Hokkaido Triathlon 2022 – Race report

Way back in the annals of time, around spring, when I was still recovering from my little jaunt across the Sahara, I decided to pick out a few races to encourage myself to focus and get out of my “post MdS funk”. I had a whole bunch of Covid postponed races coming up, but realising I probably wouldn’t be able to make them, I looked at late summer alternatives, eventually plumping for a local Japanese triathlon at the end of August. It was to be held in one of my favourite places in the world – Lake Toya near Niseko, the area which I have spent many enjoyable summer weeks over the past 10+ years, training and escaping the Tokyo heat. Would be perfect, I would go up for my normal summer break and do a tri with friends at the same time.

The beauty of Lake Toya, Hokkaido Triathlon
The beauty of Lake Toya

Well, as all good plans go, it was great until other plans took over, and suddenly I was gearing up to head back to Japan after 8 months buzzing around Europe, and I hadn’t put any serious training in at all. No problem thought I, I hadn’t broadcast the fact I was planning to participate, so I’ll just head up to Hokkaido a week after the race, and no one will be any the wiser…. Ha! I did not count on the detective skills of my old friend Ernesto (also known as Uncle Ernesto or Saint Ernesto, please see the Cozumel race report!). He had spied my name on the starters list, and contacted me to say, (and I paraphrase )“get your lazy arse up here and do the race, there’s only 300 places, you’ve got one of them, your friends are all there, so stop with the bloody excuses and move it..  gringo!”.. or words to that effect. Added to the fact both Jeff and Lesa were doing it, despite having completed the Cork full Ironman just two weeks before, so I didn’t feel I could really refuse.

So, there I was, a couple of days before the race, boarding a plane to Hokkaido. My bike had been collected from my apartment and was being sent up by delivery service (super-efficient and cheap way to send bikes anywhere in Japan), and apart from forgetting my helmet, I was ready to go. Although I wasn’t really ready, I had just 4 weeks of focused training and the race distances were 2km lake swim, 138km very hilly bike, and 23km run, which did not compare favourably to my longest training bike and run of 3hrs and 20km respectively. I am slow at the best of times but I wasn’t even confident I could finish …

Was great to have a bunch of fellow TiTs (triathletes in Tokyo) up for the weekend, as well as a few of the locals I knew well. Ernesto had arranged a pre-race sushi dinner on the Friday, as well as cars to get us to registration the following day (about 1hrs drive from where we were all staying). Registration was doddle (IM could learn a few things),  and the bonhomie was high, and I couldn’t help but get carried away with the enthusiasm. We stopped for a practise swim which allowed me to show off my pathetic sighting skills, so that what was a simple out and back splash around for everyone else, became a full on equilateral triangle of a swim for me, followed by an embarrassing struggle to navigate the rocks and get out of the water. Everyone kindly ignored my pathetic-ness, and then we headed home for a fabulous home cooked pasta party before going back to the hotel room to prepare the transition bags and an early sleep. I also was very pleased to have my son come up for a couple of days, although by the time he had driven up, it was a case of opening the door to let him in, before going back to sleep

Hokkaido Traithlon Pre Race Sushi
Pre Race Sushi with the TiT crew

Race morning started at stupid o’clock, with some onigiri and banana for breakfast, and a quick “good luck” hug from my boy before wheeling the bike down in the dawn light to meet the gang. We  were all assigned cars, and I was with Guillaume and Jean Marc, two native French speakers, who kindly enough spoke in English the whole journey. We first dropped our gear off at T1, then moved about 500m up the road to T2 to set up the bikes. Then down to swim start for a practice dip before lining up ready to go

Swim 2km: 52m51 second (includes T1)

I was very relaxed about this, I have swam in the lake many times, its warm enough to enjoy but cool enough for a wetsuit, the water is clean and the surface very calm. The course required us to swim two and a half triangles with two Australian exits, before a straight line to home. Officially they mentioned 266 starters (although it was less I found out later), so was much smaller than any race I had done before. We all formed lines and entered in waves, with the lack of numbers meaning the normal fighting and washing machine effect of arms and legs was almost (but not totally) missing. Very little to say about the swim other than I was pretty much in my own world, my lack of training showing in the fact didn’t have the physical strength to keep up the pace I started with, slowing down a lot in the last half. Eventually came out a few minutes later than predicted, but not too far off and in pretty good shape.

Ready to Race! Hokkaido Triathlon 2022
Ready to Race!

