30 April 2012

Kamiyama castle, Sakura, and Jerome

Kamiyama Castle (Kamiyama-jyo) was beautiful with the surrounding sakura in blossom.  

It is a classic  example of Edo period castle architecture.  According to the pamphlet we were given at 上山温泉下大湯 -- the public hot spring where we bathed -- this castle was built in the year Showa 57.  

(For any non-Japanese readers who might not be familiar with the Japanese calendar, Showa 57 equals ... 1982.)

429 Kilometers So Far

Ashi no Yu at Kamiyama Castle
We made it to Yonezawa before midnight, grabbed some food and took a short rest/nap, then headed on.  We napped again, at my request, on the side of a dark country road on the first climb.  By 5am we were over two passes and at Kaminoyama Onsen.

Jerome asked a man outside the 7-11 on the edge of town whether we could find an open onsen at that hour, and he pointed us to the center of town.  There, a woman walking her dog steered us to one that opened at 6AM -- basically a public bath fed with hot spring water.  She also mentioned the foot bath on the castle grounds, free and open 24 hours.  We chatted with her and another guy who had strolled to the castle from a nearby hotel.  He was a tourist from Akita, just visiting for the bath and sakura.

The woman with the dog turned out to be a refugee from Fukushima.  She said her home is in the "no entry" zone quite close to the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, so she is not expecting to return anytime soon, if ever.  At least she and her husband were lucky to flee with their dog, unlike some others.

We used the foot bath and a public hot spring and continued on, and now have only 180km left today.

29 April 2012

Aizu Wakamatsu

Sakura lining the small river along Route 294 in South Fukushima Prefectureas we head NW
We are at checkpoint 3 just SE of Aizu Wakamatsu -- 265+ km so far.  Route 294 the last couple hours had some beautiful stretches, including about 5 Kms of Sakura lining a small river as we started the climb to Seishido pass.
One of numerous rivers flowing from the mountains around Nasu Kogen in North Tochigi
I have now ridden about 100 km more than my longest previous ride this year ... still 73 km to the next checkpoint in Yonezawa. We need to get at least that far tonight.

First, easiest, flatest, fastest 100km

At the first checkpoint 9:40AM, as suburban sprawl gives way to more open agricultural areas.

At the start 5:30AM Sunday, April 29

The start is on this concrete patch under a bridge in beautiful Iruma-shi .... where it is possible to park a car free for 6 days.

28 April 2012

Tohoku GW Ride -- 399 Yen per Kilometer for Charity thanks to Morrison & Foerster Tokyo

The Yamabushi -- Full Loaded and Ready to Go!
Jerome and I signed up for a series of Audax Brevets in Tohoku over Golden Week, sponsored by the famously hard core Saitama Audax club.  We leave from Iruma-shi in Saitama on Sunday morning before 6AM, and plan to ride first 600 km to Akita by Monday evening, then 200 km on Tuesday along the coast and up to Goshogawara in Aomori.  Wednesday is a 200 km loop covering the Tsugaru Peninsula and a bit more, then Thursday is 300 km back down to Yamagata (Higashine).  Friday is a scheduled 400 km ride back to the start.

There are something in the range of 80 people who will join all or a portion of this ride, including 40 hardest core who signed up for the full 1700.  I signed up for all except the last 400 km, in the hope that I have some chance of actually making it, and also so that I can try to recover in time for the Tokyo-Itoigawa Fastrun Classic on May 19.

I mentioned this plan to Gary Smith a few weeks back, and asked if the Morrison & Foerster/Ito & Mitomi Tokyo law office ("MoFo Tokyo")-- where I was a partner until end of 2011 -- could use this for any of their ongoing Tohoku-related charitable fundraising.  The timing seems to have worked out well.

Last year MoFo Tokyo made a commitment to fund monthly deliveries of vegetable boxes to families in need in the disaster zone under the "Isseki Many Cho" project organized by the Gokigen Farm NPO in Ibaraki Prefecture.  Gokigen Farm was originally designed as a program to help train disabled persons to grow their own vegetables.  After March 11, 2011 a new problem appeared, in that many farmers in Ibaraki and adjacent Fukushima could not sell their vegetables to their usual outlets -- people refused to buy from them, regardless of any testing that showed the produce to be entirely free of contaminants.  So they added a program to encourage people to buy vegetables from farmers in Ibaraki and adjacent areas of Fukushima.   MoFo Tokyo decided that it would be great to participate in order to provide monthly boxes of vegetables to those in need in the disaster area -- helping both the vegetable farmers in Ibaraki/Fukushima and the needy in coastal Iwate and Miyagi.

