After last year’s 21st Miyagi International Triathlon with Dave and Keren, I had decided once was more than enough. A year is plenty of time for me to forget, so I found myself once more back in Shichigahama for the 22nd edition of the race. A year is also a long time for this area struggling to recover from the 2011 tsunami. New roads, new sea defences, and new houses had changed the look of the place. The swim and the run courses were the same as last year, but there was a new bike course due to continued reconstruction of the coast road. Another big change for me was having a room in the Otoya Hotel just ten minutes by bike from the race. The hotel has hosted triathletes ever since the race was first held, and despite its down-at-heel appearance, it is a good place to stay. They didn’t blink at my request for an early check in, and offered a room for bike and gear storage, as well as towels for an after-race onsen. They also have a restaurant which puts on an excellent set meal.
Following a fine curry at the Ganesh Restaurant next to Tagajo station, I rode the course on Saturday afternoon before heading up to the civic centre for the bearably succinct race briefing. The bike course is a simple 4.8 km out to a turnaround, and then back on the other side of the road. The first 3.5 km are on the same road as last year, initially parallel to the coast, and then inland through some rice fields. Since last year, they have laid new asphalt which makes for the smoothest surface possible. It is not all fast, though, as there is a small hill to get over and several tight bends. At the 3.5 km mark, the road starts to climb and then winds steeply up before descending straight back down to the sea. At the foot of this last descent, the road is under construction, rough and covered with sand. Just what you want when you are trying to slow down from 60 kph for a 180 degree turn. You then ride back to the start on the other side of the road. In total, 316 metres of climbing. I was wondering whether the TT bike was the best choice.
Race day was surprisingly cool. While Tokyo sweltered, Tateyama blew, and Hayama swelled, Miyagi was enjoying cool still weather. Rain was forecast to add to the fun. I arrived at transition to find Misu-san, my rival of several years, racking up his bike. I had last beaten him 3 years ago, since when he has got faster and faster on a diet of daily swim-run sessions and nightly bottles of wine. Fortunately, he is in the age group below me, so we could both win today. However, we soon noticed a problem with the transition layout. The bike racks were set up so about 95% of racers could run in straight to their bikes. The other 5%, which included both of us, had to run all the way round one end of transition to get to our bikes. We collared the technical official who said it just came down to luck. I wish knocking 30 seconds off your run time was just a matter of luck rather than months and years of training.
Before the swim start we were told that due to a very low tide, sharp shells were exposed on the beach and in the shallows. It was suggested we wear socks, but then they decided to have a knee-deep water start which seemed much more sensible. It is a fairly straightforward swim, a triangular course which goes out through one gap in some tetrapods and back in through another gap. The third leg of the triangle takes you between a line of buoys which promised to get congested. I was in the fourth and last wave containing all the older racers, so the start was much gentler than usual. I set off in the calm but murky water, at each breath catching a glimpse of the huge oil refinery that skirts the southern end of the beach. I soon got into a rhythm and started catching slower swimmers from the earlier waves. It wasn’t until we got funnelled into the twin line of buoys that things started to get crowded, but nothing too bad. The greatest excitement was trying to get out of the water and back in for the second lap while tiptoeing over razor sharp shells.
Out of the water, I glanced at my watch: just over 27 minutes for 1.58 km. The official swim time includes all of T1 which is strange, but no stranger that including it in the bike. I raced into transition trying to claw back some of that ‘unlucky’ 30 seconds, and got on my bike just in time to almost collide with someone who had crashed after spending 5 seconds on his bike. Perhaps aquathon might suit him better.
The bike leg proved to be fast, dry, wet, eventful, and slow, in that order. The first lap of four was on dry roads with few slower racers on the course. I felt stronger than usual and managed just over 15 minutes for the first lap. Then the rain started, lightly at first, but soon it was pelting down. The smooth asphalt looked much less appealing with a film of rainwater, and soon people started swerving all over the place and tumbling off their bikes. At one corner, someone broadsided me, I hit the brakes and did a two-wheel skid. Somehow I stayed upright. On the next ascent, I watched as a young racer coming the other way lost control, ran into a large traffic cone, and both came skidding down the wet tarmac towards me. The cone went left, the guy went right, and I squeezed between the two. I decided it was time to slow down a bit for the rest of the bike.
Turning back up the first hill
Once more I was in and out of transition quickly and within moments was gasping my way up the first steep slope. The run is simple: 1.25 km out over 2 hills, one 12 metres, the other 16 metres high. And then back the same way. Four times. It sounds innocuous enough, but that is 216 metres of climbing and 216 metres of descending. And it hurts. 16 times up a short, steep slope, and 16 times down is enough to tire the fittest of legs. The good thing was that it was still raining which suited me down to the ground. Descending to the first turnaround, I saw Misu 200 metres ahead of me, coming the other way. At the next turnaround I expected him to be further ahead, but instead he seemed to be slightly nearer. At each turnaround I could see I was closing, and just before the start of the final lap, I passed him on the descent. All my downhill practice seemed to be paying off.
I crossed the finish line in 10th overall, happy to be first in my age group, but even happier with my run time. Despite the tortuous course, I had managed to average under 4 minutes per kilometre, nearly 2 minutes faster than 2015. It just goes to show the benefits of a spot of rain and a rival to chase down.
It got cold standing around in the rain, but amazingly they opened up transition early, and I was soon soaking in the onsen back in the hotel. After having waited half the afternoon for the medal ceremony the previous year, I skipped that ordeal and headed back home early. All in all a very good weekend.