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.

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.

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!!