Maebashi Hill Climb – 2014 (前橋ヒルクライム)

Mt. Akagi Hill Climb bike race 2014

Up up and away!

Up up and away!

Up Up and Away!

Up Up and Away!

This year’s bicycle race as expected was a very well run and organized event.  Without a doubt it’s the biggest novice race of the year for Gunma Japan.  Anyone can enter as long as you register on time which is where the challenge lies.  About 5 months prior to the race they open up the on-line entry at 8 pm and within a couple hours it is sold out.  I believe they allow just over 3000 participants to enter.    However, I didn’t have any trouble getting registered on line and was done within 10 minutes of starting.  The biggest hick-up for most foreigners would be the obstacle of reading Japanese.

Can you see me?

Can you see me?

"This microchip strapped to my leg is weighing me down man"!

“This microchip strapped to my leg is weighing me down man”!

The night before the race I spent a couple hours cleaning the bike thoroughly, removing the cassettes, degreasing them and the chain and replacing the brake shoes with the ones for carbon wheels.  Sounds easy enough but to do it right takes a little time.  After that I took the bike to my friend Ka Chan’s house who is a master at adjusting the gears so that they change perfectly.  He also has an air pressure gun that helped get out some extra dirt from those tough places.  The bike was brand new and fast again!

Race Day

Da Boyz cycling club

I woke up before my alarm which was set to go off at 3:30 a.m.  My friend Masashi said he’d be at my house at 4 but he showed up 15 minutes early.   At that time of the night outside is still sleeping and blackness lies everywhere.   We loaded my bike into his SUV and headed to Maebashi where we have  a secret parking spot courteous of a friend’s friend.  For others I’m sure finding parking would be a challenge.  We saw some cyclists heading to the event by bicycle at 4 a.m.  and I was happy that wasn’t me.  Close to Maebashi we witnessed a vehicle accent where a truck in front of us flipped over onto its side.  Fortunately no one was hurt and we avoided the traffic jam that followed.

Once we arrived at the parking lot our friends showed up in separate vehicles shortly after.  We all unloaded our bicycles and got dressed for the race.  It was very cold in the morning with a strong wind adding to the chills.  I did my pre race tradition of going to the bathroom 3 times at the nearby toilet stall which my friends joke was put there just for me.  I joke back saying “why spend thousands on a lighter bicycle when you can drop a kilo or two in body weight”.   I had to go again just prior to the race but I’m not the only one – the toilets provided for the race have line-ups going around the block.  While this will make some angry at me, instead of standing in that line I went into the women’s room instead.  When you have to go you have to go.

The Race

2014 is the 4th year for this Hill Climb bike race to take place.  This is my third consecutive race here.  The Maebashi Hill Climb bike race is open to anyone.  It’s a 20 KM ride from Maebashi  to the top of Mt. Akagi.  It’s 20.8 KM of straight climbing with a total elevation gain of 1,313 meters.  The average grade is 7%.  The toughest grade is around 9.5%.  The first half of the climb is the easiest as you work your way from the city to the base of the mountain and then it gets quite steep in parts.

Since there are over 3000 participants the race is divided into groups.  Everyone has a Velcro microchip strap you attach to one of your ankles which reads the start and finish line to accurately record your person time and then later the results are shown to see where you stand with the fastest person or how you fared with your results from previous races.

My number this year is 322 and my group was the second to charge up the mountain.  The first group was composed mostly of pros and the fastest of the fast.  They left at 7.  My group  left next  at 7:05.

This year there was a very strong head wind so right from the beginning I found a team that were drafting off each other and I slipped in behind.  I think this helped me out a lot.  I just stared at the back wheel of some young guns and concentrated on an even rhythm and my breathing.  We did well to pass a lot of riders but the worry is to still have gas in the tank for the tough section.  I was careful to keep my heart rate to a comfortable level and make sure my legs didn’t burn up but at the same time pushed myself as hard as I could for the race.

