Miyazaki 2017

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Last year, the Japan leg of the ITU Triathlon World Cup was held in Miyazaki for the first time. I enjoyed the race despite a disappointing swim time and a slow run which reflected my end-of-season weariness. This year was different. I had to somehow produce my best performance of the year in a last gasp attempt to win the age group championship. Yamano-san had easily won our previous race at Murakami, and like me needed to win this race. He was on 55 points; I was on 56. Whoever won Miyazaki would be winning a trip to Australia’s Gold Coast for next year’s world championships. All of a sudden, my hobby had become more than a bit of fun. If I could avoid mistakes, injuries, illness, and fatigue – both physical and mental – I would get the chance to represent Japan in Australia. If I had a race like last year – and like my previous race in Murakami – Yamano would be going.

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The course was much the same as last year: two swim laps in a small artificial bay, up and down a motorway on the bike, and 4 loops of the bay area for the run. The main difference was the swim course had been changed from a square to an elongated triangle. Last year we had had to swim at right angles to the waves coming in through the mouth of the bay; this year, we would be swimming more headlong into the waves. This was a good decision by the JTU. Last year it had proven impossible to swim in a straight line across the bay. This year should be better.

 IMG_0952Summer Cook starts to pull away

On the Saturday, Youri, Asako, and I watched the last elite races of the season. Summer Cook easily won the women’s race, but the men’s race was much closer. With a great piece of sportsmanship, Vicente Hernández offered his hand to Marten Van Riel as they approached the finish. They shook hands and then moved apart for the sprint. Van Riel had more left in his legs and took the win. What a way to race.

 IMG_0987Elite men come into T2

Sunday 7:30 a.m. My dry mouth and churning stomach told me it was race day. Transition was already full of bikes. I searched out Yamano and offered him my hand, but he didn’t seem much in the mood for friendly pre-race chat. He looked a bit too confident after his easy win at Murakami, so I mentioned that I had had a broken rib in that race; let the psychological battle begin.

8:25. I entered the water for the swim “warm-up” as late as possible. The water temperature was 20C, but the air was 11C; we would have 30 minutes to cool down after the warm-up. For the next 15 minutes, Duncan, Youri, and I shuffled from side to side as we tried to soak up as much of the early morning sunshine as we could. Why were 450 cold, wet people standing on a beach doing nothing?

8:45. The opening ceremony. After a few speeches, we resumed our shuffling. Pre-race shuffling would be longer than the swim leg itself. For once I hoped an enthusiastic aerobics teacher would lead a stretch session.

 06My wave starts

9.00. The air horn blasted and I watched as Youri galloped into the waves. He pulled away from the beach in a churning, frothing mass of elbows and kicking feet; rather him that me. Six minutes later I chose the far-left side of the pack and headed out serenely towards the first of the buoys off in the distance. With 300 metres to swim before a turn, there was no crowding, and I reached the buoy in a surprising second place in my wave, with the third place constantly clipping my feet with his hands. I let him pass and then tried drafting for a while, but it was the usual story – I had gone out too fast and couldn’t sustain my pace.

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAElite men getting battered by waves

Out of the water, around the pink buoy on the beach, and back out for the second lap. At each swell, I looked up to sight the turn buoys, and then plunged back down into the next trough. Swim, rise, fall, swim. Nausea also came in waves, and soon my head was spinning. I had to stop. No, I would lose the race if I stopped. I had to stop. I had to go on. I had to win this mental battle with myself. Dizziness in the swim is not a pleasant thing, but it is amazing what you can endure when you have a big enough reason to carry on.

I reached the turn buoy and got out of the swell. The nausea subsided and I set about finishing the swim as fast as humanly possible. I left the water at 25:48 – over 4 minutes faster than the previous year. That would do nicely. Up the beach, along the blue carpet, and there was Yamano in transition, wrestling with his wetsuit. I rolled down my stretchy Huub, stepped on the right leg, yanked up my leg, stepped on my left leg, yanked…and I was out of transition while Yamano was still wrestling.

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There is not much to say about the bike leg apart from it is gruelling. Mercilessly gruelling. It is a course for people who train indoors and can switch off from the pain. I am someone who likes to wind my way through country lanes, not grind up and down a motorway. Half of it I did at 34 km/h into a brisk headwind, and the other half at 43 km/h with a tailwind. The only break was the 11 right-angle and 9 dead-turns we had to negotiate. Yes, I counted every one of them, as they offered a brief respite from the suffering. The only thing I had to do was push a bit harder into the wind when my speed dropped to 33 km/h (Yamano was close behind), or ease off on the downwind journey when I got above 44 km/h (I still had 10 km to run).

 IMG_0976Close to the action

T2 was a welcome sight. Even more welcome was the empty bike rack which greeted me. I pulled on my shoes, picked up my cap, and ran out on to the pavement. At the first turnaround, I spotted Youri just behind me. A quick calculation told me he had at least 2 or 3 minutes on me. If he was going that fast, I could wait for him to catch up and then use him to pace me. In the end, he didn’t get much closer. At each end of the run course, I doubled back and saw him a hundred metres behind. On lap 2, I saw Misu with his suffer-face on, and then on lap 3 Yamano appeared from nowhere in his pink top. He was moving fast. Two laps to hold him off. My mind worked through distances, paces, and worst-case scenarios, while my legs tried to maintain sub 4-minute kilometres. As long as I could keep to sub 4-minute pace, even Mo Farah would not be able to catch me. My legs held up and the finish surged towards me. I felt like stopping at the line and raising the ribbon over my head, Brownlee style, but fortunately remembered that I was well down the field in an age group race, not winning the Olympics. Still, it felt pretty good.

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That finishing feeling

I met up with Youri who was understandably ecstatic. He had a new personal best of  around 2 hours 10 minutes, later confirmed as 2:09:58, on a properly measured ITU course. Impressive. My time of 2:13:18 reflected the hard time I had had on the bike, and and my lack of training since breaking a rib. Duncan also had a really good race, continuing his rapid progress by going well under three hours. Quint rounded off the TiT results with a great time despite a dislocated shoulder.

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Miyazaki is a race where the JTU gets it all just about right. The location is made for triathlons. Despite rough seas, the swim could go ahead in the protected bay. The bike course has no dangerous bends or bottlenecks, and spectators can walk across to the motorway to watch the suffering. The run circles around the finish area so spectators can watch the race at several points on each lap. And there are palm trees and grass areas and a cool beach restaurant. Best of all is the weather. Like last year, we had blue skies, warm water, and perfectly cool race temperatures. A personal best is waiting to happen.

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Click here for full results

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