Monday, September 1, 2014

IM Japan

This race was sort of dream race for the tri community in Niseko (all eight of us!). It's pretty unlikely that a largely rural area like this one that we'd all fallen in love with, would have that nation's only official full distance Ironman branded triathlon land right in it's backyard, but that's what happened to us. As if Hokkaido and Niseko could get any better! The original Ironman Japan was one of the first Ironmans outside of America and it had always been hosted ably on the island of Goto, Nagasaki, in the south of Japan.

Back in the 80's there were only about five Ironmans in the world: Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan. Goto was the host of Ironman Japan for about 26 years until something went down in 2010 and the race was cancelled about six weeks before the race, with the official explanation being that there had been a foot-in-mouth outbreak in the cattle on the island. Then whispers came out that the truth was that the local cattle farmers were worried/paranoid about foot-in-mouth disease being brought onto the island by tourists and the condition had never had been on the island. My own theory is that they had heard about my dinner party conversation after a few bottles of good wine and just did not want me spreading any foot in mouth on the island, but I was not even entered in the race I tried to tell 'em! But the Island government ended up deciding that the cattle farmers bought more to the island than the pointy helmet brigade. Funny that the race has since continued without the IM brand as the Goto International Triathlon, Baroman. Full IM distance and all.

So guys, "What's your opinion on religion, saturated fats and refined carbs?"
So for the years 2010-12 there was no Ironman in Japan and during that time the Ironmans in Korea, China and Malaysia also fell by the wayside for various reasons, so the Ironman brand hit a big funk in Asia and really needed to get their mojo back. As Ironman is a popular brand in Japan it was WTC's (IM's parent company) No. 1 priority to get a new venue for the race and get it going again in Nippon. Of course Japan is not really part of Asia - they are above that y'all. My mate Jess and I used to often talk about getting a race going in the Niseko area and the only place that could host the swim was Lake Toya, about 35kms from Niseko. It is a beautiful freshwater lake with a volcano in the centre and the water is so clean you can drink it (which I did on race day). We would often ride there from Niseko and do a lap around the lake and back (160km loop) and during the ride around the lake, spot out suitable transition areas, finishing shutes, run courses and swim courses while on the ride. It was all there, ready to go we thought.  Toya town had also been struggling for tourism and like many areas in Japan, was looking a bit tired since the bubble burst in the 80's. They had attracted the G8 summit in 2008 but Bush's and Blair's snail-trail had not really been enough to significantly alter the landscape of the local economy.

Fortunately Bush did not swim in the Lake so we were clear from being infected with the stoopid virus during the swim leg. IQs on an IM race day are already low enough.

So the local council was very keen for new events to bring people to the area and were receptive to the IM advances. Ironman were sniffing all over Japan for race sites and a few local communities around the country were keen to bring it on board. It almost happened in Tokyo with the swim in Tokyo Bay and a multi-loop ride around O-Daiba; but that fell through. There was talk of hosting it in  one region of Fukushima, outside the exclusion zone to re-launch the area as a tourist destination after all the nuclear hysteria, but as sad and bitterly disappointing it is to me, the media-led panic left the exaggerated stain on that area and it is probably still too fresh for people to want to go there, despite it being completely safe. Unfortunately perception = reality in many cases even if it it does not.

If you live anywhere within 1,000,000 kms of the 'orange alert zone' you are going to die and if you do not display extreme fear behaviours you are a bad parent/son/daughter and human being.
There were two race organisers who were bidding to run the rac and both had zoomed in on Lake Toya as an option. Both groups had contacted our humble local tri community and we did what we could to help them. Despite it being all hush hush we were sort of amazed when it finally came to fruition and Ironman Japan Hokkaido got the nod and was to be reborn in Toya! The whole Niseko Tri community got together to celebrate and we booked out two tables at a local pork restaurant to celebrate. 
The first year of the race (2013) is always the special event but it did not work great out well for me to race it. I was after a slot in the 2013 Kona and had to hold the fort in the clinic in Singapore while Ness was racing it in Hokkaido. So I went to Whistler to snatch the Kona slot in that race and Vanessa raced IMJ-H. I was very disappointed to miss it. I heard the weather turned nasty half way through the day and the race had a few teething issues. I heard the costs of staging the race were crazy and was worried for the future of the event. So I was really happy when the race was confirmed for 2014 and decided I had to do it while I could, just in case.