Last year I started in a later group because my time the year before was 1:15 but this year they put me in the fast group because last year’s time was up in the top 2% at 1:09:36.   So this year when climbing I was thinking I wasn’t very strong because I wasn’t passing many people.  But later I realized it was because I was just in a group full of similar riders.  I am happy to have been put in this group where other strong riders forced me to compete at a higher level.

Mentally, the race went by a lot faster this year.  I think working on not letting other riders get away from me helped keep my mind occupied.  I was quite surprised when I realized there was only 1 KM to go.  When I went around the last hairpin corner and saw the 600 meter straight to the finish I went all out like everyone else and was neck to neck with another cyclist who immediately became my obsession to beat and on every last ounce of energy I could muster I beat him by a small wheels length to finish up this year’s Maebashi Hill Climb.

Almost there!

Almost there!

Unfortunately just like last year, once you finish there is nowhere to warm down and my leg muscles pretty much went into shock and started squeezing and burning up on me.  I tried to ride around in small circles and keep the legs spinning but it didn’t help and for a good hour after the race my legs were in pain and I couldn’t sit down.    I waited for my friends to make it to the top and then we all headed to the parking lot near Onuma Lake to get our bags that were sent up prior to the race.  There, we all enjoyed a coffee and cake courteous of a coupon that came with registration.  I had to enjoy my coffee standing though and that was worth a few good jokes and teases from my friends.

"Maybe I should call a Taxi"?

“Maybe I should call a Taxi”?

My time this year was 1:08:45 which was almost a minute faster than last year.  It put me  14th out of 1000 40 year olds, and 45th out of 3000 cyclists.  That’s in the top 2% again so I’m quite pleased with my results.  My weekly riding partner and good friend Yukiya Watanabe who turned 60 this year managed to get 3rd place over all for his age group.  We were all thrilled for him.  He got to stand up on the stage and receive a handful of prizes and a kiss from the good looking women.  I think he liked the kisses more than the prizes.

After the race was over and my legs started to feel a little better, I rode my bike home via the other side of the mountain.  It was only about 35 KM and mostly downhill.  I rode home so I could get back quickly and shower up and head to my afternoon gig.  I had a showtime at a theme park which I performed until 4 pm.   After that, I got home, showered again and then went to a BBQ with my family to hook up with our cycling group “Da Boyz” that rode the race.   We ate and drank without a care of calorie intake and celebrated the day.

 

My legs got cramps. Here I'm stretching them.

My legs got cramps. Here I’m stretching them.

It was a perfect day!

See you next year.

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Utsukushigahara Hill Climb Bike Race 2014

Utsukushigahara homepageWe drove up to Matsumoto from Gunma’s Numata city around 12:30 pm on Saturday.  We took the low roads instead of the highway because it is really only about 30 minutes difference and it’s a much nicer drive. 

Looks easy via this view doesn't it?

Looks easy via this view doesn’t it?

It rained all day Saturday and it poured buckets during the night.  But by 5 a.m. it had stopped and the clouds started to break.  The 4 of us woke up in our small room, had some coffee, energy bars and what not, got changed, prepared our bikes and headed to the race.  I did this race 2 years ago and my time was 1:22:23 .   I beat it by ove 7 minutes this year.  Stats are at the end of this blog.

Utsukushigahara Hills of ustsukushiWhen I entered for this race on-line my friend talked me into going in the “expert” class which I totally regretted this morning when I woke up and started getting really nervous.  Then to make it look like I’m really cocky, I placed my bike right at the front of the line where I stood next to Japanese legend Imanaka Daisuke san (He has raced in the Tour de France) and shared a lengthy conversation.  I’m sure it will appear on the NEWS and make it look like I’m some “foreign” ex pro or something. 

Me and Imanaka Daisuke

But that image quickly changed when they counted down and we all raced off to start the climb and I got swallowed up!  The first 5 KM are very steep with an average grade of 18% and everyone was out of their saddles. 

