14 June 2018

Race Across America - Solo 2018

The solo riders are well into their second day of riding in RAAM 2018.

The Japanese entrant, Hirokazu Suzuki (ずっちゃ to friends), seems to be doing well, solidly in the middle of the pack (upper middle). In 1 day and 7 hours, he had ridden over 407 miles and passed Congress, Arizona. He is on track for a "projected" finish of 10 days and 8 hours. Wow. Suzuki-san "wrote the book" on successful randonneuring in Japanese, literally.

Suzuki-san has a support team including many of the key Japan audax members -- starting with Maya Ide.

The RAAM leader is perennial champion Christoph Strasser. At 614 miles already, he is WAY ahead of everyone else, around 100 miles ahead of the 2nd place rider.

You can track them all on the leaderboard here.


(P.S. It was only this January that Jerome and I joined a 200km brevet Suzuki-san also rode. Shockingly, we finished ahead of him, though I think he was riding that day with his spouse on a kind of "warm down" from the previous day's training).

Update: After 3 days and 10 hours, Zuccha is in 8th place, with nearly 1000 miles covered and a large group of riders lapping at his heels, though he was once in the midst of that pack. Not sure about sleep schedules, etc., but will check back tomorrow. Meanwhile, Christoph Strasser is around 250 miles ahead of the 2nd place rider!

Update: Zuccha made it to West Virginia before his race ended. He started to fall behind schedule once across the Mississippi, and faced the hilliest part of the course through the Appalachians, when he was hit by a case of Shermer's neck -- where the neck muscles can no longer fully support the weight of the human head. Solo RAAM is hard, almost inhuman.

13 June 2018

15th Fuji HC -- 2018

Tokyo Cranks Finishers at 5th Stage lodge
The Mt. Fuji Hill Climb is a "fun ride" mass event up the Subaru Line, nearly 10,000 riders starting around 1000 meters elevation at Fuji Hokuroku Park and going to the Fifth Stage, somewhat over 2300 meters elevation. The timed part of the course is 24 kms, the actual is another km or more from the park entrance to the Subaru Line entrance.

In 2008, Positivista Juliane ("the Gazelle") Prechtl was the 4th place woman finisher, and Tom Wielrenner, only weeks after his 285km breakaway/solo Tokyo-Itoigawa performance, also clocked a great time ... not sure exactly how great, but great.

In 2009, we also had an excellent team, led by James Knott and sponsored by his company. That year, I had my personal best time of 1:34:07, a few weeks before the start of Transalp.

In 2010, our corporate sponsor was gone, and more than one Positivista was planning a departure from Japan. I was recovering from an injury. By 2011, we had other priorities -- Transalp, Étape du Tour, and PBP that summer for me. And the Fuji HC really only is worth it as a weekend out of town with a group of  friends up at the mountain.

So I was happy this year to join the Tokyo Cranks' annual Fuji HC team and try it again after 9 years hiatus. We had 14 members in total. Seven of us (and Yamada-san, a friend of Yuki and Naoko, was just along for the Saturday ride) met along the Tamagawa at Komae a few minutes after 7AM on Saturday. I had planned the route -- over Otarumi Pass, then through Akiyama along Yamanashi Route 35 over Hinazuru Pass to Tsuru, and up the hill to Kawaguchiko.
Along the Asagaway on the way to Takao, with Naoko, Yuki, Lena, Nils and Yamada-san,
waiting for Glenn and Tim as they fix Glenn's flat.
Even with the early start it was a very hot trip. We made good time to Takao, over Otarumi, then onto Route 76 and finally made the turn off to take Routes 518 then 35 through a series of up, down and up sections. It was HOT and HUMID. I overheated and in one of the towns pulled over and asked a lady at a small shop if I could use her outdoor faucet/hose to cool down. She said "no water from that one, wait a minute", and brought out another hose connected to a faucet from her garage. Salvation. She gave me an ice pack that I slid into my rear center jersey pocket.
The shop on the left - life saving water stop.

Akiyama sky and green

We are climbing now.