Such a great course!

As it happened they have already confirmed the 2015 race and the event has hopefully gathered enough momentum to be an ongoing fixture on the Ironman landscape. It really is a great event. I'd done some pretty dodgy races in Japan but this one was really worthy of the IM brand. As luck would have it the race weekend was the same as one of the biggest races in the Singapore tri scene: Metaman in Bintan, so it was a pity to miss out on that big event, but maybe that would draw some of the competition away. In 2013 I was almost going crazy watching Vanessa, Jess and the others race online and felt really bad for not being there, so I couldn't let that happen again. The other pull was, of course, the Kona slots. After missing out on this year's Kona, these slots in Japan are for the following year's Kona (Oct, 2015) so if I could bag it in the first possible race, it would help me feel like less of a chump while supporting at Hawaii in this year's race. 

Yeah you guys have this year's race, it's a bit of a nothing race this year, the real deal is 2015 Homies.

Deep, man. Deep.

So apologies for the thousand word preamble. After that not much more to say, but I went and did the race and got a slot.

Corr blimey. Innit.
Oh, OK then. I know you are looking for more self-indulgence and solipsism to brighten up your dreary existence vicariously, so I'll humour your sad, sad whims. We were still cutting through some red tape to lock in our new recruit physiotherapist in Singapore Physio, so we were a bit short staffed and with the clinic being busy, I'd left Ness holding the baby and could not afford a long trip away. There was only two days in Tokyo to check on the clinic there and tie up a few loose ends to prepare for winter, then onto Hokkaido, arriving late Thursday evening to pretty much wake up and go straight to the registration and race briefing on Friday. My homie Jess Ripper was very kind to pick me up as my car's battery was well-flat and we drove the 45mins out to Toya the first time for four consecutive days. It was cool to spend the time to catch up on all the local news and gossip and tri-geek talk. Jess had a good background in endurance from school and when I first met him he had just moved to Niseko from Asahikawa and was very eager to get into tris.

Loved the Rip's pre race attitude - just do what I can on the day and what will be will be. We had to fight for the ? mark as you were expected to write times. "Don't you know who we are?".
Keepin it real vague y'all.
 I'd been helping Jess with his progression in the sport over the last few years and he has just been getting faster and faster. We help each other out in that I provide coaching and Jess collects my mail and keeps an eye on our house and helps with things like picking up bike parts I've left in Niseko and sending them on. It's an exciting time to be coaching an athlete with such potential on the up and up. He'd won the 35-39 in the old Ironman Japan now Goto Long Course Triathlon, also in IM Japan last year and  in the 70.3 in Tokoname. A nice collection of titles to hold at the one time. He wasn't going to race Japan this year as it was so close to Kona and we spoke about it a fair bit. I left the decision with him but told him he'll probably enjoy being at the front in your hometown race more than coming poofteenth in Kona. Which is actually a good goal, as I reckon he could come 13-19th in Kona, which would be some effort. Not that I should associate the word pooftah with a weak effort but throw me a freaken bone here, I'm still trying to shed some deeply-ingrained non PC habits.
Let her Rip!
 Jess is now sponsored by Ceepo and Zoot and has his own triathlon team, training camp and coaching business – if you're interested in coaching or coming to check out the best road cycling in the world, check out . Oh and as suspected he crushed it on the day in IMJ and was 9th overall and first Ager and first in his AG to lock in Kona 2015 too. Boom.

Booyakasha Rip-man.
Anyway enough of that nonsense, let's get to some more about me. After the mini-disaster that was Coeur D'Alene, I'd picked up my familiar calf muscle injury that has come to haunt me for the last few seasons and I could not run for three weeks. I ran once before the Half ironman in Cebu three weeks before IM Japan and the calf held up OK. As the weather is so bladdy hot in Singapore; running is always a bit miserable here, so I was pretty happy for the break from it. I used the time to bike and swim some more and in Cebu I just shuffled through the run from the outset but I swam and biked OK. I managed to get a few long runs in before leaving for Japan and that gave me some confidence that maybe I could put together a decent day in Hokkaido. Ness was still pretty surprised I ran OK in Hokkaido after she'd seen first hand the minimalist running build up I had done.
This minimalist running stuff is really catching on I tells ya.

