Continued from Part 1. Race day.
I got up around 6:30 from a surprisingly restful sleep, no doubt helped by the delicious local seafood and very hot onsen bath from the night before. Our breakfast was bananas, hard boiled eggs, and cartons of fruit smoothies. They were all from a nearby combini, picked up the night before.
I hadn’t forgotten anything and there were no last minute scrambles, thanks to the meticulous packing list 🙂
A little before 8:00, we hopped on our bikes, now adorned with race stickers, and headed towards the startling line. Fit people on all kinds of bikes were there! It was a very festive atmosphere.
I was glad we’d checked out the venue beforehand. It’s easy for anxiety to build in crowds like these, when it feels like everyone else knows exactly what they’re doing. We split off to our respective stations and I went about my business setting up my bike and gear, going over the transitions in my head while listening to the pre-race chatter with one ear.
A quick photo at the Start Line before pulling on our wetsuits. It was time for a quick dip!
Next to the start line was a little table for your glasses. Very considerate of the organizers, isn’t it? The table was even included in the race map so I knew where it would be.
Ohhh, the ocean water felt so good. There was enough visibility to see about half a meter ahead. The buoy that marked the turnaround seemed quite far but it didn’t matter. I was ecstatic to keep swimming, instead of back and forth in the 25m pool.
We stretched and talked about the waves, not paying much attention to the opening ceremony. I heard them mention that Murakami had the most number of female participants of any triathlon in the country, though. Didn’t know that!
The transition area closes down before the race, so I sucked down a protein shake and joined everyone on the beach. All of the women were in the fifth and final wave, so we had quite a wait. I chatted with some of the girls and we watched the elite athletes race across the water.
The start signal went off without any fanfare whatsoever and the crowd slowly surged into the water. I had a three second bout of nerves – what have I gotten myself into – but there was no time for that. Ying helped me laugh it off and I was enveloped by kicking arms and legs in the next second. We were 150 athletes, maybe ten across, and the sharp turn immediately to the left of the start line compounded the flailing of bodies.
The first few minutes were spent fighting for space while trying to move in the right direction. I propelled forward any time I saw open water but didn’t go out of my way to avoid side collision. I have a tendency to veer strongly to the left and I wasn’t sighting – the upward lift of the head to check direction – at all because I could see other swimmers nearby. After a while, I found myself on the left-most edge of the pack and just stayed there.
I was really starting to enjoy the swim when I saw the buoy ahead. It was already time to turn around and finish off the second half. We were passing people in different colored caps and I realized they were the slower men from the previous wave.
The shout of a staffer on a kayak interrupted my blissful stroking. A big gesture to the right accompanied the poking of his oar – I was swimming the wrong way. Oops. I’d forgotten what the goal buoy looked like, so a bit of energy was wasted on extra sighting. I was sorry to see the swim ending. Asides from the sheer enjoyment of moving through these lovely waters, this portion of the race was going to be my best. A few *hours* of uphill battle awaited.
You see, I was also dreading the transition. The one time I managed to train in open water, the waves made me nauseas and I staggered to the sand like an unhappy drunk at the end of the session. The coach pulled me aside and advised that I use the run to the bike wisely; shake off any dizziness before getting on the bike to avoid falling off. Sound advice, for sure.
Still, all these thoughts disappeared as my legs cooperated and the cheering crowd came into sight. Riding high from the swim, I found myself literally laughing as I sprinted out of the beach. This was awesome!
After taking my sweet time getting ready – in hindsight, much too long – I looked up to see streams of people hustling past. Shaking off the cobwebs, I pushed my bike and trotted up the steep hill that marked the beginning of the course. It was time to start the second leg of the race.
The first few kilometers were riding through the residential area of Murakami City. Every few blocks were folks sitting outside their homes in small groups, watching and cheering. What fun! I waved and shouted back some thank yous.
Cruising along the coastline in the quiet stretches outside of town, I felt so blessed. Bathed in sunshine, the endless sea to my left, and alone but not alone, in such good health. It wasn’t simply just the fruits of the past few weeks of training, but also a year and half of CrossFit, which was already in itself so rewarding. When was the last time I felt so present in the moment?
