it was well received. I’ve always been a fan of wetting myself when hot (It was 32 degrees), so love the hoses and sponges. One trio (I called them the Toyota family) – seeing this was Toyota town...were out with the daughter holding a hose and Mum and Dad a big bucket staggered one after the other on the pathway. I agreed to the hose first then came to Mum and Dad and said yes to the bucket – WHAM – got knocked by a full bucket of water right in the face/body from Mum and as I was reeling from that - WHAM - Dad hit me with the same full bucket of water – “Oh What a Feeling......”.....sorry outdated gag I know. My poor ‘water resistant’ Garmin 305 got a big drop in its screen after that....hmmm. Hopefully it comes good. Anyway struggled through the run without feeling too bad – the half IM is so much easier mentally than the full. Time was a bit shite though - glad it was over as usual and managed to finish pretty strongly out-sprinting a guy in the last km.
Overall the event was NVG and speaking and eavesdropping on the pros that had travelled here to do the race I was pretty embarrassed for Japan. Don’t get me wrong I love Japan and there are so many good things about living here, but in many ways they just don’t understand what international Western standards are and how to meet them. As I mostly live in Niseko – a town that was built on foreigners providing services for international standards that the Japanese couldn’t, it’s something I’m acutely aware of. I really want people to come to Japan for a holiday, and international tourism is probably Japan’s only way out if it’s economic malaise but most of the locals have no idea what foreigners want – a bit like me in my teens and early twenties trying to understand what women want – no idea! Here’s your $150 a night room sir: a smoke stained tiny tatami mat space and for furniture you get a coffee table and a 20 year old TV in the corner. I always thought some animals get more furniture than the humans here..... “But don’t worry for entertainment we have a nice bath at the end of the hall”. It won’t cut it in an international market just like this race won’t either. Fortunately for them’ the race organisers are not aiming at an international market and I’m sure it will sell out just as fast next year....but you won’t see the name Colless on the starter’s list.
Anyway, next weekend I’ve got Murakami Olympic distance, which is a much better event and race – so really looking forward to that – a chance to get some redemption and a decent result on the board too maybe.