Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ishigaki Olympic Distance 2011

Me: 2.08.24
15th overall
1st in Age Group (not really but claiming it)
Straight to the pool room..... bin
Vanessa: 2.25
5th Female – Ness had trouble on the swim with sunscreen causing her goggles to leak and swimming blinded all day, but a pretty solid bike and a very good run.

Ishigaki's bedcovers- representative of much of Japan......stuck in the 80's

 This race has been on our 'To Do' list for some time, friends who had raced here in the past had only ever provided glowing reports and it had a rep as the best olympic distance race in Japan. It tended to sell out of it's 1,500 capacity in a few days and a friend of ours from Tokyo had done it ten times. An added bonus was that the there was a World Cup pro race in the afternoon and London Olympic hopefuls were there in numbers to get qualifying points. Ishigaki is the longest running olympic distance world cup in the world having run every year consecutively since 1996, it is quite a famous event in triathlon circles.

So many levels of awesomeness

The factors that had held us back from entering until now were the timing of the race (so close to the Niseko winter) and the expense of the flights (Ishigaki is 2,000kms from Tokyo and 3,500 from Niseko – that's almost Sydney to Perth!).

Oishi so?

After some taunting from the Frenchies about another 'match race' and the appeal of have an early season race to keep us focused through our winter full of work and temptation we decided a year ago that 2011 would be our Ishigaki debut. An added bonus was that our fellow tri-geek mate Chris Parry was marrying his long term girl Nene, who was born and raised in Ishigaki, on the night of the race (in a cruel twist Chris fractured his hand in the pool ten days before the race and had to drop out); the wedding was fantastic and Chris had plenty of energy to party past midnight so it might have been for the best – a big Congratulations and thank you to Chris and Nene (and Prince Pari – their triathlon coaching poodle.....really!). 
Watch out for team PP

Prince welcomes the pros at the airport

Aside from the race Vanessa and I had always wanted to check out Okinawa/Ishigaki and after almost ten years in Japan were long overdue to visit. Especially since becoming a Hokkaidophile I'd felt a certain kinship between Hokkaido and Okinawa. Both are just that bit different to the rest of Japan. They are quite young places (in their current form) as both have their own indigenous people, their own languages that are still in occasional use, both still have plenty of natural beauty (the rest of Japan is great and does have beauty, it's just that none of it is natural), and I imagined Okinawa, like Hokkaido would be have lots of bohemian Japanese who had moved there to escape the pressures of their life elsewhere and that those born and raised there would have a more laid-back outlook on life. All of those characteristics were familiar with another young country that I love..... I was right on pretty much all counts, Okinawa is a great place. Ishigaki is an extra one hour flight from Naha, the capital of Okinawa. Ishigaki is closer to Taipei and Hong Kong than it is to Tokyo, it's really a little island in the middle of nowhere, but still very much Japan and as an added bonus, unlike Okinawa's main island there wasn't 20,000 American military and their families living on the island; and their flag looks like a screen grab from the end of a Target commercial.
Like it
Although we were trying to stay focused through December, January and February; winter was still winter and with Vanessa in Tokyo for three weeks in peak season; I was working long days and still trying to get snowboarding and socialising with a constant stream of friends visiting, so there was not much training going on between Dec 5 and mid February. On an end of season road trip I got my fist ever episode of lower back pain that really sucked and once I got over that it was quickly followed by a calf muscle injury that caused me to walk home after 15 minutes of my last two runs before the race (and yes the two are related as many achille's, calf and hamstring injuries are). If I couldn't run 5kms in training I was very worried about running ten full tilt in the race. I'd never had a DNF before but I was thinking that there could be a strong chance I might end up just swimming and biking here if the calf was still dodgy, as this race was not a major focus of the season. Anyway we were here and I was going to give it a red hot crack and see how it held up.

Chotto different to the rest of Japan - no tetrapods!

The (mostly) good natured rivalry between myself and Tokyo-based Froggie Eric Hermand has grown over the last 12 months. We'd race twice before, in June and September 2010, the first time in Watarse we were in the same wave start and I won pretty comfortably; but Eric had the excuse of having a shoulder injury a couple of weeks before the race. Then Eric was faster in Murakami, but I had the excuse of starting in the second swim wave 5 minutes after Eric's and fighting through the slower swimmers in his group and then a mild asthma attack on the run that really slowed me down in the last 4kms. The wave start thing is a necessary evil in many races in Japan, but I don't really like them. It's not really a head to head race when you're in different waves I reckon, the day can play out very differently from one wave to another, triathlons are races, not time trials. But we were 1-1 heading into this race so this added some spice to things. This was the only race in Japan I'd heard of that they seed the waves on predicted swim time, not age groups so we'd both go  in the first wave and although I had my dodgy back, calf and recent winter, Eric had some disruptions of his own with the recent nuclear (over)reaction too, with some travel and swimming pool closures. He had come off an Ironman New Zealand build (race was March 5) and was training his butt of f through Jan and Feb, while I was snowboarding, drinking beer and working 70 hour weeks. But when I got back to training I was doing a lot of olympic distance style training and Eric was doing the Ironman slower longer stuff so I thought I would at least have that advantage. Thanks(!) to the nuclear hyperbole we had no work from mid March too, so I did have a good block of 18 days solid training before the race.

