Monday, September 10, 2012

Tomokomai Hascup Triathlon

Despite Hokkaido being a terrific location for triathlons, there are currently only two proper triathlons held here; the Higashikawa "Chubetsuko Triathlon" an olympic distance race near Asahikawa, and this race - The "Hascup Triathlon" in Tomokomai on the South Coast of Hokkaido. There used to be a long distance triathlon in Wakkanai in the far north, but that stopped a few years ago. There are a few small races, one with the swim in a pool on a Friday, then bike and run on Saturday, but I don't really count them as proper triathlons (sorry I've watching too much BBC during the Olympics -  they love the word 'proper' and please forgive any forthcoming use of 'brilliant' 'literally', 'absolutely' and 'obviously').

"Thorpey, obviously Team GB have had a proper medal rush that has literally been absolutely brilliant.  Team GB innit brilliant? Team GB.  Proper, brilliant Team GB, Team GB. Oh did I say Team GB?"
The Higashikawa race is the biggest race, held on a damn about 30kms from Asahikawa (the 2nd biggest city in Hokkaido after Sapporo) and it is a cool event that Ness and I and a bunch of friends from Niseko, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong did a month ago before our bike tour of Hokkaido. I got 3rd in the AG category and was beaten by an elite junior (Kubono) and Ikeda-san in the "tokubetsu" (elite) category, both passing me after 5-7kms on the run. Both guys were on the start line in the Hascup race.

The overall winner was Brian Barkhouse who is an ex-pro cyclist and duathlete, who had represented Canada racing on the world Duathlon circuit toeing the line with Normann Stadler and the best in the world. In Higashikawa he biked the 40kms in an hour flat on a hilly course - pretty impressive, but then you realise T1 and T2 are included and it is pretty insane. Kubono-san is the eldest son of Hokkaido triathlon legend Masa Kubono who won the aforementioned long course tri in  Wakkania Hokkaido three times and has competed in Hawaii five times. He runs Hokkaido's best tri store in Chitose "Sports Sweat", coaches some of Japan's best triathletes and his youngest son was 2nd in the Hascup last year and won the Asian junior champs in HK earlier this year and his 14 year old daughter is swimming 400m in 4.30 and running 3kms in under 10 minutes. And no, I can't get close to either of those times....look out for her in the coming years.

Team Niseko Triathlon!
 The Higashikawa race has a big hill on the bike that you go over three times, which for an 85kg punter like myself, is not ideal. The Hascup had a flat bike course and I knew I would have a bigger gap off the bike on Ikeda-san and Kubono-san than I had in Higashikawa. Along with those two guys was my great mate and TNT / Niseko Multi Sports founder and tri coach, Jess Ripper. Jess is a very similar athelte to me on all three disciplines but had gone through a post-Im funk.. Jess was recently 10th overall, winning his age group in the Goto Ironman race (formerly Ironman Japan).  Jess had a poor swim and then crashed on the bike-mount area in Higashikawa, and I knew he had more installed. Also racing was defending Hascup champ Furukawa-san and a 17 year old local kid from Tomokomai who was featured at the welcome party - he was brought up on stage by the organiser to accept a banner of some sort and I didn't quite get his speech but assumed it was something about honourably representing the area and solemnly giving all he had on the race course. Gambarimasu!

Ridiculously photogenic Shigeru-san flying on the run course.
There was a good crew from the newly formed Team Niseko Triathlon (TNT - we're Dynamite Oi Oi) three triathlon virgins Shigeru, Ken and Keisuke and another 5 supporters who came to watch the race. We stayed the previous night in Tomokomai and went out for a buffet dinner and ate way too much. Ken talked me into going for the all you can drink deal as it was only Y1,000 and one beer was Y550! Three beers is OK the night before a 9am start right? It was cool to hang out with the guys and soak up the nervous energy that comes with doing your first tri.

Go Team Niseko!
This was the 26th running of this race, which is pretty impressive considering the longest running Ironman on mainland US is 22 years, it must have begun in the very early days of the sport. We signed up for a standard Olympic distance race (1.5k swim/40km bike/ 10km run) but found at at registration it had been shortened to 1.5/36/8 due to some of the course being unavailable. The shorter run played into my hands and I knew this race was good for my strengths: a wetsuit swim (better for 'adult swimmers' like me with crap technique), and the flat bike course which I was confident would give me more time off the run a hilly course. I just needed to be a couple of minutes clear off the bike and hang on for grim death through the run. I knew I had a great chance to win, but it was not going to be easy. Hopes were raised further when I saw Barkhouse was not registered.

Saving my shoulders....or just didn't know we had to "Bansai!"
SWIM 1,500 (yeah right!) 17.30
The swim start was a narrow ramp down to the water, self seeded and I warmed up late and planted myself on the front row with the familiar rivals. Not sure Why they couldn't do a floating start - this narrow-chute system would not work for a bigger race. The course was a two loop triangle in a marina,  a good honest swim course with no waves ahead to slow you down and everyone going on the one gun. It was short in length but fair. I go a decent start but 200m in, I saw two guys drifting ahead.

I knew those two were real swimmers and outta my league so just tried to swim moderate and concentrated on keeping my arms wide. I had Ikeda-san on my tail through the first lap and although I didn't know it, Jess was right there too. After one lap, Ikeda put the hammer down and I jumped onto his feet. In the last 200m we got into a bit of a mess with slower swimmers form the first lap, and Ikeda got away by about 5-10 seconds coming out of the water, with Jess another 10 seconds back.

