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. 

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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?

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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.

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Winter Cycling. – I’ll ride it out.

zig zag is a good thing.

zig zag is a good thing.

Winter is here bringing with it on most days, bitter cold weather with strong winds and very little sunlight.

I try my best to juggle things around to squeeze a ride in when I can but it’s a lot harder while fighting the elements.  I don’t mind not going out as regular during this season.  I’m a guy who enjoys taking a short break from training hard every day.

Winter is a time to get back into the gym, work on the upper body and the core.  It’s also hockey season and skating is another great cross trainer.  Still, I like to get out on the bike at least once a week so the legs don’t completely forget all that hard work they did throughout the year.  The gym also has a trainer that I ride every day for around 30 – 40 minutes. But they should replace the word “trainer” with the word “boring”.

It serves its purpose.

I’ll be excited to ride come March.  I have a new TREK Madone 6.5 waiting for me and it’s sure to bring a load of inspiration.

For now, I’ll ride out the winter.  🙂

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Utsukushigahara Hill Climb Bike Race 2012

It'd be better in English I'm sure!

The Distance:  21.6 KM.   My Time:  01:22.54   Average speed:  15.6%

21.60km | 13.42mi

Starting Altitude:
680m | 2,231ft

Finishing Altitude:
1,980m | 6,496ft

Average Gradient: 7.5%

Elevation Gain:
1,300m | 4,265ft

Surface Type:
Paved

Difficulty: High

It's like the start of a roller coaster ride.

I expected to see a lot more foreigners at this race as it’s very popular. I guess it meets its 2500 rider quota in half a day when registering and maybe many of them couldn’t get in? I’ve been to a dozen races in the last year and usually there are some very strong foreign cyclists at the events.

This is a short steep hill climb to the top of Utsukushigahara. It’s a very tough race with the first 4 km at a grade of over 18% (20% depending who you talk to)! The riders leaving in groups at 1 minute intervals. The pro riders left first. It decided to rain hard the whole day making it even harder to climb. Standing was tough as the back wheel slipped quite easily. When you reached the top it was foggy with blasting high winds and extremely cold. Fortunately the event it was well organized and we were able to send up a bag full of descending colder weather wear and what-have-you for when you finished the race.

After the race returning to the base.

I felt strong, passed a lot of people and never got passed once (mind you, I wasn’t racing with the pros and I was one of the later groups to leave)! I had no idea how I did over all when I was climbing but I was certain there is a lot of room for improvement. Hill climbs are races that give advantage to tiny light weight riders which I am not. As my DM friend  says “no point buying lighter wheels etc when the body itself could be lighter”.

All in all a fun event and now I have a time I will aim to beat next year. Hopefully the sun will be out by then. :))

First Group Ride of the Year.

It’s been a long winter.  There hasn’t been a lot of snow this year but the winds and the temperature have made it exceptionally cold.  Yesterday was Tuesday but it was a national holiday here in Japan and for a rare occasion it was sunny, calm and warm (8 degrees Celsius).  I met up with two Japanese friends at a local 7-11 and headed out for our 60 km ride.

Start of the season is always painful on the pride.

I could tell we were all a little less fit than we were before winter kicked in.  I can usually ride 60 km with juice left over but today I was happy it was finished.  One of the guys bonked about 40 km in and so the other friend and I spent a lot of time at the top of hills waiting for him.  I guess all my indoor stationary cycling wasn’t in vain after all.

This was only the 2nd time I got to try out my Garmin 500 with heart rate monitor and cadence.  It was great to see all the details of the ride later on my computer and I’m looking forward to comparing my fitness down the road.

First race of the year is just a month away on April 22nd.  It’s only a short 13 km hill climb but I better get some more interval training in if I’m going to have a time I’ll be happy with.

2011. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

2011 ended up being a busy but fun year for the most part.  Any year you can look back on and recall that you and everyone you care for were all relatively healthy is a good one.

My father had a fight with cancer at the end of 2010 and was very, very ill but he bounced back to enjoy 2011 for the most part. Jersey signed by all the Canucks.

Though a lot happens in a year, our biggest news was the birth of our beautiful baby girl on July 13th at 7:06 am.  Her name is Victoria Linda Pettit and she’s now the centre of our small bubble.

Victoria Linda Pettit July 13, 2011

It was fun watching Harumi’s journey through pregnancy and thrilling to watch her give birth to our first child together.  I’ll never forget that exact moment of watching Victoria enter our world. I felt useless as Harumi battled the delivery bravely.

We traveled a lot in 2011.  I went to Canada on my own for Xmas as I was concerned for my dads health.  He was weak when I was there but he was slowly recovering.  I managed to spend a night at Ward’s and a couple days with Chris but for the most part I just relaxed with my dad.  My mom was in Phoenix and I was disappointed I didn’t get to see her but if I had known what lay ahead, I would have been fine.

The horrific incident caused by the March 11th earthquake found my family and I packing and heading to Scottsdale Arizona for a month. Nothing left. We stayed in my moms condo down there trying to pretend we were on holidays but really, stressed about our future with one eye on CNN news and the other looking to the future unknown.  We came back to Japan as I had to return to work and decided to stay here as things were looking better.  Later in early December 2011, I went up to Iwate prefecture to Ootsuchi city to do a volunteer concert for the people.  The Canadian Embassy had contacted me to help and it wasn’t hard to make up my mind.  Photos really don’t express the heavy emotions one gets while being there.  I was moved beyond words.