Individuals at MoFo Tokyo contributed to a one-year commitment to support Isseki Many Cho, and that commitment expires at the end of June, 2012.  The office was looking for some way to inspire contributions to extend participation for a second year, as the need is still very real for the producers and consumers, and so as part of the effort the MoFo Tokyo team have solicited pledges of support based upon the kilometers that I ride over Golden Week.

I was delighted to learn on Friday that 63 persons have pledged support to the project, for a total of 399 yen (that is almost $5) per kilometer.   Thank you!

If I can do 1000 kms, ... 399,000 yen, almost $5000.  Maybe I can ride more? 

I have never done my cycling as any kind of charity event, since I always figured that people who want to give to charity will do so, with our without the excuse of a bike ride.  But this ride is a bit different.

First, it covers the length of Northern Japan ... albeit sticking to the mountains and the Japan Sea side, avoiding the coastline that was hit by the tsunami and nuclear disaster.  But it does go through mid/western Fukushima and adjacent Tochigi (Nasu Shiobara etc.) prefectures, areas impacted by the nuclear disaster, even if they are well outside of the "exclusion zone".

Second, this ride will be hard.  Really hard.  The longest Brevets I have done in Japan are 600 km.  And after those, I did NOT feel like getting up and riding my bicycle again the next day.  When I tried Paris-Brest-Paris last summer, I realized that an ultra-endurance event extending longer than 2 days is an entirely different kettle of fish.  And even if we will not be going over any really high alpine passes, we will be riding up and down, and up and down, and through plenty of mountainous territory and hilly stretches -- far more climbing than the equivalent length ride at Paris-Brest-Paris.

Lastly, I will be riding the bicycle frame that I welded in February and built up with components myself in March -- the "Yamabushi".  And the front wheel is my latest handbuilt wheel -- Velocity A23 rim, 32 Sapim CX Ray spokes, and SP Dynamo SV-8 electric hub dynamo to power the front light for night time riding.  This kind of long ride, with my 95 kg body, plus extra gear, over at least 5 days in a row in all conditions, will be a special kind of test for my bicycle, as well as my body and mind.

What I did not expect -- is the incredible sense of motivation that I feel from the pledges.  I've got to do everything in my power (err ...without risk of serious injury) to get through at least 1000 kms and, I hope, more.   I just hope that equipment, body and mind can make it.

If there is anyone else who wants to make a per kilometer pledge, in support of his or her preferred charity, just do so by email to me (or for those who don't have my address, by a public comment below or, Tokyo cyclists, via private message to dgl2 on the Tokyo Cycling Club BBS).

The weather forecast is good, at least the first few days of the ride.

Jerome and I will try to send updates from the road.

23 April 2012

Ishigakijima - Second Try

The second, chasing group in the women's ITU World Cup event at Ishigakijima
The leading men exit the water and head for their bikes
I arrived in Ishigakijima on Saturday afternoon, just in time to assemble my bike, to ride the first third of the bike course and then head over to the registration center to pick up my race number, bike stickers and minor swag (a little bag of white powder--Ishigakijima sea salt) and attend the race briefing. ... But I was not early enough to take an afternoon first swim in the wetsuit I purchased online earlier this year.  

My first impressions of Ishigakijima were decidedly mixed, as the town coming in from the airport and near the harbor seemed a bit run down, the sky was grey, and the humidity upon exiting the airplane door felt like getting hit with a brick.
Near my hotel, looking east
Near my hotel, looking west
I felt much better after a quick ride out of town and up the west coast, a stop for a pineapple "frappe" at an almost deserted outdoor country cafe overlooking the ocean.  I shared the cafe with only the older lady in the kitchen, a sleeping dog under a table and a beautiful white winged butterfly that evaded my camera.

The other customer -- dog sleeping under a table.
Taketomi Island nearby.  These islands are much closer to Taiwan than even to Okinawa.
And then there was a pleasant, simple dinner of traditional island style food (goya, チャンプル, soba with pork, etc.).   The town seemed friendly after dark, with lots of little restaurants and with people of all ages wandering around, including the very young and very old.  