This race is a big deal for the Island

Swim 1,500m 21.14
One thing I did keep up over winter this year was the swimming and the two weeks before the race we'd done 15k+ weeks so was hoping to have a really strong swim. I ended up getting distracted when the first wave got called down to the water and found the front row next to the rope full, so lined up three back. I should have gone wide to the right and got some open space, as I got smashed in the first hundred metres. I had hoped to be in the first pack but looked up after the first buoy and there were some way ahead – dammit, not a good start to the day. About 400m in and the atmosphere had calmed down and I felt some guy swim onto my calf – no worries that happens all the time, but this guy decided he was going to grab it with all his strength and yank me backwards, and then swim right up onto the back of my shoulder. I can cop that stuff in the first hundred metres when it's a mess but not when there was hardly anyone around and plenty of space. I was already in a crappy mood because of the start so stopped swimming; turned and gave him a one metre deep head dunking that will hopefully teach him more manners in the future (must be nicer, must be nicer....).

I had nasty gog-fog too and could not see sh*t for most of the first loop, so it was not a great start to the day. I came out of the water on the first of 2 x 750 loops, rinsing the goggles as I did a porpoise and saw Eric was just getting back into the water – double damn, was hoping to have a minute or so on him from the swim. To make it worse they had these crappy elastic hair-band things they made you put on your wrist before the start that they wanted you to take off your wrist after a loop and hand neatly in the plastic tray the lady was holding in between loops. Trying to get the co-ordination to stand up; get your bearings and run around the buoy before heading back in the water is hard enough without having to remove this bloody Japanese sized wrist band that was clamped to my wrist, tight as hell. After a few seconds of struggling with it, I ended up having to stop and finally prying it loose, throwing it down while a few other swimmers past me. Awesome idea to add that rule, I'm sure there would have been hundreds of swimmers treading water for 15 minutes on their first lap instead of doing two laps if the didn't implement their stellar wrist band strategy.

I was pretty keen to finish the swim strong after all the swimming work I'd put in over winter and the big past few weeks. I ended up catching Eric as we started to run into some slower waves on their first loop. Eric decided to switch wide out and I saw some clearer water and stayed close to the rope. These loopy wave start swims wouldn't be so bad if the slower swimmers in waves ahead weren't so.....well......slow! Breaststrokers and zig-zagging freestylers with kicks a metre wide swimming all over the place made it tough to get through but I kept sighting and plotting a course so I did make some time up. I ended up getting out of the water about 15sec up on Eric and the time was pretty respectable, and may have even negative split (faster 2nd loop) which I never do, but had hoped to go sub 20.

Bike 40km 1.05
The transition to the bikes was a looong 400m run on the footpath, that got the heart rate going nice and high. When I finally arrived I had some socks laid out but knew Eric was right behind so just ditched the wet suit and was struggling to get my helmet strap untwisted and clipped in when Eric came in, so forgot about the socks for now and headed out. Onto the bike and I started pretty quickly, riding into the wind at 75 rpm, pushing pretty hard. I was not making much distance on the guy ahead, so kept pushing harder. I had the Garmin set up just with cadence, time and distance, no speed so I wasn't freaking myself out but kept thinking I needed to go faster than I was. I ended up catching a few guys and then we hit the hills. I've worked out I'm a bit of a one trick pony when it comes to cycling – I can hammer away at 40km/h on the flats without too much bother but put me up a hill or in a sprint and I've got nothing. The course was hillier than I expected and Eric ended up catching and passing me about 20kms in. From then on we were locked at the hip for the rest of the race. We swapped and changed the lead on the bike about 10 times each taking a few minutes on the font, both dropping back out of the draft zone when we were behind (at least I assume Eric was, my rule is 'don't look back!'), but we both had plenty of turns in the lead so neither could complain. Apparently there was tonnes of drafting a bit further back in the field but people were pretty scarce on the ground where we were, I think we were coming about 4th and 5th at that stage. Coming into T2 and I jumped in front; 2km out as I wanted to get into transition first. Got the feet out of the shoes and hit a nice flying dismount at speed – calf pain was still there! The bike time included the long transition from the swim and the time until you ran out over the mat for the run, so not bad, 8th fastest of the day, but was not at my best on the bike just yet, another 4 weeks of training needed.