In mid November, my mom who I hadn’t see for a good year and a half decided she needed to see her new grandchild and booked a flight to hang with us for 2 weeks.  We had an incredible time drinking wine every night, indulging in too many truffles, eating out for lunch, and always laughing.  She was a great sport for putting up with our small, embarrassing apartment.  Despite the lack of fluency in English, Harumi managed to share her feelings and get her point across quite well.  The two of them together were devilish and great company and I was so happy to see them get along so well.   Victoria loves her grandma and we all hope it isn’t too long before they reconnect. Family is everything.

I had knee surgery in mid January 2011 to try and repair my left meniscus.  It was a 3.5 hour job and a month in a cast followed by rehabilitation.  I bought a new bicycle in April though and by May I was on it riding almost every day.  The knee still isn’t perfect and now the other knee is giving my troubles, but it wasn’t bad enough to stop me from riding over 7000 km and entering a couple races.  I lost a few pounds and I feel rejuvenated. Group rides are always enjoyable.

2012 promises to be full of a lot of the same if all goes according to plan (which it usually doesn’t).

We will raise Victoria here for the year.  I will attempt to ride twice as far as last year and enter twice as many races.  We will travel.  Maybe all of us will go to Brazil, or I’ll just send my family there and I’ll go to Canada.  Maybe I’ll record my new CD in Nashville USA.  I’m praying some of my songs that are in negotiation for movies will finally get accepted.  I’m hoping financially we can save a little more m/oney (although after buying a new car and TV I’m not sure about that).


But again, if in 2012 everyone remains healthy and happy, then life is perfect.Image

Giro de Hotaka bicycle race.

November 6th, 2011

It rained just once this week.  Yep, during race day of course.  Oh, and it rained hard.

I couldn’t sleep that night due to nerves and finally got out of bed at 4 a.m.  I arrived at my friends’ house at 5 and we drove to the race together talking strategy and pace. 

It was early, cold and wet and I was concerned about being able to ride the 120 km race (74.56 miles) in those conditions.  Because I work 7 days a week I haven’t had the time to ride over 100 KM all year.  Most of my rides are around 50 or 60 km (31 ~ 37 miles).  I knew I could do it but I wasn’t sure how sluggish I’d be. 

Giro de Hotaka. 7th Place.

This race was a little different from regular races and it doesn’t attract many pro riders.  In fact, out of the 128 riders there were only 2 at this event.  They were mostly using it for training I believe.  I think because we shared the roads with traffic and even had to stop at 1 or 2 traffic lights makes it less attractive.  However, when the awards were being handed out at the end, both pro riders agreed that it was one of the toughest courses they’ve ridden.  There is hardly a flat section to the race and if you’re not going down one side of a mountain, you are climbing the other. 

So, my plan was to start off with a comfortable pace and ride my own ride.  Let people pass me.  Don’t get competitive.  Save energy.  Finish!

The ride started with a 10 km (6.2 m) downhill and then 26 km (16.15 m) up and up and up.  There was an aid station at the top where I fueled up before going down the backside.  It was cold, wet and slippery with leafs and switch back corners but only one accident that I witnessed.  He went over a bank and into the river the poor guy!  I think only his pride was hurt though.

The last 20 km (12.4 m) was by far the toughest.  At the 100 km (62 m) mark the climb up Semene mountain pass to Katashina became really steep.  To my surprise those riders I let go ahead at the beginning were starting to appear in my sight.  Again, I just wanted to get up and over the hill but while doing so I passed a lot of riders.  I must confess when I finally reached the top and saw the tunnel I’d been praying for, I was bagged.  Then there was a nice 9 km downhill coast to get the legs back (somewhat) before having to do another grueling last 9 km climb to the finish.  How evil of them!

On the final 9 km I saw another 3 riders who I overtook.  The bike race brochure reads “120 km Giro De Hotaka”.  During the last stretch my bike computer was reading 118 as I climbed the tough grade.  I was thinking to myself,  “No, not another 2 km of this!  I don’t think I can do it.”   Then as I rounded the corner I saw the finish line in front of me at the 119 km mark.  That was a welcomed surprise (finishing 1 km earlier than I expected). 

I crossed over the line exhausted as they yelled out, “7th.   I said to them, “No, my race number is 98”.  And they said again, “No, you are in 7th place”.

Wow, that completely surprised me.  I figure I owe a big thanks to all my Dailymile friends for keeping me motivated and inspired.

Of course the 2 pro riders got first and second place respectfully and I should make it clear that they finished a good 30 minutes before I did!  Ha-ha

But heck, I’ll take lucky 7.

Click here for an earlier post I wrote about Giro de Hotaka.

Course and elevation.

Beautiful Fall bicyle race in Gunma Japan.

Giro de Hotaka, 2011

Lots of hills in Gunma

Yesterday, I went to my friend Yukiya’s boutique shop and in the back room we filled out the application form for the upcoming race called, “Giro de Hotaka”.  It cost a whopping 8000 YEN (around $90 US) to enter.

Sometimes I think anyone fool enough to ride 120 km in wet zero degrees Celsius weather (around 32 F) for over 5 hours should get paid to enter.

I haven’t ridden that distance all year since I work 7 days a week. My regular trips are around 50 ~ 60 km.  I’ve had a few 80 plus km’s when time and weather permitted.

Now that evening is setting in early (5 pm), finding time to ride has been even more challenging.  At any rate, I will ride it but not race it.  My knee is still buggered so my goal is to finish without being legitimately bagged or in pain.

Will update how it went in two weeks time.

Wish me luck!

UPDATE:  Race is finished.  Click here for the post race blog.