Bike 138km: 6:22:40 (includes T2)

I had at the last minute switched from doing a complete change from swim shorts, to bike shorts to run shorts, and had gone with a pair of tri shorts for the whole race. This did speed things up for me, and I didn’t need to make the choice between flashing my “cold water shrunk junk” to the waiting world or searching out a change tent. The ride out was fine, and all was good until within the first few KM, they rerouted up a side road to a very short but extremely steep hill. It was a shock to the system, and I heard many a shout of surprise and anguish (this being Japan the swearing was at a minimum!), but it was soon over and the legs were now buzzing. After that rude awakening, was about 30km flat around the lake, before climbing upwards and out towards the beautiful Hokkaido countryside.

Two main points here –

  1. the roads were not closed for traffic, and although we did have stewards at every junction, they weren’t stopping cars, but rather were stopping us to make way for cars. It was very frustrating to push to pass someone only to have them catch up again while stopped at a junction. Although I did notice again how polite the Japanese are, as each person held back to ensure we left according to the order we arrived at the stop sign!
  2. It was hilly. I mean hilly hilly, at no point was I not going up or down, and I swear there was more up then down. Having had so little training I had been worried my legs and cardio vascular system wouldn’t make it, but they did! And I even went as far as to start overtaking the odd person in the last 30km or so.

And it was so nice at the half way point to see not only Motoko san cheering us on, but suddenly to see my son there too. Unfortunately by the time I spotted him it was too late and I had already missed the chance to stop, but was a real boost to the moral and kept me positive for the rest of the race.

After the double puncture at my last triathlon I was happy to have no flats or mishaps, my nutrition was pretty much spot on (they didn’t really have anything other than hydration on the course so was carrying everything I needed), and other than another detour about 1km from home up the same horrible climb we had on the way out (but in reverse), I was happy enough to roll into T2.

Run 2:42:39

Now, this was the big one for me. Running has gone from my strong point to being pretty shitty over the last 4-5 years due to age and injury catching up with me, and I hadn’t managed a decent run for many years. Having done walk/run in training and execution of the MDS, and since then very little of anything, I really didn’t have a clue how I would do. I planned on trying to get around at least half before needing to walk, putting my head down and just plodding on. I saw a couple of fellow Titters once I first got on the course, although when I called out to them I realised they were all heading home as I was heading out on my first of two loops. It’s a lovely course to be out on, a quiet lakeside road, no traffic and some locals here and there cheering you on. The afternoon sun was mitigated by the cover of tress, and the aid stations were well stocked with drinks, gels and happy energetic Japanese exhorting us to “gambare”!

My fears were that my legs and energy would start giving up from around 10km, but somehow, a miracle occurred and while I wasn’t exactly setting the world alight, I hardly slowed and didn’t really feel the need to walk. The return leg of the last lap enabled me to see exactly how many people were behind me, and me being the nerd I am, I started to count them, only giving up when I knew I was at least above the bottom 20%. I even had enough energy to push the last couple km, breaking into a sprint for the final few 100m to take one more person and impress my son, who I expected to be at the finish line… it was very nice to hear my name as I turned the corner, although the finishing area was one of the smallest I have ever seen. My son wasn’t there either, and after giving him a call I found out he hadn’t expected me to finish so quickly and had driven over to another town for something to eat. Luckily someone had noticed he wasn’t around when I started the run and called him to come back, so I only needed to wait about 30 minutes for him to turn up, although he sheepishly confessed that for the first time ever he was hoping I would be slower than expected, to ensure he got back in time.

Result: 9:58:10 147/189 (213 starters)

I absolutely loved the race, with less than 200 finishers was very different from the normal large fancy IM type events I attend. The bike was bloody hard, and at 138km significantly longer than a half, but the roads were pretty smooth and even with traffic stops it felt safe and good. All of the course is in beautiful countryside, the locals were very supportive and we had the perfect weather. Doing any race with friends always makes it more enjoyable and this was great crew, with 4 of our group making the top 10, giving a good indication how strong the club (excluding yours truly) is : Jess 3rd, Francesco 6th, Ian 7th, with special mention going out to Leonardo, who at 22 is still a rookie but managed 10th place over all and first in his age group. At the other end of the age spectrum, Ernesto won his age group too. Personally I was very happy to finish in the time I did considering how little training I had, and felt this was a perfect launch pad to whatever race next looms on the horizon

Amazing views at the top of Mt Yotei. Hokkaido 2022
Amazing views near the top of Mt Yotei

And a final comment. One week after the race a bunch of us decided to climb Yotei san, the local mountain. Was fantastic, total of around 1800m climbing  (according to my Garmin) with amazing views. However me being me, and not having anything but running shoes, I managed to slip on the way down and damage my wrist. Nothing too serious but a visit to the hospital was required and the resulting semi-cast plus the ridiculous DOMS from the return downward climb, meant that the following week I have hardy trained at all. Pah, I never like to make things easy when I can screw up enough to make them hard

Look Mum, I did it again Mum! Hokkaido 2022
Look Mum, look Mum, I did it again Mum!

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