Friday, 13 April 2012

Race Week

I'm in Miyakojima, Japan for my first race of the season - the Strongman Japan triathlon on Sunday, April 15.  A lot of the usual conventions of race week have been thrown out the window - regular sleep has been difficult, with three flights needed to get there totalling 17.5 hours of flight time plus the layover and transit time making the time between leaving the house in Toronto to arriving at the hotel in Miyakojima being 42 hours and 13 time zones ahead of EDT.  Race week diet back home is usually pretty consistent and repeatable; here I've had innumerable foods for the first time, including seaweed kimchee, more types of fish than I can name, unique tasting snacks made with unknown ingredients, and large quantities of sushi and sashimi.  Not quite playing it safe with my GI system.  

With Ironman Japan being cancelled after the 2009 race, Strongman is the premiere long-distance triathlon in Japan and arguably all of Asia.  The majority of the 1500 participants are Japanese nationals, with many of those being residents of Miyakojima itself, with a large contingent of South Koreans as well as a handful of expats and intrepid triathlon adventure travellers.  Additionally, the race committee invites a handful of foreign athletes to experience the race and to meet with locals in a sporting and cultural exchange during race week.  I was fortunate to have been invited to be one of these athletes in 2012, along with the following six accomplished triathletes:

Anton Blokhin: Anton is a professional triathlete from the Ukraine, racing for the pro team.  He's chasing a spot on the start line in Hawaii this year in the professional category, and has an Ironman best of 8:30 from 2011. He was 8th at Strongman Japan 2011.
Beate Görtz: Beate is a triathlete from Cologne, Germany, who was the overall amateur champion at the 2011 Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.
Tim Hola: Tim is from Colorado, USA and has raced Hawaii 13 (!!) times - every year since 1999 - placing as high as 2nd in his age group and was also the 2011 ITU long distance triathlon champion for his age.  This is Tim's second Strongman as he competed here in 2008, placing 5th.
Verena Walter: Verena is from Iserlohn, Germany, and has been an Ironman age-group champion, competing in Hawaii numerous times, and was 8th at Strongman Japan in 2008.
Andre Stuebs: Andre is from Hamburg, Germany, and has competed in 40 (!!) Ironman races all over the world, including many times in Hawaii.  We actually competed against each other at Ironman Canada in 2009. 
Rebekka Trukenmuller: Rebekka is also from Hamburg.  She has won her age group at the Ironman level and was 6th in Hawaii for her age group in 2011.  
The invited athletes heading out on a ride.
On arrival at the Miyakojima airport, we were met by members of the local press who interviewed us about the race, our first impressions of the island, and the hottest current topic in these parts - the proposed North Korean missile launch, whose trajectory was projected to run straight over the island with the chance for debris from the missile to fall from the sky during the race.  The organisers put in a contingency plan that if the missile was launched, they were going to stop the race with everyone holding their position while they gave racers the option to withdraw for their safety.  Luckily for all involved, the missile launch happened on Friday and was more of a bottle rocket than an ICBM.
Newspaper coverage of the foreign athlete arrival at Miyakojima airport
The mayor of Miyakojima welcomed us to his island, he also serves as the Chairman of the Strongman Triathlon.  We each brought gifts that represent our countries for him, Canada was well represented with a toque from Roots (which he immediately put on) and a Canadian flag courtesy of my MP Olivia Chow.  Here's the crew with Mr. Mayor, this shot also made the papers:
Overall the highlight of the week was the visits to two schools - each of the schools put in a tremendous amount of work into preparing cultural presentations for us, and we were able to share some of our knowledge about healthy living, the sport of triathlon, and the culture of our countries in return.  At one of the schools we were given Japanese calligraphy lessons, and the results were pretty good - thanks to our great teachers!

I was invited along with Beate to represent the foreign athletes at the elite athlete press conference on Friday afternoon.  The men's race will be very competitive this year, with the top 9 finishers returning from last year (the top seven were Japanese, which was very meaningful for the Miyakojima people with the race coming only a few weeks after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami - Anton and Korean Ironman champion Byung-Hoon Park rounded out the top 9).  In addition to Beate and I, present at the press conference were the defending champion (Hayato Kawahara), the third and fourth place male finishers from 2011 (Masayuki Matsumaru and Hiroyuki Nishiuchi) as well as the two Japanese female favourites, Hiromi Matsumaru and Mai Taketomo.  Hayato Kawahara ran a 2:46 marathon last year to come from 17 (!) minutes down to take the title, the run course record is 2:45 set by Hungarian Ironman champion Peter Kropko and Hayato is gunning for it on Sunday.  
Elite athlete press conference
The 28th annual Strongman weekend officially kicked off on Friday with the welcome dinner, complete with great entertainment, beautiful ceremonies and presentation of the flags for the 19 countries that will be represented out on the course on Sunday.  The athlete oath (given by Hayato, the defending champion) and the athlete toast (complete with special edition Strongman beer from the Orion Brewery) were my highlights.
Athlete toast with the invited athletes and Hayato, the defending champ
After a super busy week, today has no formal schedule so it's time to relax, pack the race bags and do a final bike check before an early dinner and some final rest before the race.  This is the first year the organisers are trying online tracking and potentially online video for the race, here is the link:

Ganbare Nippon!


  1. Awesome stuff Andrew - the MGCC is cheering you on from back home. Good luck - tailwindz

  2. GOOD LUCK!!! Tracking your results now!

  3. So.. I was searching for the race results and my key words snagged your blog. You did a great job today in your race, and you also did a great job on this blog summarizing the spirit of Miyako and many of the emotions surrounding the event. We are honored to have you here. And hope you can return again to compete in the All Japan Miyakojima Triathlon.

    --Mary Beth

  4. Great work buddy - really nice write-up.

  5. Hey Andrew I was part of your seminar on high-performance training at UofT. Since then I have been reading your blog as it is a source of inspiration for me (and probably for other beginners too); keep it up! And by the way well done in Japan.