21st Miyagi International Triathlon

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Many coastal areas of Miyagi Prefecture were devastated by the 2011 tsunami. Areas of wasteland are testament to the destruction in 2011, but construction and rebuilding is going on everywhere, most noticeably the huge sea wall slicing through straggly pines that survived the disaster. Incredibly, the long-running Miyagi Olympic Distance triathlon was only cancelled in the year of the tsunami, and then resumed in 2012. I decided it was time to add it to my growing list of triathlons in places I’d never think to visit.

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The far end of the bike course

The race is set in Shichigahama-machi, 20 kilometres north-east of Sendai city. The coastline must once have been spectacular, but human development and nature have created a sprawl of industry and houses interspersed with fingers of wasteland left by the tsunami. All the race action centres on Matsugahama Bay which has a few pleasant areas of grass sitting oasis-like on one of these areas of wasteland. The swim is two straightforward laps of a triangular course, out and around a line of tetrapods. The main feature of the bay is a huge power station which somehow survived the destruction.

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Not the prettiest location for a swim

The bike course is a straightforward t-shape, with a long out and back through houses and fields, and a side trip through some rice fields and up a short zigzag climb. Despite being quite undulating, it is a course for TT bikes; however, you need good tyres as the surface bears the scars of heavy construction traffic. The run course is far from straightforward; in fact it is a brutally hilly 1.25 km out-and-back, repeated 4 times. In an area that is mostly flat, the course designers have decided that the run should climb up and down one painfully steep hill, before immediately going up and down an even steeper hill. At the 1.25 km mark, you turn round and return the way you came. Four times; that makes 16 climbs and descents. At least Sisyphus only had one hill to roll his rock up.

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Dave looking good in hotel slippers

Dave, Keren and I took the Shinkansen to Sendai on the Saturday morning and then a local train to the castle-less town of Tagajo. We stayed at the magnificently named Castle Plaza Tagajo, which at least has a great lunch restaurant on the top floor. We took a taxi to the race briefing which was in a pleasant civic hall (optimistically named Shichigahama International Village) on top of a verdant hill with panoramic views of wooded slopes. It would have been a nice place to ride, but the course sticks to less scenic areas.

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The view from the hotel

Next morning, we cycled 5 km to the start and racked up our bikes in transition. After the usual preparations, the race got underway at 8 a.m. Dave went off in wave 2, followed in wave 3 by Keren and I. We started shoulder-to-shoulder, but soon Keren pulled away in impressive style. As usual, I took a long time to get going, always wary of getting breathless and panicky. But halfway round the first lap, I relaxed and picked up speed. Getting out of the water I glanced at my watch and was happy to see I was under 25 minutes again. I then found myself just behind Keren, so we stopped for a chat in transition. Well, not quite. I ripped off my stretchy new Huub, flew out of transition, and soon got aerodynamic on my TT bike. As I went up the side road the first time, Dave was coming down the zigzags at his usual insane speed. As I was coming down, Keren was going up. At each turnaround I spotted first Dave coming one way and then Keren the other. Each lap I tried to work out if I was gaining on Dave, but we seemed to be holding a similar pace. Although the course looked narrow and twisting during the previous day’s taxi ride, it is actually easy to pass slower riders, especially on the longer uphills. Despite all the ups and downs, my time was okay 1:02:05 – 15 seconds ahead of Dave.

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The elite women’s sprint race, coming in to transition

From T2 it turns from a triathlon race into an exercise in not destroying your legs. Up and down, up and down, up and down. Alternately staggering up, and then pounding down the hills. Only the best of the elite looked like they were doing something that could be described as running. The rest of us were just trying to find some way to get to the finish line so we could stop this folly. And of course the finish line eventually came, and lo and behold I was 11th which was surprising as it seemed like everyone was going faster than me on the run. Dave and Keren came in a bit later, clearly even less suited than me to running up and down 16 hills before lunch. Despite all the ups and downs, I got a decent time of 40:19 for the run.

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Elite women showing us how to run uphill

Dave and Keren made the infinitely wise decision to leave before the awards ceremony. I was left on my own to sit through an impressive range of awards, all announced with enthusiasm by an impassioned local celebrity. After pounding my feet on the run, I ended up with blisters on my hands from all the clapping. Finally I managed to get out of T3, rush back to the hotel, and get to the station in time to miss the train by 2 minutes. With an hour to wait for the next train, I had time to daydream about my next race in Toyama.

My Garmin Data: Garmin Connect

YouTube video of the 2014 race

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