IMG_4012 IMG_4010

That quickly separated the men from the boys but to my surprise I was still somewhere near the front 30%.  I found a young guy and stuck my wheel right behind his and kept my head down.  By the 8 KM mark I thought I had over exerted myself too early and I was thinking of falling off his wheel until we got a nice 4% grade for 400 meters which got my lungs back.  After that I actually ended up pulling him for a little while (you never know how the others are holding up do you?).  Then out of the blue Mr. Imanaka smoothly rides by me and says in Japanese, “Hey, you’re strong”! And I replied, “Yeah, up until this moment”.  I’d love to say “It’s all down here from here” but that really has a different meaning in cycling does it?

IMG_4015 IMG_4011
My heart-rate was quite high and I worried about how long I could hold on but I somehow managed until the 16 KM mark where it leveled out and even descended in some parts!  At my 72 kg weight I’m not designed for hill climbing.  I carry a lot of upper body muscle.  Especially with these 58-62 kg riders next to me.  But at the top when it leveled for 3 KM I was strong as could be and I actually left a few of the guys I was riding with behind.  Don’t ask me how!  However, one of them stayed with me and we raced the last 200 meter hill and I lost by a foot!  I think he sling shot from my draft but I don’t mind though since he was half my age and that’s a smart tactic.  In fact, as I mentioned, someone carried me for about 6 KM. I had a great time.  My time was 1:15:25 which is about 7 minutes faster than before.  In the champion class I finished 39th.  Most champion riders were in their 20’s though.  Plus out of 498 forty year old’s, I placed 13th.  But here’s the weird facts.
If I was in the 20 year old group I’d have placed 9th out of 134 riders.

Finally over the topCrossing the finish line.

In the 30 year old group my time would have made me 31st our of 354 riders.  And in the 40 year old group I’d have been 14th out of 491 riders.  So, all in all I’m happy with that.  More important “Da Boyz” and I shared some great moments and a heap of laughs.

IMG_4022 IMG_4014 Da BoyzBeer time.

2013 in a Nutshell!

Well 2013 was another great year.

Feel the pain in the thighs.

I trained hard with “Da Boyz” and raced a lot. I rode over 10,000 km’s and I also won 2 races. One of those races was by a lot!

That's Me at the Top.  Woot Woot

That’s Me at the Top. Woot Woot

I really love cycling in Japan especially where I live in Numata. The mountain roads around here are clean and hardly used. Some early morning rides it feels like the road was made just for me. I’m looking forward to next year already. I will upgrade my bicycle group set Dura-Ace to the 9000 mechanical and probably buy a new training wheel-set.

Financially things were great, too. My best friend Ward did wonders with his day trading bringing me in over 17% profit over the year. I could “almost” quit my day job but not just yet. Also, Capital Clean Seed stock which I have some big money tied up in has finally started to climb and I’m excited to where it’ll go this year. If things go as predicted my move back to Canada won’t be as scary as I think. I will pray to the money gods on that one! It would really give me a lot of options on how to take care of my family which is the main reason I’ve been working so hard in the first place.

My little girl Victoria is now almost 2 years 6 months and she just gets cuter to me every day. She’s talking and developing her own personality and fortunately she loves playing together with daddy. She starts my days off by saying “Good morning daddy” and she never shy’s away from saying “I love you daddy”. What more could a father ask for? People tell me it will one day change and if they’re right, I best absorb every moment I can right now. Nothing makes me feel like I have a purpose more than my daughter.

Let's rock 2014!In August, I took 2 weeks and headed to Nashville Tennessee to record my latest album. I called up Aussie Greg Arnold again to produce it and we met up in a hotel near downtown Nashville to bash out the songs in pre-production before heading over to Alex the Great studio to have Brad Jones engineer and co-produce. The recording went well and it was an incredible experience. Brad would drive us to a different restaurant ever day around 3 to experience Southern food. The cool thing about the studio was that it was attached to a guest house which was included in the studio fee. I slept in the big studio room every night trying to finish off lyrics.  It was so cool looking around the room at the double bass, the grand piano, the drums all mic-ed up, and the foam carefully placed for sound just before closing my eyes and dreaming.  A kid in a candy store! The album is finally out and in boxes but I don’t plan on releasing it until January 2014. It’s titled, “Every Sunrise”.