I know that supporting me in my triathlon endeavours is a bit like supporting the Cronulla Sharks in the NRL. Small traces of success dispersed sparingly amongst lashings of disappointment. Luckily most people could not give a sheet about my triathlon results and if they did, like the Sharkie's fans had become accustomed to disappointment. Fortunately I've been keeping my Sports Scientist off the books and all cheques I make out to Messr Dank and Ferari are made out to 'cash' thanks very much, so I'll be sweet as bro. The name's Billy, not Silly. Derr.


I had a fair few friends racing and supporting, which always makes it a bit more fun, including neo female pro Jess Fleming who had been to Niseko before as a coach for a tri camp and her Aus Tri-royalty husband Nick Croft who popped up all over the course on the day and was always good for some encouragement. And of course the Niseko Multi Sport crew including Shigeru, Azu, Keisuke, Kenny Shimizu, the Niseko crew of Ash and Perrin etc. and Jess's Dad, sister and family who had come over for the race, a few from the Tokyo International Tri crew and Alex Price the Australian national Tri team physio, bike fitter and owner of AP10 in Wollongong, and new friend from Singapore, Gus Wippert. We skipped the welcome party as the food was reportedly poor last year and didn't fancy making the two trips out there from Niseko. Whit Raymond did a great job at the English race briefing as did the JTU ref Japanese - Mike (Because he is very familiar with Karaoke!).   The Japanese kitschiness was great and everyone loved it and the information was useful and well prepared. Attendance was actually compulsory and they meant it. There had been some rain in the days leading in but fortunately race day was clear albeit a bit cloudy and windy.

You gotta have......
SWIM 3.8kms 58.30
Lake Toya is ranked as the 3rd cleanest Lake in Japan (on the time-honoured Japanese government clean lake listings index). The swim course was a really well laid out in a triangle with 1km straight,then 600m two sides to the triangle, it included a quick exit and re-entry after 2.2kms which had quite a few people cheering at. It was a wave start and everyone was very civilised. Jess and AP started 3 mins ahead of me which I was a bit bummed about as I sort of knew they would be very similar on the swim and bike to me and would have liked to join their posse on the course. As it was I did not fancy my chances of bridging up to them and so it was, as the two of them raced in each others pockets almost all day and I was left Han Solo all day. Still I swam at a pretty easy level and after the choppy swims in Cairns and CDA and swimming through 2,000 people in Cebu, this was the first swim I'd actually enjoyed a tri swim in a while.
Lovely Lake Toya
Not much to report apart from some annoying power boats spewing out fumes and making waves (Clayton was that you?!). It was a really beautiful and pleasant experience the whole way and I was almost disappointed it was over, and got out feeling fresh as a daisy. The 40 x 100s and 4.7km swim sets Woody had hammered into me helped somewhat too!  I think I was in a group of 4 at the front of our wave/AG going into T1. One of the guys even chased me down in transition to hand me my goggles back that I'd dropped while running to the change tent. Gotta love the Japanese! If it had been in Australia I would have had some guy screaming at me "Hey you almost hit me with your googles falling you bladdy dick head". Aussies these days like their lives to be completely fee from inconvenience or else.

Goggles are highly valued in Japan.

BIKE 180kms 5.25
I was looking forward to the bike course as these were the roads I'd spent many hours on and they are also about as good as road cycling gets. I knew it was going to be a really tough course and thought it would be a good chance to use my strengths to my advantage. And the vertical metres are only  small part of showing how 'tough' or 'fast' a bike course is. I know the Japanese have more of a running culture than a cycling one, so I was thinking I needed a big gap of the bike if I was going to get a Kona slot. Leading into the race I had replaced a washer in my seat post widget with a thicker one from Homac just before the race, I could not find the right one in the lousy DIY stores in Singapore. I had messed up in not doing the final practice ride after replacing the seat post and washer. In the end, it was not such a big deal.