For the dinner, I joined a group of Tokyo-based (and former Tokyo-based) foreigners who do these events regularly and compete at the highest amateur level, including Eric H., who used to ride every once in awhile with Jerome, Thierry D. and me.  Eric placed 3rd in the "age" triathlon here 2 years ago.  This year he was 7th.  Olaf, who also joined dinner and is now based in Hong Kong, placed 4th on Sunday.  Also, Jean-Marc and Shin (both fast racers), and Kobayashi-san ("the Captain") who started back with me in the next to last  wave, joined the dinner.  These guys all seem to see each other regularly at triathlons.  Others had been planning to join us, but  the group split into two before dinner.  There were two Alex's and TCC's Astroman, (Keren M.) who on Sunday placed 2nd in the 50-54 age group.  He told me that he had started doing triathlons when he was 28 years old.  On the other hand, Mark Shrosbree, who won the 50-54 group by a decent margin over Astroman, just started doing these a few years ago.  So I guess being "late to the party" is not really an excuse.

In any event, I was pleased with my result.  David placed first.  And David placed second.  

Oops, I must be reading the results of the ITU World Cup Men's event held in the afternoon, rather than the morning's event.  That would be David Hauss of France and Davide Uccellari of Italy, with times of 1:50:06 and 1:50:11. 

I (known to many at this weekend's festivities as "the third David" ... or, in deference to David S. who finished 33 minutes ahead of me, "the fourth David", or maybe just "big David" for my extra kilograms) joined the "Age" group event in the morning, and placed 328 out of over 1000 finishers (there were 1257 registered starters ... not sure how many DNS), with a time of 2:49:37.   I also managed 25th out of 81 finishers in the Men's 50-54 age group.  I'm not 50 yet, but the ITU and JTU measure age as at 12/31 of the year in which the race occurs, so I am in the older group for statistical purposes.  Not that it makes much difference in terms of average times.
Eric, Miu Hiraide, Keren and Jean-Marc at the closing party
The woman's victor in the "Age" event was Miu Hiraide of Okinawa.  She has won the event the past 6 years running.  As you can see from the photo of her standing next to Eric H., this feat is all the more remarkable due to her small size and her youth.  Since judging from the photo she cannot be any older than 17, she must have only been 12 at the time of her first victory.*   And the Mighty Mini Miu must take 2 strokes swimming and two strides running for each one by Eric.  Eric was especially pleased that he beat her to the finish this year by over 3 minutes (2:09:59 vs 2:13:18), to bring his lifetime Ishigaki record against the Mighty Mini Miu to 3 wins and 3 losses.

As for my race, the swim was unlike anything I have ever done.  I can remember swimming alone across a lake as a child -- behind a row boat acting as spotter.  But this was my first time in a wet suit -- with full length sleeves it was very bulky, constraining and too hot for this water.  But it was really nice to have all the buoyancy of a floating cork when I needed to rest, or to try to get through a crowd.  

It was chaotic.  I started swim with 140 people, 1 minute behind 140 others and 1 minute ahead of a third group of 137.  Then as we rounded the first buoy after 250 meters or so, we merged with hundreds of others who had started 10-20 minutes earlier and were already on the second lap.  I got out ahead with the first 10 or 20 people in my wave, and so avoided most of the chaos for a blissful first couple of minutes.  But soon I found I would swim for 10 or 20 strokes then come into a crowd, get sandwiched or blocked and need to take evasive action.  Or I would outpace my cardiovascular system and need to rest to get more air or work a bit less (i.e. switch to back stroke or breast stroke) to get back on track.  There were people everywhere.  I had no idea if I was going fast or slow.  People kept cutting across me at odd angles.

Then on the longest straightaway of the second lap, all of a sudden it was me who was cutting across the course, disoriented.  At least 3 swimmers made me realize my error as I headed diagonally and blocked their way, and they rammed me with their arms simultaneously.  I did the same thing at least once more on the long return leg.

Still, I was thankful that at least the first two waves were already well into their second lap by the time my group (9th out of 10 waves) started. So I did not need to worry about the really strong and competitive guys pushing me under.  Eric had told me about this -- if you get in the way of a big guy in the first wave (like him), he will just swim over you, sending you down under the waves with one hand on your shoulder to clear the way.