Newest album, "Every Sunrise"

Newest album, “Every Sunrise”

Recording

I also hooked up with my brother in Nashville. He flew in for 2 nights to see me. It was really great to spend quality time with him. We had no family distractions and it was the icing on the cake to make it a memory I will not forget.

My Bro and I in Nashville 2013

I had a good year of gigging too. I am very fortunate to have my job at Lockheart castle. Without that second income things would be a lot different for us. But I also landed a few new gigs that could promise to become a regular event.

The worst thing of 2013 was word that my father has cancer in his liver and lungs. He’s on chemo now as I write this but I should point out that he got a phone call 3 days ago saying his last CT scan showed “a significant decrease of cancer in his liver” which has a lot of us family members excited. I will pray that the drugs continue to work and that my father kicks cancer in 2014.

Love my dad

Love my dad

So 2014 is just around the corner and if there are no hick-ups along the way I expect I will continue to do all the things I love, like look after my family, train hard on the road bike, race hard, gig every weekend, save money, write songs, sell the new album, and do my best to stay healthy and happy. Thank you 2013 and hello 2014!

JCRC – Gunma Bicycle Race. July 14th, 2013. Winner!

Sunday July 14th I entered a race with JCRC (Japan Cycling Racing Club)  My first time to this event and I was a little nervous. There were heaps of intimidating riders who had come from all over Japan. It was as expected a well organized event.

One lap is 6 km.

One lap is 6 km.

We followed the pace motorbike for the first 2 km until we reached the first hill and then the race was on. I wanted to stay near the front of the pack because of all the dangerous corners, hairpins and bad road sections. I thought I might have an advantage on the hilly sections if I was close to the front because I live in the mountains and climb them every day, so that if a chance came – I might be able to break away. Well, in the very first loop as we were climbing the steepest section near the end I pulled away effortlessly. I didn’t know if they all were saving themselves or what? I thought about falling back into the pack and waiting until later in the ride to attack but it was only a 24 km race so I didn’t. I said good-bye and left them and rode behind the pace bike until the finish. I totally expected to be swallowed up by the group near the end but that never happened. I won by a good 1 minute and 20 seconds. I totally surprised myself. I wanted to finish in the top 5 but instead, left everyone behind.

That's Me at the Top.  Woot Woot

That’s Me at the Top. Woot Woot

A happy day pour moi.

It reminded me of my youth in Canada when I used to do well in the race circuit but never thought at this age I’d still have something to offer. This ain’t the Tour de France I know! But it was packed and riders came from all over Japan, booked hotels and probably set out to do well, too.  I’ll pat myself on the back, sleep well and then go about my daily life again tomorrow like it was dream!

Vitus frame, the first look clipless pedals and the first Oakley cycling glasses.  Cooooool

Vitus frame, the first look clipless pedals and the first Oakley cycling glasses. Cooooool

Sorry for the bragging here but hey… I don’t get a chance to do it so often!  And… this is my blog. hee-hee

Avg HR: 169 bpm   Avg Pace:  37 km/hr

I Lost the Fight with TREK – Part 3

The 3rd and final episode of the ongoing saga regarding my TREK replacement frame ended with the protagonist getting a pump shoved in his front wheel by TREK and sliding on pavement with road cherries.

My baby.  We've been through a lot of miles together.

The non Hollywood story is much more anticlimactic with a simple email from TREK Japan that reads:

Hello Kelly,

We are sorry to keep you waiting.

This past week the US customer service manager, APAC customer service manager, sales rep and I discussed and concluded that we cannot replace this frame.

The reason is that the store sold the custom painted frame, and then it was taken home.

However, we are working with the shop on options to help you on their behalf.

The store mentioned that they would like to contact you but have had difficulty contacted your cell phone.

Could we tell them your email address?

We appreciate your patience in working through this!