Tall boy
 When I got on the bike I thought straight away 'the seat is too high'. Damn. Another typical BC fark up, I thought. I'd just read a column in triathlon magazine by rock-star pro Jesse Thomas on the worst advice he'd been given and one example was when he changed his bike fit before a race and could not bike and his hips 'locked up' and he could not run off the bike at all. My hamstrings and hips were screaming a bit for some reason in the first few kms and I was thinking I should stop and adjust it down half a cm, but did not have a 4mm allen key. Just then the mechanic came by on his scooter but before I realised it was him he was ahead and I was screaming for him at the top of my voice about four times and speeding up trying to keep up with him but he mustn't have heard. A guy I had just overtaken bridged up to me to ask what was wrong and see if I needed some help but I did not want to bug him and just said thanks – once again very kind of him to care about his fellow competitors.

Do you need a hand with your allen key?
There was already very few age groupers ahead and I passed just the one guy in my AG about ten minutes into the ride. After then aside from passing all but one pro female and a pro guy, I was pretty much solo throughout the whole ride. Jess and AP were up the road as 1st and 2nd Agers and then just lonesome ol' me off the back. I was riding to my power and trying to stay aero as usual.

Hide from the wind, Hide from the wind.....
 The bike course has a bit of everything.  Some flats, rollers, big descents and climbs. This day because of the wind direction and course layout, there was much more headwind than tailwind. And it was a long lonely 180km slog for me off the back. It's tempting to just look at the times on a results sheet and take into account the vertical meteres and think that's it. But the wind, pace lines, lay-out of the course and more can mean a 5.25 can sometimes be a better result than a 4.50 IM split. In this race there are a lot of T intersections, where you have to wash off all your speed after a descent before accelerating back up to speed again and the wind was much more into your face than your tail.

I found this somewhat relevant comic strip on the internet and posted it here.
The bike course was really very fair and well laid out and managed. The one loop 180km is pretty unique these days in the circuit and it was great they decided to make use of the area for the array of roads to cover so much terrain. The number of volunteers was pretty mind-blowing. Every single cross-road or driveway going onto the course had a volunteer on it, I saw over 3,000 volunteers on the day - not bad for 1,500 athletes.

Wish you were here?

After slugging it out in the headwinds in the farm fields and then climbing back up to the rim of the lake we descended back to Toya, there was a 25km flat-ish section back to transition. I had looked forward to that section in theory before the race, as flats are my specialty but I had absolutely nothing in the tank there and just limped home into the wind barely pushing 220watts and 30kph. I think I lost a fair bit of time to my competitors in that section - prob cost me the AG win. Maybe I was a couple of long rides short in my prep or just did not pace the ride well enough as I had 270w normalized power showing after the first 90-120 minutes, so maybe was paying the price for going out a bit too hard, but am not one for number crunching.

What was you percentage of FTP and how many TSS did you do on the day. Was your IF close to 1 and did you ever cross your AeT or stay within the  Zone 3? Also did I keep the NP/AP in line with the RPE to ensure there was no de-coupling? You have to know all this stuff if you want to get better in this sport. It's essential. 

RUN 42.2kms 3.43
Going into transition the legend announcer Whit Raymond (who speaks great Japanese after icing in Japan for a while and he actually did the old IM Japan back in the day) and ol' Tokyo based tri-buddy and race financier Ricky May gave me mad-props. I asked them where I was coming in my AG, just to make sure there was not some other guy up ahead I hadn't seen. Initially Whit said he didn't know but then they checked and when I was 500m into the run course Whit kindly announced into the mike "Bevan If you can hear this you are coming first in your Age Group" (which I could - thanks guys!). Kazui Kubono i a friend and an up and coming top level triathlete from Hokkaido was on the course giving me updates too. I was very fortunate to beat him in my sole overall win at the time honoured 26th Hascup  Tomokomae tri in 2012 ( his dad is a legend of long course tri in Hokkaido and - look out for his sister in the Tokyo olympics too) had told me I was 3rd in "Age-u" coming into T2.

