Atami is almost the definition of faded seaside glamour with its sloping souvenir arcades, terraces of crumbling concrete tower blocks, and threadbare palm trees. Apparently, it has been a resort for 1300 years, and in places it looks like it. The population is the same as that of Hayama, but there the similarity ends. Geographically, it is a partially submerged caldera with one half of the volcano collapsed under the sea. In reality, it is basically an amphitheatre of similarly collapsed concrete rising up from a clear-water bay with yet more concrete dumped into it. Despite its sorry architectural state, it is a great place for swim training. All that concrete in the bay has turned it into a 500-metre long salt-water swimming pool. And through the blur of swimming goggles, you can even imagine you are swimming in Rio.
Guerrilla gardening on the crumbling beach front
I met Mike at the station and we walked down through arcades crowded with morning shoppers, down narrow streets and steep stairs to the seafront where we grabbed a spot at the end of a small concrete jetty. We strapped our bags to a handy chain and entered the water for a 750-metre warm-up loop of the deserted bay. The water was crystal clear, so we could see right down to the bottom, even 200 metres out at the line of tetrapods. It was also warm for February – perhaps 16C.
After the warm-up loop we started our sets: 20 strokes out, 20 strokes back, short rest, 40 strokes out, 4o back, rest, 60-60, 80-80, and finally a lung-testing 100-100. We followed this with a descending set, 100, 80, 60, 40, and 20. I have finally come round to the realisation that just swimming up and down a pool for 30 minutes, or taking a leisurely loop of Hayama Bay, is not going to get me beyond 25-minute pace for 1500 metres. Doing these sets with Mike pushed me near my limit and left my shoulders aching. And it was a lot of fun to try to keep Mike within reasonable distance as he pulled away during each set.
After the sets, we warmed down with a smaller loop of the bay, got out, changed, and headed back to the station. From Tokyo it is 48 minutes on the Shinkansen, but an hour longer on the regular train. Next time, I might take my bike and running shoes and make a day of it.