Ikeda, me and Jess coming into swim exit.
BIKE 36kms 55mins (incl T1/2)
Running into T1, I saw Ikeda go the wrong side of the bike racks just in front of me, and thought to myself optimistically- 'that's it mate - you won't see me again today'. I had a pretty quick transition and was out onto the sweet flat and straight tarmac before you knew it. I had forgotten my aero helmet and borrowed Kei-san's who had come from Niseko to support and go for a ride after the race. I usually tape over all the vents when using a road helmet for aerodynamics but did not want to leave sticky residue on his lid so was extra vigilant in trying to get as low as I could and 'hide from the wind" looking down for long periods.

Vision is over-rated.
 The course was a long straight road that went out 8km, then a U turn and back 4kms and another U turn, 3 more laps of the half-course at the far end, then 8kms straight back into transition. I went out hard and for the first 7kms and couldn't even see the two guys ahead. I was wondering if I was coming first and the other two guys ahead on the swim were just swimming or had taken a wrong turn, as I was sure I would have been able to see them ahead on the straight course. Just before the turnaround I saw the two of them still quite a bit ahead and both looked to be going strong. After the turnaround they came back by me and I got a good look at them - as I expected it was the 17 year old local and Kubono-san. I had to keep calm and keep working - I knew I had to come off the bike with a decent lead but was telling myself that there is still plenty of time to build it.
Stay focussed!
18kms in and Jess rode up to my wheel and passed me.  I was not expecting that. It's not often I get passed on the flats when I am riding hard and going OK. Hats off to The Ripper he was crushing it and I told him so. We swapped the lead a couple of times and passed the two young guys 20kms in. I knew I needed a few minutes off the bike so was a bit worried it had taken so long. After the final turn for home 8km left, I said to Jess "Let's keep it at 43k's" he held it for a minute or so then slowed,  and I put my head down looked at road and went, keeping it steady at 43. I looked back after a minute and Jess was off the back. I guessed he'd burnt a few too many matches bridging up in the first 15kms. We had spoken about going 1-2 before the race, we went close, Jess slowing that bit too much on the last few kms off the bike was the difference. I got into T2 with a decent break and it was cool to see the surprise on the faces of the TNT supporters to have one of their guys in the lead.

Go Ken-san! Digging deep in the Team Niseko colours. He was 6th off the bike.

RUN 8kms 32.30
I had gone into the race with a injury to my foot and decided to race with really spongy shoes - the Hoka One One shoes that would help protect my foot and also so they wouldn't collect little rocks on the off-road section of the run. I was pretty keen to run at a constant 3.45 pace and promised myself I wouldn't see a number on my watch beginning with 3.3x in the first few ks, with the aim of not seeing any numbers in the last few ks that looked like 4.2x. After 400m running scared I looked down and it was reading 3.25-30. We were running with a breeze but I kept trying to slow myself down.
2km in, Jess in the background.
The course was 2kms out and back twice. Going way back to the finish line. I tried not to look around but couldn't resist and never saw the chasers. I had been in this position a few times before - leading on the run and had been run down every time. I was doing the math in my head the whole run, if I can keep running 3.5X they will need to run 3.3x and surely they can't do that the whole 8ks? It was either thinking about that or concentrate on your run technique you idiot....I knew Jess and i are very similar runners so did not think he could bridge the gap, but was worried about Kubono, the 17year old  and Ikeda. When I saw Kubono running the other way after 4kms he looked to be sprinting and I thought - he's going to cook himself and struggle home and tried to keep that thought through the last 4kms. Still with no experience of holding off the chasers it was hard to think positive. I need to start up a support group for swim bikers who always get run down.
Indeed there is.......

Ness running strong!
I looked back one or two times more and didn't see anyone, but it was only in the last 200m when I passed the TNT supporters did I finally believe I was going to take the win. The sense of relief was exhilarating.

Finally know it's in the bag.
 I came to to the finish line tape and wondered what to do with it. During a triathlon almost everyone gets the finishing tape held up for them, but I had obviously never had the honour of being the first. Should I just chest it and let it drop ala Macca in Hawaii in 2010? Grab it and flex the guns like Craig Alexander in 2009? I decided to grab it and lift it up above my head, but the two chicks holding the tape decided they were not going to let it go, so I was trying hard to lift it but they never let me get it very high. so we had a bit of a tussle with me wrenching it and them not wanting to give a cm (metric system in Japan). Anyway it was done and I was so stoked. I was hoping Jess was 2nd but he had just been passed by Kobune and he was in third.

Give it up!
Ness got 2nd and was pretty close to the winner Sawada-san who is pretty much a full time pro and had won this race for the last 6 years. Ness had a really good race even out-splitting me on the run and swimming better than normal. She is ready for a top race in Hawaii.

Ness crushing it.
We went for an onsen (hot spring bath) and only just made it back to the awards ceremony in time. The trophy for this race was the biggest one I've ever seen in a triathlon, as they normally give you a small plaque, a bag of salt or a mounted coconut or something like that. I was pretty stoked but not sure where we were going to put it.

Girls - winners are grinners! They work hard for it and good on them for enjoying it.

 It was great to finally get a win, lots of people have been very kind and a few asking if it "Has made it all worth it" and "How long until you guys stop now?". I guess it's a bit different form our side - I just see triathlon like a hobby - people don't ask golfers how long they are planning to keep playing.

Sure this sport can be brutal and it has forced me to eat so much humble pie I have gagged on it sometimes, but you get the occasional good day and the very rare great day and the fact they are so hard to come by makes them all the more sweet.

Good times with The Rip!

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