This season has been a little different than any other. Being sick for the better part of a couple of months left me questioning when I was going to get my racing season started. My plan was to do some 70.3 races early and then Ironman Coeur D’alene. Well the 70.3 races never happened, and due to certain commitments it looked like IM CDA was going to be questionable. In the middle of April, Paula came to me with a proposal. How about doing IM Japan?? This was something that had not entered my radar at all – but it got me thinking. There were a couple of reasons that this started to sound appealing. First of all, it would be nice to do something different – for the past 5 years, I have pretty much done the same thing each season. So, to mix things up might add that little spark that I needed. Secondly, after the disappointment of Hawaii last year (when I focused so hard and for so long on the one race and then to have it turn out like it did) – this would be about as much of a 180 from that as you can get. I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to go into an Ironman race a little on the underdone side of things? To put in some good training, but not focus for months and months getting everything just so. So from the point of deciding that yes, this sounded like a good idea, we had about 5 weeks to prepare. This would give us time to get in about 5 long rides and 3-4 long runs. Paula made the commitment to train with me and go and do the race as well. For her, this would be her first opportunity in a couple of years to do and IM race, and her only opportunity this year. Our training went well – it is amazing how quickly things come around when you don’t force them. We kept the majority of the long rides well in control, and a couple of the longer ones at a low HR. By doing this, we got ourselves into pretty decent shape and by no means over trained. Wow, imagine that!!!!
Before we new it, we were off on our journey. I had not been to Japan for 9 years – I have done and won the IM Japan race 3 times (1995-1997) but it had been a long time. Also, when I did the IM Japan race it was in Lake Biwa, for the past 6 years it has moved to the Fukue Island. So this was going to be a new experience. Luckily Paula had done (and won) the race in 2002 – so she had an idea of what was going on. She was going to be the tour guide for the trip. I was very impressed with how she very quickly remembered where everything was – I spent the whole trip not having a clue where anything was – including the race course. I always tell everyone that you need to take the responsibility to know the course – well this was something that I certainly did not do. I had only seen about ¼ of the bike course – I was going with the assumption that ignorance was bliss!!! The Japanese are very, very organized, so I knew (or hoped) that the course would be very well marked and that there really would not be any chance of going off course.
After arriving in Fukue – things continued on the “go with the flow” theme. Our bikes did not make the short commuter flight with us and would have to be ferried over – so needless to say we were not going to get them until Thursday. So when we arrived on Wednesday we headed out for a run and went to the local pool. As soon as we got our bikes on Thursday – we headed out for a ride. I got a chance to get a small taste of what the course was going to be like. The bike course is one of the more challenging IM courses around. Friday arrived with pouring rain – well, I guess we weren’t going to be able to ride our bikes. We waited around until 10am to see if there might be the slightest chance that the weather would clear – NOT!! So, we went out for a little jog – in the pouring rain and gale force winds. Not knowing what else to do with ourselves we decided to take a taxi to the pool again. This was a running joke between Paula and me. With the taxi ride and admission to the pool, we were basically paying about the equivalent of $100 for our 2 short 1000m swims. We truly were desperate!!! Saturday arrived pretty similar to Friday with the exception that the wind had died down. We were really hoping that at some point we could get on our bikes, just as a last minute check to make sure everything was working – we had only ridden once so far!!! Mother Nature did cooperate and allow us to get in a short 45 minute spin before handing in all bikes and all of our gear.
The Japanese are very “rules” oriented – the rules are black and white and you don’t question them at all. I have never seen such an extensive check in as they had here. Like I do at all races, I trimmed down the numbers that go on my helmet – this was a clear violating of the rules. I had to remove these stickers and put in new ones. Paula had a little issue with her helmet as a tiny piece of the inner foam had come away during the travel. They almost did not let her use the helmet – that would have been a little bit of a nightmare. Needless to say, we got everything handed in and all that was left now was to wait for the race.
The big talk around town was the weather – what was it going to be like on race day. The organizers were even setting up contingency plans – due to the fact that if the wind was like it had been a couple of days before there was a good chance that the swim would have to be either shortened or cancelled all together. This was certainly out of our control, so we just waited to see what would happen race morning. We awoke to clear skies but very, very windy conditions. Luckily the wind was the opposite of what it had been and the swim was going to be able to happen. Even though the swim is the least enjoyable part for me, when you travel thousands of miles to do and Ironman – you want to do an Ironman.
We made our way to the swim start which was about 20 miles outside town. I had not been nervous at all during the week, and wasn’t even that nervous in the morning. I guess excitement was more how I would describe things – I wanted to get our “racing experiment” underway. The wind continued to howl as we got ready for the race – it was going to be an interesting day. Not only is the course tough, you add in the wind and it was going to make for a very difficult day.
Before I new it, the gun went off, and we were on our way. All looked good for the swim until you got out past the breakwater and then it was like being in a washing machine. I was certain (and hopeful at that point) that when we came around on the first lap, they were going tell us that the swim would have to be shortened to 1 loop. No such luck!! We were going to have to go through it all again on the second lap. I was really happy when the swim was done. I came out of the water in my usual position – a ways back from the leaders.
Off on the bike we headed into the windy, hilly conditions. I always have trouble getting going in the early parts of the race and this was no different. I just kept telling myself – just pretend you are on a training ride and keep going. I started to get rolling after about 40 miles or so. The bike course is awesome – you don’t get bored on bit. It really is my type of course with very few flat sections. The blessing also is that because it is hilly, a lot of the time you were sheltered from the crazy wind. Not to say that there weren’t many points where I was cursing the wind, but it could have been much worse. By the end of the bike, I had caught back up to Aussie Angela Milne (she had passed me early on in the bike) and only had Sarah Fein ahead. Sarah was quite a ways ahead however – 10 minutes or so.
After the disastrous run in Hawaii last year, I must say I was a little anxious about the run. Would my old form return??? I started the run, and my legs felt incredible – had I really just swam 2.4 miles and rode 112??? It was a great feeling. Now I just had to focus ahead and try and catch Sarah. I just plugged away and at about 12-13km I caught her. I continued to run strong and get a bit of a cushion. A marathon is a long way, and you just never know what is going to happen so I needed to get as much distance as possible between myself and Sarah. There really was no way of knowing just how far ahead I was, so I tried to maintain a decent pace the whole way. My legs started to tire a little the last 10km or so, so I just did what I could do to minimize the damage. I made my way into town towards the finish line. It was a great feeling – I was going to win my 15th Ironman title. At this point in my career, I never know whether I will win another or not. So it is an incredibly rewarding and satisfying feeling to win!!!! Sarah Fein came in second and Angela Milne 3rd. Paula held strong for an impressive 4th place.
Well our “racing experiment” was successful. You really can get yourself ready for an Ironman in 5 weeks!!!! Now it is time to get recovered – I have a feeling that this will be the downside of the experiment, the recovery may take a little longer. My plan is now to do some shorter races, some of the 70.3 races and local events before getting ready for Hawaii. I am going to take a page out of this book when it comes to my preparation for Hawaii – less is more!!!!