Any excuse to post this pic of my only overall triathlon win. Will never beat these dudes again - On my right (Future pro and 6th overall in IM japan last year Kubono san) and on my left (Ripper san and 2.50 marathoner and TV celeb Ikeda san).
I wasn't sure if Kubono meant 3rd in overall AG, or he had been really watching the ironmanlive or noting numbers and he meant 3rd in the 40-44. As I knew Jess and AP had 3 mins start and would likely have ridden together and been crushing it I thought - it's pretty unlikely that there would be a stronger guy in my AG between those guys and me. Then I thought - OK I didn't pass anyone in my AG for 170kms; that bike course was brutal, so surely I must have 10-20 mins up on the 2nd place guy in my AG.  I should have more faith in my own ability as I kind of thought as I swam and biked OK so it was pretty unlikely that there would be 2 guys ahead. But still self doubt is a toxic epidemic in the sports community and I have not had the vaccination. I tend to think of the 'virtual Kona slot' like the line on the TV coverage of the swimming and today it was the 4th or 5th place slot in my AG, which had to be a way behind surely.

Trust in the work you have done, son.
 So unlike Cairns when I was behind the Kona slot coming off the bike, I made sure I approached this marathon more like Canada last year, where I was first in my AG and a fair bit ahead of the slot. So I just went out plodding along at 4.45min k pace and walking every aid station to get the fuel in. It's funny the Japanese aid stations on the run just line up all the cups on tables then stand back and all clap and let you pick up the cups yourself. I couldn't stop wondering if it would be rude of me to tell them us athletes prefer to be anded to cups or maybe I was just being a precious tri-wanker.

Hurry Slowly.
With the "just don't blow up and the slot is yours" view to the run I also promised myself no coke until the the 2nd half of the marathon.  The only issue was the coke was not de-gassed and I vomited it back up on the run maybe 3-4 times - once in full view of AP and Tokyo mate Dave Sims. Not my finest moment. I ended up grabbing the coke in the cups, closing the lid in one hand shaking it like hell and then drinking it. It was tough as passing by that black gold/Texas tea was not in my nature on an IM run.

 At each turnaround on the run I was looking for the 2nd place 40-44 guy and then the 4th/5th place guy (Kona slot). They had the great innovation of race numbers on the bib coloured the same as your swim cap, so it was easy to check who was in your AG.  I spotted the 2nd places guy at the 12kms turnaround in at about 12-15 min back , and then at 20kms about 7min behind, then at last turn at 32kms at 2mins. It's such a head-fark on the run especially when it is your weakness and you have a target on your back the whole time.

Is that a guy or a girl? My guess is grain-loving guy. #manboobs

The guys running you down always look to be running soo much faster than you. For some reason I thought these guys 20 mins behind me looked to be running so fast that with 10ks to go they were still going to catch me. Anyway I was pretty much resigned that I was going to come 3rd in the AG as the lil Swiss bloke Patrik Li who lives in Beijing was flying along in 3rd about one min behind the 2nd place guy. I'd been warned he'd done a 2hour olympic distance race and was the one to beat. I started to feel good at about the 36km mark, as I tried to convince myself that maybe I could hold them off and when I got to the 39km mark and I'd still not been passed, I picked it up to about 4.20 pace and held that for almost 2ks. Then at the 41.5km mark; about 700m from the finish I heard the first guy come up to me for quite some time and sure enough it was the 2nd Japanese dude from 40-44. I was cactus after the 4.20min ks and hardly gave a whimper. After I finished Patrick Li came across the finish line very soon afterwards. Whit made a big deal of the close racing.

Team Niseko Multi Sport struggling

The awards day and Kona slot ceremony was fun. My first podium in an official Ironman full distance race. It was interesting that of the 40 Kona slots, not one rolled down. The Japanese really dig the hawaii ironman. Chatting to one guy in the massage after the race he was saying he might be just outside the slot. I asked him if he would take it and he almost laughed - "Of course - it is my dream!". Good business to have people fighting to the death to give you a thousand bucks. Anyway back to earth now and it's really nice not to have any races for September and October. I had promised myself on the run that I wouldn't race IM WA if I qualified but since then coach Woody says it might be fun to see what sort of bike split I could do there if I got in a lot of training before then. So looks like I have Tour De Bintan, Laguna Phuket and then IMWA to roll me into a big winter.

Where would we be without our recovery boots?

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