Run 10km 41.30
I bypassed the socks again in a panic and also didn't tighten my Greeeper laces (forgot) and also neglected to grab my treasured Garmin 305 to give me pace on the run, I was just desperate to get out on the run course, floppy laces and all. But on the bright side I did have a fast T2 and got another few precious seconds on Eric onto the run. In the first few steps and bang – there was the calf reminding me it was not right and forcing me to run with a weird race-walker/IM shuffle style. I had two speedy Japanese guys pass me in the first kilometre, and was expecting Eric to blow by me pretty soon too. After 1.5km there was a long gradual climb of about 1km and this is when my calf was really screaming with pain. I was so close to pulling out, as I thought there's no way I can run another 8km like this. I was running with a massive weird limp and thought Eric must think I'm a weirdo when he looked ahead. I was thinking of the points to qualify for the Beijing AG worlds in September and that Eric still hadn't passed me so maybe he was having an off day. I also remembered the calf was worse up hills so thought I'd tough it out and finish with a 60min run/walk if I had to. After the top of the hill at 2.5km I heard some high cadence fast guy come up to me really quickly and expected some speedy Japanese guy to fly by, but saw it was Eric. Instead of blowing by he slowed a bit and stayed only a metre in front, that's a bit weird; I thought, and it gave me a lot of hope. About this time the calf started feeling much better; being done with the hill and the tactics of racing had taken my mind right off it too.

I thought if Eric has not taken off and left me for dust he must be at his limit. After I gathered myself and calmed down I stayed half a step back for a few hundred metres,I put in a bit of a surge to take the lead back; only by half a shoulder but I convinced myself I was not going to give up that lead again that day. It was like Macca and Raelert at Kona I thought, the tough Aussie versus the fragile Euro (no offence to Eric or Andreas - they are both awesome athletes, that was just one of the mind games I was playing with myself to keep me in the right head-space). I surged a few more times for about ten seconds or so at some k markers for 5, 6 and 7kms just to let him know I had some more in the tank. Then at the 8km marker I went for a full minute surge and thought I'd gapped him a bit, but as I say I never look back and wasn't sure where he was, but couldn't really hear his footsteps any more.

One can dream

Down to the last 500m and the little Japanese girl flew by 'glad that wasn't Eric' I thought – but a non-pro girl! I don't think I'd been beaten by an AG girl since my first few races – talk about www.swallowyourpride.co.jp. But this 24 year old girl is a really gun athlete – she has won this race easily the last 4 years and could probably go pro now if she wants to – a 19min swim and 36.30 run are top numbers for anyone - all credit to her. Another gaijin (from Taiwan) went by in the last few hundred metres, so I'd missed the first foreigner title; so I had those disappointments before I headed onto the famed ITU blue carpet, and finally around the last corner I had a good look around and saw Eric 30m back. Just enough that I could enjoy the finishing chute. You Bewdy. 

Found the source of calf pain - in physio circles referred to as WLS - wonkerly leg syndrome

It was no doubt the most exciting race I've done from a racing perspective, as an Ironman is mostly about pacing yourself and nutrition, but this was racing a person and was a different beast. Looking at our splits after the race and it's uncanny how similar we are as athletes, we are lucky to have each other for stimulation and training and racing. Our run times were exactly the same (to the second), my swim time was 15 sec faster and Eric's bike about 8 sec faster – It wouldn't surprise me one bit to have Eric win next time to make it 2-2 (am going to get a photo of him in front of the treadmill and bike trainer to do keep me focused so that it doesn't happen), but who knows. The re-match will be in Challenge Roth on July 10 near Nurenberg in Germany. It's reportedly the best triathlon in the world, a full ironman distance 3.8/180/42.2 with 150,000 German beer swilling spectators (more than the Tour De France) and a fast bike and run course. Throw in another ex Tokyo French gaijin Dave Holderbach who has been to two Olympics as a swimmer (Barcelona and Atlanta) and a bunch of mates from Tokyo, Singapore and Europe and that promises to be some event! Before then we've got IM China May 29, where Ness and I will do our best for a Kona slot, and Challenge Cairns Half on June 5. 
Found a good Izakaya we went to it twice - post race smiles.

1 comment:

  1. You girls... (talking about Eric & you)
    Great report and racing!

    I think I'll start choosing races upon the women's results. Don't want to be chicked! ; )

    Keep up the good work, and congratulate Vanessa for her result.