Archive for September, 2010

h1

Ironman 70.3 Centrair Tokoname Japan – A rather poorly organized race

September 22, 2010

This new addition to the Ironman 70.3 series was very promising with a great location near the city of Nagoya in the Aichi Prefecture – right in between the two Japan major cities(Osaka and Tokyo) and at the proximity of the Centrair International Airport, making it very convenient for International athletes to attend.

Despite the location and what looked liked an interesting racing course, the organizer felt short on many levels and I have to say that, as a fellow racer and fan of Ironman events, I have been very disappointed with the overall organization and planning of this new event. Although I can understand Ironman organizers most likely faced difficulties to deal and negotiate with the local prefecture of Nagoya to get the necessary support to put this even together, I still think a lot of things were done wrong and did not match with the standard of most other Ironman events.

What could have been a great race with a glorious weather ended up being a overall poorly organized event and disappointing tourism experience.

You will find below 10 of the main points I felt should be improved for next year’s event if it wants to reach close to the standard other Ironman events have managed to set around the world.

1) REGISTRATION PROCESS:
Out of 1,100 registration slot, 350 were offered only to athletes who were willing to use/pay premium JTB travel and hotel services. Athletes who were late to register and who wanted to participate were therefore forced to take the JTB agency option and pay a significant extra budget to guarantee their slot to the starting line of the event. They also had to take a flight to Nagoya and use their Hotels.

2) A PRICEY EVENT:
This event was extremely expensive: 40,000 JPY just to register and participate in the race – excluding all the extra cost coming along with train/car transportation, hotels and restaurant around the airport (which are always very expensive as we know…).

3) ENGLISH BRIEFING:
Although the English briefing was mandatory prior to registration, unfortunately, it provided almost no valuable information. It was very vague with not a single presentation material and was wrapped up very quickly to avoid more questions the organizers did not have answers for (Bike course elevation, Run course, Expected weather conditions , Cross winds, Drafting rules… etc.). This briefing could have been okay for experienced triathletes but provided no guidance whatsoever for first timers.

4) WELCOME REGISTRATION PACK:
Despite this pricey registration fee, almost nothing was offered as part of the welcome registration pack beside the usual racing numbers (to put on your bike, helmet and racing belt), a bracelet and some brochures promoting the area.

5) SHUTTLE BUSES FOR ATHLETES:
Buses for athletes were not even provided for free. All athletes with no car or with a family member joining them were obliged to pay an extra 2,000 yen at some stage to get a pass and commute back and forth between the airport and the starting line with the official shuttle bus. Considering the price of the registration and the number of participants (1,100 to 1,200), those buses should have been offered for free at least for athletes. Most other races do.

6) CAR PARKING COST:
For the lucky ones who had a car, they still had to pay a 1,000 yen per day to access the closest parking to the starting area. You would think that athletes would have a dedicated free parking area but no. The only free parking area was located at a good 20 minutes walk from the starting area (T1,T2). The whole thing was very inconvenient and came across as pure money grab.

7) AIRPORT LOCATION & TOLL GATE TO ACCESS THE AIRPORT ISLAND:
As most International  airport, the place was quite outside of the city and far from any touristic area.

As you can see on the map below, the airport is located on an island and the only way to access it is to pass through the freeway/bridge.

* Problem # 1: If you do not have a car or a bike bag to take your bike inside the train, you’re pretty much stuck in the Airport island as it is strictly forbidden to ride or walk over the bridge.

* Problem # 2: For the lucky ones who came by car, the down side was that, every time you crossed the freeway/bridge you were charged 350 Yen at the Toll Gate to cross the bridge. Considering the the starting line was located on one side of the bridge and the finish line on the other side, you can imagine how many trips you had to do and how much extra money you had to spend:

For example, if you were driving a car, this what your agenda looked like:

————————————————————————–

DAY BEFORE THE RACE:

– Cross the bridge to check-in Hotel (around the airport): 350 Yen
– Attend the briefing and registration (in the airport)
– Cross the bridge to check in the bike the night before the race at T1, T2 outside of the island/airport: 350 Yen
– Return to your Hotel in the airport zone: 350 Yen

RACE DAY:

– Get to the race start: Cross the bridge again: 350 Yen
– Park in the athlete parking area and pay another: 1000 Yen for the day
– After the race, since the finish line is on the other side of the bridge (back on the island), you’re forced to pay again another 2,000 yen to get in the Athlete shuttle bus to get back to the T1, T2 area to pick back your gear/bike and car at the end of the race.
– Once you have picked up all your gear and car, you can now go back to your hotel and pay again another 350 Yen passing the bridge toll gate.