Several people had told me that Ishigakijima is the best triathlon in Japan for amateurs, in part because of the clear water -- indeed, you could see the bottom of the harbor during the entire swim.  This was really nice, given the otherwise total disorientation.  The swim would be worse in murky water, or in a deep sea without the bottom visible.  I can now understand why fear of the swim is the main limiting factor on who actually is willing to do these events.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that only 30 minutes had passed as I exited the water, pulled off the arms and top part of the hotsuit and began the 300+ meter barefoot run over concrete toward my bike in the transition area.  I was 5 minutes ahead of my target.  When I got to the transition area, the bike rows for my 9th wave (and the 8th and 10th) were pretty much full.  Almost no one was there yet.  As usual, I had gone out too fast.

I made decent time on the bike, and enjoyed it as I had at Tateyama, passing several hundred people over the hour and ten minutes or so that it took me to complete the 40 kilometer course, including plenty of little hills in the middle half.  Just about anyone who would be faster than me on the bike started the event 10-23 minutes ahead in the earlier waves, so I never saw them.  That was great psychologically, but not so great in terms of a competitive time.  There is still work to do.
A cooling rain started about half way through the bike leg, and continued through the first half of the run.  This saved me from dehydration or any serious heat issues.  I started the run very slowly, and after a few kilometers was picking up something at each aid station -- a cup of water or sports drink, a banana or just a sponge soaked in ice water -- using that as an excuse to walk for 15 seconds or so before starting to run again.   Only over the last 3 kilometers did I accelerate.  A healthy share of those I passed on the bike passed me back during the run.  Lots and lots of room for improvement.  If I could shave 10 minutes off of the run, bike and transitions, then that would pull me from 328 to 175.  15 minutes faster ... would put me at 115, close to the top 10%.

It was a great feeling to finish my first triathlon.

I had planned to take a leisurely afternoon ride over to Kabira Bay, which is said to be beautiful.  Instead, I watched most of the ITU World Cup Women's and then Men's events, then took a short nap before heading to the closing party.

Triathlons are much bigger productions than bicycle races.  The need for a swimming area and a big transition set up (numbered racks for over a thousand bikes, massive ground coverings), plus lots of officials along the route to enforce the rules, not to mention a large group of people in diving gear underwater or on jet skis monitoring and standing by in case of a need to rescue swimmers.  This is expensive, even with volunteers.  Entry fees are steep.
The transition area, ready to receive bikes and gear.
And people want go to somewhere for a triathlon with nice water, palm trees and flowers.  In Japan, a week ago Miyakojima; this week Ishigakijima; next month Niijima.  Even Tateyama in Chiba had rows of palm trees.  Overseas, Hawaii and Sydney are popular tri destinations.  Triathlon requires plane flights, hotels, dragging your bike with you or shipping it ahead.  It is best done as an event for a couple combined with a mini-vacation, or with a group of close friends.  

I shipped my bike ahead 10 days before the event as recommended by HIS Travel, which offered a warning that if I tried to take it on the plane ... there might not be room and I might not get it in time for the race ("no guarantees").  Of course, everyone who took their bikes by plane seemed to manage to get it on their flight, and if not then on the next one in time for the race.  My flight from Naha to Ishigaki was delayed for 10 minutes as they worked to fit all the bikes in the cargo bay.  For the return bike shipment I was warned that it would take AT LEAST 10 and perhaps as many as 19 days -- not in time for Golden Week.

Since I only got a spot in this event because of a cancellation 3+ weeks after the main entry closed, I had booked a flight and hotel "triathlon package" via HIS Travel, one of the event sponsors.  In comparing notes, this cost me at least two-thirds more than the flight and hotel that Jean Marc booked for Eric and himself (plus I paid another 17,000 yen using the HIS-recommended service to ship my bike, insured, to Ishigakijima ... whereas my hotel shipped it back, insured, for less than 5000 yen).  And Eric, Olaf and Jean-Marc'sr hotel was right at the start/goal/transition area, instead of a mile away.  If I do this again ... lesson learned.  HIS, you ripped me off!.  Given any options, I will avoid HIS in the future.  But in any event, this is not a sport for starving students.

Also, to be any good at triathlon requires constant training.  And of course, it requires careful diet/food/alcohol intake control.  Eric called triathlon a "social life killer".  So I can see plenty of reasons to make this both the start and finish of my triathlon career.

This is far too long a post, and I really need to sign off.  I've got to check the JTU website and see when the sign-up opens for the race that Shin, Jean-Marc and Eric recommended later in the year in Niigata (no palm trees, no plane flight needed).  And tonight I've got to check Wiggle's tri goods section and see if I can find a sleeveless wet-suit at a decent price.

