The Japan Half Ironman, or to give it its proper title, IRONMAN 70.3 Centrair Chita Peninsula Japan 2019, is now the only Ironman branded race in Japan, and is celebrating its 10th year. In my mind I thought I had attended 3 times previously and was somewhat shocked when I checked back through my records to realise that this would be my 6th attempt! I had highlighted this race as my main 70.3 for 2019, and I wanted to do reasonably well to gain back some confidence after a rather unsatisfactory couple of years.
To be honest, it is not a very nice location for a race, centred around an island that has an airport and very little else. Its uniquely Japanese in many ways, with rules and regulations by the bucket load, a course that has had to be squeezed into the tiny space that the authorities allow, and pre-race requires so much queuing and standing around that I ended up wasting 7.5 hrs hours (yes 7.5hrs on the day before the race!) simply to complete set up procedures. But as is so often in Japan, everyone is super polite, the athletes are happy to attend, very few complaints are made and everything is done quietly and correctly. If somewhat muted compared with Europe.
I had managed to cadge a lift down to the race with Marc, a fellow TiT (Triathlete in Tokyo) who is just one age bracket above me and with similar long history in Japan, so had an enjoyable 4hr drive to Nagoya, chatting about everything under the sun. The weather was atrocious, pouring with rain the whole way, which didn’t bode well for the race as it seemed the rainy season was upon us. However we arrived with no incident, quickly parked up and checked into the airport hotel, which we were sharing with what seemed like half the population of China, who fly over in huge groups for the shopping at the outlet stores nearby. I managed a quick spin on my bike between rain showers, and just loved how it felt to speed along the quiet roads without pedestrians or traffic to impede me.
Saturday started quite bright and sunny, and after fighting the Chinese hordes to find a scrap to eat at breakfast, it was all about race preparation, although as mentioned above, it was pretty horrendous. You aren’t allowed to rack your bike unless you have attended a briefing, so with only one English language version, options are limited. I had gone at 10am to pick up some supplies at the expo, then queued for around 90 minutes to get into register and pick up my race pack, so once that was done and briefing attended I was already feeling tired. Next a bento from the convenience store for lunch, then packing the race bags before heading to the bus pickup point to take my bike to T1. That took another good 3 hrs before getting back to the hotel, which meant dinner and early to bed was all that was left for the day.
Due to restriction on private cars, we all needed to take bus journey to get to the swim start and T1, so I left at around 5:30am to ensure enough time to do everything. Due to a very tight 4 loop section on the bike, the swim is let off in waves 15 minutes apart to try to avoid too many people on the bike course at the same time. This translates into a ridiculously long start process, with the male pros set off at 7:30am, my wave at 9am, and the poor female age groupers not until 9:45! Of course transition was closed at same time the pros started, meaning I was hanging around in wet suit in the pouring rain for 90 minutes, not the most auspicious ways to start a day of racing.
Eventually we got underway, with around 250 listed starters in our wave, all bumping and jostling for position. Most races have changed to rolling starts now, so it had been a while since I had experienced the push and shove of a wave start, and I got kicked squarely in the jaw and then directly in the groin! All I can think was that my attacker was doing a very spread eagle form of breaststroke and I am sure it wasnt done on purpose, but it really was not a pleasant sensation. I kept it together reasonably well, although my eventual time was very much on the slow end of my ability, coming out 170th in my age group.
An uneventful T1, it was still pouring with rain meaning the sand stuck all over my feet was joined by mud and grass. I had decided to wear the same tri gear throughout the race (I normally change twice!), although didn’t seem I saved any time on my “as-always-ridiculously-slow” transition. Definitely an area to work on.
The first 65km consists of four 16km loops around the service roads of an industrial estate. Ugly scenery, limited places for spectators and a succession of right angle and U-turns make this a less than stellar course. However it is pretty flat with just one bridge providing elevation, so it suits me in that respect. My first lap was above 31k average pace, and I expected to get faster, despite the pouring rain. However my nightmare scenario then hit… my sexy Di2 gears started to malfunction. At first it was just the odd lack of reaction when I tried to change them, they then slowly became more and more unresponsive. I then had a period of them changing all by themselves, constantly moving into a lighter gear. Eventually they stopped working entirely, leaving me stuck in the 3rd highest gear. While this wasn’t a major problem on the loops, once I got out into the hilly last 25km, things started to get tough. Bleh, I won’t go into detail but twice I had to get off and push up some very sharp gradients (nothing more annoying then well-meaning people telling me to “keep trying” and “don’t give up” as they assume I am too weak to manage the gradient) , the rest of the time I was grinding away, standing in the saddle to get up the hills. Not a very good way to keep up a high average speed and also not a very good way to prep for the run to come. Ultimately I finished with a time just over 3 hrs, which was disappointing as I was definitely on for a sub 3hr before my gears gave up.
My legs were tired from all that grinding, and I was soaked through, so took an executive decision to change into the running shorts that I had packed in my T2 bag, in the hope that some dry and comfortable cladding around my nether regions would perk me up. They did!!!
The run starts with a lap of the school track, then heads out along the side of the highway before cutting through some trails and up to a local view point, then back down and along the seafront to the finish. It is very varied course and very hilly for the first half, with bad road surfaces and climbing up and down several sets of steps in the second, so I really had no idea how I would hold out. The rain was still pouring down although was a few intermittent breaks, however most importantly it was cool. And my legs held up real good!! Damn was a fantastic feeling, getting faster and faster, running up hills everyone else was walking, and as the race wore on, passing more and more people. I was expecting the tiredness to hit at anytime but quite simply it didn’t, and I just kept pushing harder all the way to the finish line. I was stoked I managed to go under 2hrs for the first time in half IM, as well as beat my best time for a 70.3 by 10 minutes
The finish area was flooded and muddy, food almost non-existent, and none of the buzz you would normally associate with the end of a big race. But I was very happy, I had ridden without gears for the majority of the bike, the whole race had been in extremely wet conditions, but I still managed a PB. It made me feel that I am on the right track, that I can still keep improving and most of all, my performance gave me the self-belief and desire to apply myself to see what I can achieve the rest of this season and beyond.
I can’t wait to find out!