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.

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.

Bicycle racing in Japan.

It’s sunny but cold outside today.  I’m getting antsy to get back out there and ride a heap of kilometers this year.  The last couple months have mostly been in the gym riding the trainers and doing upper body workouts.

My favourite past time nex to writing songs.

I’ve spent the last few weeks surfing the internet for cycling gear and the Garmin 500 GPS computer As I had expected, what I wanted was going to cost some money.  Fortunately the Japanese yen is strong and because I took my time browsing cycling sites on line I have got some great deals.  When buying these items at a store in Japan it can almost double in price.  That is probably because most Japanese customers can’t understand English and are unable to find what they are looking for outside of Japan. At any rate, it’s great to get paid in yen at the moment.

My first race this year is on April 22nd.  It’s a 13 KM hill climb up Mt. Shirane in Kustasu village.   Kusatsu is a famous hot spring area and has been for over a 1000 years.  Shirane is a volcano.  At the top is the worlds largest sulfuric lake.  It’s a beautiful turquoise blue but it smells like rotten eggs. 

This is my first time to enter this race.  Apparently there are over 3000 cyclists.  The fastest time is usually around 30 minutes and the slowest around 1 hour.  Anyone who doesn’t do it in 2 hours is disqualified.

Ride like the wind.

I hope to do it in about 45 minutes which would put me somewhere in the middle of the pack.  I have ridden this hill many times (when it’s warm).

zig zag is a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Several years ago when my brother came to Japan, we shared a few beers one evening.  He said, “that sounds interesting.  I could climb that no problem because I used to ride all the time when I was going to university“.  My friend and I said “Let’s do it tomorrow morning and then go for a hot spring“.   We all agreed and that’s what happened.  Long story short, my brother Kevin made it to the top but not without going into oxygen debt and taking a few breaks.  Not knocking my bro.  He’s the best.  I’m merely saying that it’s not as easy as it might seem.  So, I’ll just keep training and hope I have a time I’m proud of.

Can’t wait for spring!!

September/2009 Hey everyone!

September/2009
Hey everyone!

blck-wht-Kell-w-CameraHow are you doing? It’s been a while since I sent a newsletter out and I am surprised how quickly the time has past by. For most of you its summer and I hope you’ve been able to enjoy it. I was very busy the last two months and I performed over 30 shows. Half of those shows where at my reliable Theme Park where I’ve been gigging for years but the other half were made up of a wide variety of venues. One of my favorite places to perform is in a town called Kusatsu. It’s a beautiful place with many natural hot springs and visited by many Japanese throughout the year. I did a video blog while staying in my hotel there if you want to check it out.

I also went to Tochigi prefecture and shared the stage with two other bands at a cool place called Nemu Nemu. My good friend Hibiki and I drove there from Gunma and it took about an hour but it turned out to be a fun night. I played an acoustic set and tried out some of my new songs I might release on my next CD and the response was good.

On August 23rd I did a show at a new venue called “JHK”. It used to be a place for weddings but the owner converted it into a really funky place to perform live. After the show the owner turned on the Barbeque and poured ice cold beer and we all sat around sharing stories.

September has been really busy. I’ve got a foot inside the door of a bunch of projects.  For starters my friend Mark Clay and I are working on a very cool song he sent me called, “Dunkirk Spirit” that has a Celtic vibe to it. He also helped finish off a song of mine called, “What Have I Done”, and recorded his take on it with just a couple of acoustic guitars. Mark is generous enough to offer it to you exclusive on my website for free. You can find it here. Down the road I will attempt to record my version of it, too.  I’m also trying to finish up a song and  enter it in an annual songwriting contest that takes place in Japan.  I must have that song complete and submitted by the end of September.  I best buckle down and get on with it!

October 16th, a friend of mine Simon Smith is coming to visit me in Japan. He will be here for 5 days and is flying all the way from England. Some of my loyal supporters might know him from our small community. I’ve got a few  small shows lined up that I’ll be dragging him to. One of them is a venue I’ve never gigged at before so we’ll both be checking it out for the first time. (Simon, I hope you’re ready for a culture shock)

Aside from my music career, I’ve been cycling and training often. I road over 2500 km during the summer.  It’s getting dark earlier lately so I’m not able to ride as far. But ice hockey has started again and so now I’m doing that 2 to 3 times a week, too. If you want to go on an 8 minute bike ride with me, click here (but I warn you, it’s not too thrilling unless you like that sort of thing).

OK, I’ll sign off now. Sorry for the long delay from the last update. Hope you’re all well. Feel free to email and fill me in with what you’re up to. I’ll be sure to get back to you.

Until next time, take care.
Kelly