*According to the official results, Miu Hiraide will actually be 24 years old at 12/31/2012.

17 April 2012

More Golden Week Cycling Ideas!!!

If you are not already signed on for the Peace Race Tribute Ride in Europe with David J., or for the Tohoku 1700 with Jerome and me, this Golden Week you might want to consider a three- or four-day cycling vacation in Hakuba, Nagano, with Olympic Gold Medalist and World Champion Sara Carrigan.

A very reasonable price and there are still some spaces open.  This comes highly recommended by our friend David Marx of RGT Enterprises.

Heavy Weight Class

On Sunday, around 1800 cyclists participated in the 26th Annual Tour de Yatsugatake, a hill climb from the town of Yachiho on the western side of the Yatsugatake mountains up Route 299 toward Mugikusa Pass, Elev 2126 meters.

I had signed up for the E Class (Men, Ages 41-50), but from reading the Tokyo Cycling Club (TCC) postings became aware that there was also a "heavy weight" class for riders weighing over 75.0 kgs. (165.346697 pounds).  Since I currently weigh around 95.5 kgs. (210.54146 pounds), I emailed the organizers a few weeks back, and they were kind enough to switch me into the heavy weight category, euphemistically referred to as the "Bicycle 21 Cup".   Since I was in the "heavy weight" class, which would be starting at the same time as the mountain bikes, I decided to ride my hand-made, steel-framed Yamabushi, a 4.3 pound frame with a heavy cyclocross fork, cantilever brakes etc., just to add another kilogram or two over.

Doug E. and his wife Michiko were kind enough to give me a lift up on Saturday evening.  I stayed in a slightly dilapidated business hotel, featuring a room with thick stale tobacco smell and scenic view of a wall of an adjacent structure about 6 inches from the window.  This was in the town of Nakagomi on the southern outskirts of Saku City, about 15 kms from the start.  It was raining hard on Saturday into the evening as we drove up from Tokyo, but the forecast for Sunday looked spectacular.

I awoke on Sunday to an email from the organizers announcing that the start would be pushed back by 30 minutes from 9AM to 930AM, a result of attempts to deal with the snow that remained on the upper elevations of the hill, and which had been added to by snow the night before.  An earlier notice on Saturday that I had not seen had apparently announced a change of the finish line from Mugikusa Pass (2126m elev) to the Yachiho Highland Ski Area entrance, almost 500m lower.  

Instead of a 25km race with 1300 meters elevation gain, we would race 15 km and climb 800 meters.  This change sent my race plan back to square one.  I had hoped to outlast the others and use superior endurance to prevail, ... but that would no longer be possible.  I now had the perfect excuse for a middle of the pack finish.

Doug (who had selected better accommodations) showed up at the start line in his TCC 2011 kit.  I must admit I was a bit suspicious if this pencil thin guy  I was looking at really weighed 75 kgs and belonged in a "heavy weight" category.  He reassured me that he did weigh 83 kgs or more when he had signed up in January, and this morning had weighed in at 75.00001 kgs after drinking a liter or two of water and putting on his gear.  There were a bunch of guys in the group who looked as if their bikes and wheels were designed for "weight weenies" and subject to low rider weight limits.  And they all looked pretty young.  I thought that perhaps I was in the wrong place.

Doug managed an excellent time of just over 48 minutes, for 6th place.  With my extra 22 kgs and a few more years of wear and tear, I finished in 1:00:41, for 45th place out of 95 starters -- just about what I had expected.

Looking at Doug's podium photo for the heavy weight class (copied below from the TCC site), I think all six of them must have been between 75.00001 and 75.00009 kgs with their clothes on.  One rider seems to have done the climb with a baby strapped to his chest just to get anywhere near the weight limit.  Next time I'll suggest to the organizers that they add a weigh-in to the proceedings! 

Clay Locke, formerly representing TCC and now riding for Team Peugeot Cycles Nippon, was the overall winner of the Champion Class, with a time of 37:42.  Wow. 

Eugen and Patrick also had times in the 47~49 minute range.  Excellent, but not quite good enough for the podium in one of the "normal" age-based categories.
Podium for the Heavyweight Category?
Anyway, the organizers finally let us descend the mountain at 11:30AM, and I continued for a nice, leisurely ride up the valley on Route 141, then over beautiful little Route 68 through Hirose and Kawakami, then up over Shinshu Pass and down to Nirasaki where I hopped an express train home.