I was surprised to see the cycling computer indicating 30km/hr. Because of the weather and road conditions, my pace throughout the race would be 4-5km/hr faster than when training along the Arakawa.
That was my newbie self with just two months of experience on the road bike, though. Plenty of people zipped past, disappearing from sight in a few dozen zwwwwoooops. Ah, well. The important thing was to keep my pace and make it to the run feeling strong. I was already happy that the ride wouldn’t take two full hours.
Around the 30km mark, my energy started to flag and my thoughts turned to the gel pack that I’d left behind in the transition area. The first and last 10kms felt so different. I don’t really remember how the last few kilos went, except that someone shouted “Nice pink shoes!” to me. I must have been a little disoriented because I forgot to pull off my bike gloves before starting the run.
Unlike the bike, there were no pleasant surprises with running. It still sucked. Physically, I felt strong enough but it felt silly pottering about on my two legs after having the bike feel like a part of my body for almost two hours. An inefficient application of energy!
I’d planned for a slow, steady 6.5-7km/hr pace but I didn’t want to waste energy maneuvering out my iPhone from the back pocket of my pants, especially with a gel pack and gloves also stuffed in nearby pockets. It felt like a long time before the 1km sign came into sight.
Now that we were in the central part of the city, there were more people cheering on the athletes. People in their uniforms standing outside of their storefronts, young families with kids running around, all making an event of it. I wanted a way to tell them I was so happy to be in their town but settled for breathy arigatous and the occasional whoop. Some people call out my bib number, which turned into injections of little power bursts. I knew #123 was a lucky number!
Friends who’ve run marathons always talk about how much the crowds helped them on, and it proved to be the case for me in this 10km as well. In this little corner of the world, everyone was cheering for us… so much that a sign for “かばん” (bags) looked like “がんば” (“do your best”) at one point. Too funny. I kept going, slowly ticking off the kilometers.
You could tell by the confidence in the stride, who was a runner and who wasn’t. They passed by, seemingly in their element, but I also managed to pass a few people at well. I tapped the walkers on the back and offered words of encouragement. They seemed almost flabbergasted… not used to CrossFitters, I guess!
I hadn’t studied the course map closely enough beforehand and the triple loop around the final block was confusing. I must have missed the big cone at some point. Nothing hurt and my breathing was fine so the body pushed forward almost automatically but I felt tired, mentally.
I’d lost sense of time and distance and kept delaying what should have been a final push in the last kilometer because I couldn’t focus long enough. After rounding a few corners, I saw a crowd ahead. A booming voice announced “And here comes number 123, Sasaki Tomomi san” and suddenly, there was the goal line.
My body still had some some energy left and I burst past the banner, arms raised high. It was finished.
A volunteer wrapped me up in a big towel with the word MURAKAMI while another removed my anklet. I found a spot of grass, sat down, then laid down. It felt surreal. It was really finished.
I started contacting friends and family while I waited for Ying. When she found me, I gave her a big hug. There were tears in her eyes from both exertion and triumph and somehow that pulled me out of my stupor. We’d done it.
Just a few more thoughts before I (abruptly but finally) wrap up.
When an old colleague sent her congratulations, she recalled that I’d mentioned an interest in triathlons years ago. Five, to be exact. We must have been working 80 hour weeks at that time and the very idea was simply absurd. I realize now that it was actually a long-time wish of mine. Not a burning desire or even a low-simmering one, just wisps of hope that were so faint that it had gone mostly forgotten, then completely buried once adulthood caught up to me.
There were many, many people that helped me along the way but in particular I am deeply thankful for the support and encouragement from my coaches and friends at Chikara CrossFit, my team mates at AQ, and the three special people that fall in both groups – Paul, Ryan and Ironman Gueorgui.
- Swim (1,500m) – 00:30:56
- Bike (40km) – 01:43:17
- Run (10km) – 00:57:51