Glenn at the manju shop

Route 35 is popular with cyclists, and almost no cars.
Then more climbing. The thermometer on my bicycle computer said 36 degrees celsius when in the direct sun. Finally we reached the famous manju shop, and rested in the shade while enjoying miso manju. The old folks in the back brought us green tea, then umeboshi. We took a longer rest than expected. And it was closer to the top of the climb than I had remembered. Through the tunnel we went, then a fast and fun descent to Tsuru.

Our group split. Nils, Lena and I decided we had done our pre-hill climb workout, and took the train up the valley. Everyone else rode (except for Yamada-san, who headed back to Tokyo).
Our Fujikyu train - Thomas the Tank engine version!

At the registration and start village, Glenn hams it up for the camera
Nice relaxed mood.
We had a great dinner, thanks to John K. and Rolf for shopping, and to Jon T., Nils and others from bringing wine. And to everyone, as we all did some of the prep and cooking. Lena "fired" me for cutting my potato slices too thick ... but they worked out just fine.
Slicing zucchini, as instructed.

Tim, Lena and I prep. Tim is Australian, so he manned the barbeque.
Lena is moving back to Chicago this week with husband and 3 daughters. The Fuji HC was on her
"Japan bucket list". I guess it reminded me a bit of the 2009 event,
and how many of those expats I rode with left within the following year or two.

Kampai! Bottoms up!
Maybe Ian and Andreas were faster because they did not drink alcohol? Maybe not

Great rental houses, close to Kawaguchiko station and
ideal for train watching. The trains did not run during the wee hours.
Anyway, after the ride out to Yamanashi, the hill climb itself was almost an anticlimax. Almost.

We awoke early, but decided to skip the speeches, and miss the 6AM luggage drop off deadline. It was slightly wet - a bit of mist - but the mist lifted and we rode to the start in dry, if very cloudy, conditions. Most of us left the house after 7AM. I was supposed to go with the 15th (of 20) waves, and I got to the start area as the 11th wave headed out. Perfect.
There goes wave 12, or is it 13.

Ready and set.
The climb was a bit more painful than I remembered. I knew the first 5kms was steeper than average, so I took it easy so as to have something left in the tank for later. Everything went OK, if slower than I would have liked. I had planned to eat a bit and maybe even pull off for 30 seconds after reaching 1500 meters ... but had no need. Instead, I made it to over 1900 meters elevation, then took a quick break for bathroom, energy bar and cardio rest, maybe two minutes total. I felt much stronger the next few kms and passed many riders I had been with before the break, so I think it was worth it. I remembered the long, 2-3 km, flat stretch near the finish, and I was able to go at decent speed (30kph? more?) through most of that. But my memory had blacked out the agony of the relatively steep last kilometer to follow. I kept looking for the finish markers in the mist. They took a long time to appear, but there was Ian, with his smart phone, and then I was over the recording pad.

My time was 2:02. Just over my target of 2 hours. Not good, but not so bad for my current weight and condition. I should try again next year, and train (and diet) to get back to 1:45.

Almost at the top.

Nils ... right behind me!
The Cranks gathered on the second floor of the main lodge, enjoyed some food (ramen, etc.) and waited until every member had finished and the lines of riders waiting in the cold to descend had shortened. I bought a T shirt and lined my chest with newsprint for warmth on the descent. My thin rain shell just was not going to be warm enough, without full finger gloves or a cap to cover my ears.

Triathletes Naoko and Yuki were much faster climbers than most Cranks.
Both Ian and Andreas were in the 1:17 range, too.
The descent was long, and slow (controlled by staff riders and a pace car.). But it only got touch and go when, over 1/2 way down, it started to rain. My thermometer said 10 degrees C. That's cold with rain and basically summer gear!

The rain got a bit stronger and I cancelled my plan to ride back to Tokyo. It got stronger yet, and I cancelled my plan to ride down the hill to Otsuki before hopping a train. It was pouring. In the end, Jon T. dropped me at Kawaguchiko Station for the 4PM express bus to Shibuya. Actually not a bad way to go, at all. A great group to hang out and ride with, and a successful event.
Next year, faster!

(*There is another event a week later, the Mt. Fuji INTERNATIONAL Hill Climb, which goes up the Azami Line from Subashiri. That is NOT a mass event, but rather a JBCF race. Why? About the same elevation gain ... in less than half the distance! It boasts an average grade of over 10% and is just brutal.)