The bike is comfortable and handles nicely.  Very stable and confident steering, though the slightly longer cyclocross fork and resulting higher bottom bracket than my road bike give a bit different feel descending through curves.

The combination of flowering cherries and snow capped mountains -- Yatsugatake, the Japan Southern Alps, Mt. Fuji, and other local peaks, was very nice.  If only the clouds would have burned off completely ....
Looking back at Yatsugatake, from between Hirose and Kawakami.   I am very happy with the new Ortlieb handlebar bag I got for use on longer Brevets.

Fertile soil of Kawakami, where all the farm laborers seem to be Chinese migrants; looking back toward Yatsugatake.  Mugikusa Pass is toward the right (northern) shoulder of these mountains.
The gradual climb through farmland toward Shinshu Pass, until the road turns up ahead.  No other cyclists today and only one or two cars between Kawakami and Shiokawa Dam down the other side of the hill.
Much better than Route 141.
Sakura blossoming and Southern Alps ... and almost no traffic ... on the Masutomi Radium Line through Sudama toward Nirasaki
Looking back up the Masutomi-Radium Line toward Shiokawa Dam and Shinshu Pass.  Snow visible on Mt. Mizugaki.

Peace Race 2012 - News From Positivo Espresso London Chapter

If watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy got you into a nostalgic mood about the Cold War ... get read for more memories of another era.  This news just in from David Jacob of the Positivo Espresso London Chapter:


Friends and Bikies, 

On the 4th May I am taking my Dad to Germany to ride the 200km from Leipzig to Berlin. We are joining the 'Peace Race Tribute' ride. The peace race was, in the USSR era, the Eastern bloc equivalent of the Tour de France.

Two riders, Alan Buttler and Geoff Wiles, are riding the entire 2200km route of the 1955 Peace Race to raise money for Diabetes UK. 

Alan is organising the ride as a tribute to his father, Alf, who died of diabetes. Alf was manager and mechanic for many British teams in cycle races over 25 years. His first race with the British team was the 1955 Peace Race. The picture attached below shows Alf (far left) next to my Dad in 1960 on the Tour of Tunisia. My Dad also rode the Peace Race in 1962. 

You can read more here:    http://www.pbw2012.cc/ 

If you would like to support this very worthwhile cause please donate herehttps://www.justgiving.com/peacerace 

many thanks, 

David J.

Alf Buttler, far left, and Alan Jacob, next to him in the cool sunglasses.  At the 1960 Tour of Tunisia
Alan Jacob, rated by former British Champion David Bedwell as one of the two most "dangerous men" to face in a sprint.  It is great that we will again have Positivo Espresso riders involved in epic events on two continents during the first week in May.  Stay tuned.

16 April 2012

Tokyo Hanami

Cherry blossom viewing at my house last week -- just need to look out the upstairs front window.
The Yamabushi, under the falling blossoms last Friday.
I'm really looking forward to the Golden Week Saitama Audax Brevets that Jerome and I are planning to join to Aomori.

If all goes well, we will have cherry blossoms and other flowering trees much of the way as we head North.

11 April 2012

First Try

The big dog, ready to race, and Dappei-kun, the green nosed mascot dog character of Tateyama City
This winter I decided to take the advice of professional coaches and get off the bike and try some other exercise.  So I started swimming at the 50 meter heated pool at the Setagaya Sogo Undojo next to Kinuta Park.  And I decided I would add running at some point, then try a triathlon or two.  

I will always stand on the cyclist side of the great divide between cyclists and triathletes, but it has been good to work on a few different muscle groups at least during the winter.  And I love the pool -- only a 10 minute ride from my home, open 9AM to 9PM, 7 days a week, usually not crowded, and only 200 yen if you are in and out of the gate within 60 minutes, which is plenty for me to swim, shower and change.  When I started, I felt I needed to apologize and explain to the lifeguards watching "you know, I WAS on the high school swim team ... 32+ years ago."

There were two hiccups in the plan.  First, I was traveling for a month and did not swim at all during that time, nor as much as I should after returning.  

Second, I always seem to suffer injuries, eventually, when I run.  Maybe if I weighted less.  Maybe this time since I weigh less than I did 5 or 10 years ago ...  but no.  I somehow injured my right foot and stopped running a few weeks after I started.  

