‘Climate’ & ‘Climb-it’ are the 2 main themes for Ironman Japan!
Ironman Japan has always been a race venue high up on my list. The rural and scenic location of quiet Lake Toya sets the scene for a picturesque and easy race. Yea right!
It is one of the hardest Ironman race courses around the world. Starting with a beautiful and clear, warm lake swim, the ride takes you around the lake and into the mountains for 2800m of vertical climbing, up to 15% grade in a few spots before descending down into the valley to start the marathon. A hot and humid run winds its way up a long and steep gravel off road track for the first section, before a 4km straight down hill back to the lake side. The final run back into town rolls along the road with the final stretch of lakeside path to the finish line. Add in the heat, humidity, rain and wind – it was an adventure!
I was super excited to race as training had been tracking nicely over the last few winter months. I flew in just a couple of days prior and adjusted well to the warm weather and high humidity. We found out pretty early that the lake was fairly warm and that the pro wetsuit cut off temp of 21.9deg was likely.
5am on race morning the water temp measured 23.5deg, so the call was made and the swim skin went on. This would even out the field and show up some of the weaker swimmers that wouldn’t be getting the benefit of added buoyancy.
Swim – I had a great start and went right to the front after 400m or so and had the Brazilian Thiago Vinhal right with me. It continued this way, getting a Brazilian foot massage for 3.8kms while we put nearly 4mins into the rest of the Pro men. I was first out in 51mins,had the quickest transition and lead out onto the bike with over a 1min lead on Thiago and 4mins over the 2nd swim pack.
Bike – The first section around the lake was flat and fast. I had to stay controlled and not get too excited with the lead motorbike and media bikes around, knowing that I had a big day in the saddle ahead of me! I flew through the first 20kms in under 40mins and fuelled up before the first of many hill climbs were to begin.
That was the last of any flat section, the rest of the 180km loop consisted of long climbs, shorts steep climbs, false flats and awesome fast descents. Seeing the big ‘Black bear warning’ signs was quite amusing, and I was just hoping they were still in hibernation mode. A few foxes ran across the road in front of me and also a Japanese local reversed out while I was heading down the quickest section of the course! I managed to swerve around the back of him as there was no chance of braking – checked my speedo afterwards and was ticking along just shy of 90km/hr!
The rest of the ride was less eventful, I was passed by 3 riders just before the long 18km climb and decided to stick to my own plan and not go with them. The steepest little section was about 5kms before T2 and the 5min ‘out of the saddle’ effort made sure that your legs had been totally fried before the marathon starts! Into transition in 4th, 5mins behind 3rd and 10mins back from the front two.
Run – Straight off the bike you could tell the temp was getting up, every step was getting more and more humid as I started running down for the first couple of kms into the gulley. This only became hotter as the road turned into straight uphill gravel trail for another 3kms. Steadily gaining time on the front guys and feeling strong, I just stuck to my plan of running an even paced marathon. Aid stations were between 3 and 5kms apart so making sure you got what you needed at each one was very important. I passed 3rd place at about 15kms and he was obviously paying for his over zealous riding. I had to make a pitstop at 25kms and never look forward to a hot portaloo but when you gotta go.. Opened the door to find a ‘squat style’ Japanese toilet and could only laugh to myself. Just what you feel like doing half way through an Ironman marathon! The last part of the race winded its way around the coast before and out and back section on the lake front. It was good to see all the supporters and also how close the front 2 guys were. I had made up some time although all 3 of our run slits were within 1 minute of each other.
What a challenging course, talking to everyone after the race, there was a fairly overwhelming conclusion that this was the hardest Ironman course around. After 20 Ironman races I can definitely say that also!
It was a great week hanging out with a few Kiwis and the group travelling with the Tri-travel crew, awesome celebrations with some great Japanese food and a few Asahi’s!
Massive thanks to my parents for making the trip over, and to all my supporters and sponsors back home – I have a couple of weeks off now before I plan out the NZ season. Summer is not far away! The next big event for Larisa and I is our wedding in November! The #dreamteam will be official. Lots to look forward to, and exciting to see the results improving each race. Very happy with a solid season and keen to start the next one refreshed and rearing to go!