 

Regards,

XXXX

So, I’m left with the new frame.   I don’t mind it. I would have preferred a different color.  But my friends tell me they like it.  What do you think?

The new Frame colors.  Not ugly at all.  But not what I wanted.

The new Frame colors. Not ugly at all. But not what I wanted.

10562531_686656801420931_7810367393120019470_o 1795270_691953967557881_5183402139455113107_o

 

Haruna Hill Climb – May 19th 2013

Feel the pain in the thighs.

Great day. Got up at 3 am and met friends at Numata Inta at 4 am. From there we drove to the race in separate cars. Over 4500 people participated so you can imagine the ordeal with organization. But I must say everything was done flawlessly. There were almost as many volunteers as racers! I found my parking area and got myself together (including the unfortunate pre-race poop.

Haruna course

Where is everyone?
No chance of getting in a warm up with that many riders. My group (the 4000 numbers) were the 3rd set to go but we waited an hour sharing nervous small talk before the count down.
Once underway, the course started up relatively easy. Just a small grade for the 1st 3 km until it started to present its toughness. I was worried of going too hard at the beginning and having nothing left near the end so I paced myself accordingly. My legs were heavy right off the bat because of lack of warm up. People were passing me and I thought “dang”, this isn’t what I wanted. But I stuck with my gut and as the race progressed I started to see that there were no more “4000” numbers and I slowly passed the 3000 group, the 2000 group and ended up finishing surrounded by the very first group to leave! Now I do realize that those in front that were faster were long gone but to toot my own horn no one from behind passed me.

High Ho, A climbng we will go.
The last 4 km was very steep and I passed a lot of people there. I took the inside lanes which were steeper but faster if you have the legs. The race was only 15 km and before I knew it, I was sprinting for the last 100 meters.
I started my Garmin 500 from the parking lot so it was off mark. I was hoping for a sub 50 minutes but was doubtful after seeing others results. When I got mine it was 47.12.12 minutes. 3 minutes faster than I expected.

47 mintues!

The overall results are pleasantly surprising.  I was 21st out of 989 40-50 year olds. If my math is right, I believe out of 4500 plus participants I was 61st overall. I suppose living in the mountains has really helped my training.  And I’m sure being 10 kilo’s (22 lbs) lighter is a major bonus, too.

Me and my friend Yukiya desending after race.

Doing well has motivated me to train even harder for the rest of the season.

Haruna placement

I Lost the Fight with TREK – Part 3

The 3rd and final episode of the ongoing saga regarding my TREK replacement frame ended with the protagonist getting a pump shoved in his front wheel by TREK and sliding on pavement with road cherries.

The new Frame colors.  Not ugly at all.  But not what I wanted.

The new Frame colors. Not ugly at all. But not what I wanted.

Goes so well with my gear.

This is the paint job I was hoping for but lost.

The non Hollywood story is much more anticlimactic with a simple email from TREK Japan that reads:

Hello Kelly,

We are sorry to keep you waiting.

This past week the US customer service manager, APAC customer service manager, sales rep and I discussed and concluded that we cannot replace this frame.

The reason is that the store sold the custom painted frame, and then it was taken home.

However, we are working with the shop on options to help you on their behalf.

The store mentioned that they would like to contact you but have had difficulty contacted your cell phone.

Could we tell them your email address?

We appreciate your patience in working through this!

Regards,

XXXX

Forced to use my winter bike for races since my Madone surrendered to the cycling Gods.

Forced to use my winter bike for races since my Madone surrendered to the cycling Gods.

So I talked to the store out of curiosity what those “options” could be and unfortunately they didn’t lead to a discount.  The store owner just said he looked into finding someone who privately re-paints frames but came up with no one who will do carbon frames. 

So the story ends there.  No riding off into the sunset with a gold medal around my neck on my dream bike.  But, at the end of the day this story is still pretty good.  I love the frame, like the colors and am fortunate to be able to enjoy riding a very, very nice bike.

Read Part Two

Read Part One