At least I had signed up first for a "Sprint" event and so would only run 5 km.  The event was at Tateyama in Chiba on Sunday, and was a lot of fun.  My son, Henry, was a good enough sport to at least come along for the morning.
Running ... does not come naturally, yet.

Unfortunately, because of the cold weather (air temperature was about 4 degrees C when they started the first races Sunday morning ... though it was probably more like 9 or 10 degrees when my group started at 10:20), the swim was cancelled, and replaced with a 1km "beach run" through the sand.  

I guess these thin-as-bones triathletes get chilled, even with wet suits, if it is too cold when they are in and emerge out of the water.  Wimps.  I am (over)confident I would have done well in a cold choppy open water swim against a bunch of skinny, shivering 60 kg athletes.
I ended up 28th out of 131 in the "Citizen, Sprint Distance" category -- the lowest, shortest possible category, filled with plenty of first timers.

I dominated on the bike with the second fastest time -- the only faster split was the overall winner of the category.  No one passed me the entire 20 km, and I passed almost all of them.  I was probably 80% back in the pack out of the first transition and onto the bike, and when I got back for the second transition to the run, the Sprint Distance bike rack was still almost empty -- only about 10 bikes.  My first two of the three 6.8 km circuits, I was basically just hollering "tourimasu" over and over, as with mamachari on the Tamagawa path, getting people to pull over so I could pass.  These folks really need to learn how to ride.

I started the last segment -- the run -- quite slow, worried about my foot  and whether I could make it through without re-injuring it, not having run more than a few hundred meters at any time in the past 3 weeks.  the time I got to the turn around and had been passed by a bunch of folks, I was confident ehough to speed up, and actually passed some of them back on the return trip.

Astroman from TCC, a New Zealander, was in the "Age" category Olympic distance event (above "Citizen" and below the pro "Elite" race -- I guess a kind of Masters race category for real tri-athletes) and placed second in the 50-54 yr old group to someone named Mark, who looked like he was about 5 cm taller and 20 kgs lighter than me.  Both Astroman and Mark said they are doing the Ishigakijima triathlon, as am I.  Looking forward to that in less than 2 weeks.

Wheels 00003, 00004 and 00005

Just for the record:

00003 -- rear wheel for the cyclocross bike, Chris King hubs, 32 DT Swiss spokes (drive side Competition spokes; non-drive side Revolution spokes), Velocity A23 rim, Ritchey fat cyclocross tires (for the time being at least) and 11-28 SRAM cassette:

00004 -- gift to a friend in the U.S. whose bike (with Schmidt dynamo hubbed wheel) was stolen.  SP Dynamo PV-8 black dynamo hub, DT Swiss RR415 rim, 32 DT Swiss revolution spokes).   Looks nice and will brighten up the night:

00005 -- my next Brevet wheel.  SP Dynamo SV-8 silver dynamo hub, Velocity A23 rim, and 32 Sapim CX Ray bladed spokes.  Plus I added the spoke head washers recommended by The Art of Wheelbuilding for a wheel where the holes in the hub are larger than the spoke diameter -- as is the case with the SP Dynamos in contrast to the Chris Kings with their very tight fit for a 2.0mm spoke):

My experience with the HED Jet 6 wheels, which use the same 23mm wide rim as HED's alloy clinchers, has made me a fan of the slightly wider rim, and I now have a collection of wheels built with Velocity A23 rims (less expensive than HED rims, no eyelets, a bit lighter weight and no problems at all so far).  That said, there are other more beautiful rims out there than the Velocity A23 -- the silver DT Swiss RR415 among them.

I may never catch up with MOB and his wheelbuilding.

05 April 2012

My Daddy is a World Champion

A photo of Shane Perkins and his son that got picked up on a few sites, including the WSJ photos of the day and here.
Really shouldn't encourage holding a small child on one's front while riding a bike that lacks brakes and that has handlebars so far out of reach, without a helmet or child seat.  But exceptions must be made!!!

02 April 2012


Another great ride this weekend.

We had lots of interest, but James and Shane decided to head out a bit later than our 7AM Kaminoge start, and Gunnar somehow just missed us at the start.  So Jerome (France), Alexander (Germany) and I (USA) headed out and met Steve T. (UK) in Takao.  And with just 3 of us heading out from Tokyo to Takao, it was a bit easier to navigate intersections as lights changed from red to green and vice versa ...   And we had just as good geographic coverage as we would have had we had managed to coordinate the ride with James (UK), Shane (USA) and Gunnar (Germany).

