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.

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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!

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

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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Tour de Kusatsu 2012

The Tour de Kusatsu is a very misleading name.  You really don’t tour anywhere.  In fact, there is a heck of a lot of standing around in zero degrees Celsius weather waiting for the race to start.

That’s not to say that it isn’t a great race.  I really like it for a race that kicks off the season.  It’s very well organized with volunteers, police, radio, TV, sponsors, samples, pro riders and more!

However, this year in particular was a little disappointing.  The course is suppose to be 13 km’s straight up to the top of Shinane (an active volcano ) but the weather turned for the worse the day before and the top of Shinane was snowing and the fog was as thick as clam chowder soup.  So instead of canceling the event, they shortened the distance to 6 kms.  You can bet out of the 3000 participants a lot were disappointed. Many had driving from Tokyo or farther and booked rooms to sleep in the night before.   I myself thought about turning around and heading back to Numata (60 km south) but though since I’d already paid the 5000 yen fee I might as well ride it.

"I thought it was spring"?

“I thought it was spring”?

My friends Yukiya, Masashi, his wife and I left Numata at 6 am.  We met at a 7-11 and headed up in two vehicles.  The weather was cloudy and threatening to rain and the forecast said it eventually would.  The question was if we could beat it and get the race over with before it came down.

On the drive up, Yukiya received a phone call from his son who is a pro rider for Takezawa cycle and was already up at the race with team and crew.  He told Yukiya that the race was canceled due to really bad weather at the top.  I couldn’t believe my luck because I entered another race back in August last year that also got canceled thanks to heavy rain.  Regardless, we decided to get there and check things out further and found out it wasn’t really canceled but “shortened” to only 6 kms.  I was told going any farther up the mountain would result in thick fog, blizzard like winds and snow on the road.  It was 0 C at the base and everyone looked very cold but as they say on Broadway, “the show must go on”.

After the race returning to the base.

After the race returning to the base.

We changed into our winter cycling wear and tried to warm up by climbing the first kilometer of the mountain several times but the decent was freezing fingers and toes.

Finally, when over the speakers they asked us all to congregate to the start line, they then showered us with speeches from everyone and their dog.  Anyone who brought rollers or attempted to do a warm up prior to the race quickly found themselves shaking for 20 – 30 minutes while waiting.   Finally, they wished us all luck and the elite athletes took to the hill first.

"I hope I'm still on the main road"!

“I hope I’m still on the main road”!

6 km’s hardly seems like a race at all really.  I’d been training for the 13 km ride for six weeks climbing up and down route 145 to Lockheart castle 3 times in a row, once a week as interval training to get ready for this.  I had improved immensely from the first feeble attempt at doing that a month and a half ago.  My last time up to Lockheart had been my best by a good 1:30 and got to the top at 18:05.  The climb to Lockheart is much steeper and more grueling that the Tour de Kusatsu so I was looking forward to seeing my time here but I will have to wait until next year to see the full 13 km race results.

Everyone seems to be sporting a beautiful bike these days and to stereo type a Japanese person if I may, they all buy the best wear and look the part of a pro rider.  I was intimidated to say the least and almost relieved that I wouldn’t be punishing myself for the full 13 km.  Add to that the fact that is was a race against the clock and it was hard to tell anyone’s time besides your own and I managed to feel relaxed before I charged up.  Everyone had a microchip device attached to their front fork that records the start and finish of your time accurately.

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.