It was Alexander's first ride with us.  As a young (33 year old) guy whose physique reminded me of many of the Germans who would pass me on the first climb every day during Transalp, I realized we would need to take maximum advantage of the fact that he had not been on the bike much since he moved to Japan last year.  He noted that he only wanted to ride 50-60 kms, and would take the train home.  We assured him that by heading out west from Takao, we would almost always be within 5 km of a train station, so he could hop the Chuo Line home at any time.

Our ultimate goal was to climb the south approach to Matsuhime Pass, but we knew Alexander would head back from Sagamiko, Uenohara, Yanagawa, Torizawa, Sarubashi or one of the other Chuo Line stations.

Steve T. then suggested that instead of boring, heavily traveled Route 20, we take Yamanashi Route 30 from Uenohara to Sarubashi.  Steve discovered Route 30 in the early years of this century, long before Tom S. or Ludwig had ever made it beyond Otarumi Pass.  Steve promised us we would enjoy these "rolling hills" and that he would show us a way to go around the back of Otsuki golf club and on some other local roads to stay off Route 20 until just before Sarubashi.

After our third or fourth climb on Route 30, as we approached 600 meters elevation again, Alexander finally started to trail us on the climbs and asked about the train station.  I pointed down the side of the hill to the left into the distant haze.  "It is somewhere over there, along the river at the bottom of the hill."

As you can see from the photo below, it was a long way down.  And there was not any road headed in that direction.  The only road continued ahead, along and up the hillside.
Yamanashi Route 30 from Uenohara to Sarubashi -- a beautiful road on a beautiful, cold Spring day
We then told Alexander the story of Paul Jason.  He was a good sport about it, and managed to make it over the rest of the "rolling hills", even when the grade was 11, 12 or even 15%.  Alexander thought that Steve must be joking when Steve mentioned that there was a nice restaurant at Katsuragawa Wellness Park ... just like Steve was joking when he said that there was only 40 meters elevation more to the top of the last hill, behind the golf club.  Or joking when he called it the "last hill", which it was not, really.

Alexander, our new rider
In any event, we did not ask Alexander to climb back up the steep hill to the restaurant at Wellness Park, and instead had lunch (and beer) at the traditional soba place in Sarubashi.  Then we bid farewell to Alexander, stopped for ice cream at the 7-11 down the street, and started the climb up Matsuhime.

I was still digesting my ice cream, beer and tempura (tendon) lunch and climbed slowly, quickly losing sight of Steve and Jerome ahead.  At the Otoge turn-off on the Fukashiro reservoir, I pulled into the rest area to take advantage of the clean rest room (with western style toilet and a nice posting on the wall advertising dam tours--just ring the intercom at the dam building entrance and, if someone is available, you can take a guided tour by elevator down into the core of the dam for a 20-30 minute excursion).  And I stretched out my aching right foot.

From there on, at least I could manage the climb from 650 to 1250 meters elevation without a foot down or much suffering, despite strong swirling winds.  At the top, Steve and Jerome were resting, flat on their backs in the sunlight and nearly asleep.

We timed this ride perfectly, since a few weeks earlier we might have found melting snow on the road down the northern slope (there was still plenty of snow and ice along the sides), and in warmer weather the exposed climb up the southern side can be very hot.
Steve and I bundle up for a cold descent down the shaded North slope of Matsuhime.  Jerome ... wears his usual Beeren team shorts and short sleeves, plus his trademark fishnet underlayer.  
It was a quick trip down the hill, along Okutama-ko (waving at Mrs. Watanabe and getting a wave back as we passed Yakyu-tei), and then down another hill to Moegi-no-yu, near Okutama town/station, where we enjoyed  the foot-soaking hot spring.  As usual, the parking lot attendant tried to get officious with us as we dismounted our bikes in a vacant space right near the foot bath.  He quieted down when I responded: "This bike is worth 1 million yen.  If you will guarantee its safety, I will be happy to park it far away.  Otherwise, I want to keep it in my sight."  A slight exaggeration, but he got the point and withdrew.

Steve hopped the train at Okutama Station, I hopped the train at Oume (just missing the express train that Steve had caught up the hill), and Jerome rode all the way home for 200km+.