Total extra cost in 2 days: 4,750 Yen just go back and forth from the registration area, starting line and finish line. And that’s not including possible trips to the city if you had time to visit any touristic spots in the city before or after the race….

————————————————————————–

8 ) THE RACE:
Swim:

No large bouey along the swim course which made it really hard for racers to swim in the right direction and know where to aim.
No mat on the ground from the swim finish to the bike transition area – great to keep your feet all sandy just before putting on your bike shoes
No showers available at the end of the swim in T1 – which was the best way to keep all the salt in your pants before riding a 90km bike ride and making sure you suffer from some serious chaffing. It’s only the day after the race that I realized some showers were there but you had to step outside of your way to get to them.

Bike:
Dangerous course with sharp turns
– The first and last 7 kilometers of the course were on very bad, narrow and bumpy road surface
– The only 2 aid stations only offered gels and pet water bottles (no bike bottles). Each time you stopped at the aid station, if you wanted to make sure to get enough water, you had to stop completely, open the pet bottles that were given to you, open your bike bottles and fill them up one by one. Only once that was done, you could start biking again.
– Beside that, the rest of the bike course was challenging but beautiful with pleasant with rolling hills.
– An impressive 1200 volunteers: were spread all along both the bike and run course: At first I was wondering what was the point of having so many runners but, soon, I came to realized that this was probably because there was no time checking mat all along both courses. The only way to make sure that all racers were passing at each loop and turn was to spread 1,200 people along the course – not to actually support us but more to check on us and compensate for the lack of equipment they had for this race.

Run:
Comparatively, the run was well organized with lots of water spots offering cold water, wet sponges to keep cool and protect you from the heat. Great supporters and volunteers.

9) NO MEDALS FOR FINISHERS:
I think that this was the most shocking thing of the entire week-end. No Ironman 70.3 finishers even got himself/herself a medal in commemoration for this event. In all the Ironman events I have had the pleasure to participate until now, NEVER, I have not received a Finisher’s medal. This was truly disappointing.

One question remains…: “But where did all the registration and sponsorship money go”?


10) THE FINISH LINE LOCATION:
The finish line area was very isolated, far from the airport, far from any public transportation and offered no tent or shadow for athletes to rest after the race. Absolutely nothing was available or offered for families of racers (No drinks, food, tables or even chairs). Under a cooking sun and over 30 degrees C temperature, supporting families suffered from the heat just as much as racers. No parasol, no playing area for kids, no shadow, nothing but just concrete. The only tents available were only for race staff.

Water was only offered to racers and spectators were lucky if they had bought their own drinks before hand. Since the airport was too far, a quick coffee break in the cool airport was not even an option as it would have taken too much time for them to return to the finish line and they might have missed the arrival of their friend/family member.

Families with babies trying to find some shadow to hide from the sun while waiting for athletes

Overall, Nagoya Ironman 70.3 was extremely disappointing. Although I can only understand and respect the work involved to coordinate such kind of large event, I still think this event could have been a lot better if properly organized. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will participate next year as I think participating in the Sado Island Astroman would be a much more gratifying experience for both athletes and family supporters. One thing is for sure, if I change my mind and choose to attend again next year, my family will not be back – that’s for sure.

A disappointed participant

h1

Ironman Japan 70.3 Boat Race Centrair Tokoname Triathlon

September 21, 2010

Bevan Colless Race Report:

I think that is the official name for this race, but for me it can be summed up in three letters – NVG. Not Very Good. My performance, the race organisation, the course, the expense – all Not Very Good. After being a bit scathing of IMUK and Watarase races recently I’m wondering if I’m too harsh/negative on some of these races but I prefer to think I’m a realist. It’s an interesting dilemma – we all want to be ‘positive people/glass half full and all that’ but if something’s not good, why say that it is? Then you’ve got no credibility when you actually rate something highly but you think everything’s great. As I didn’t do so well in IMUK or Japan 70.3 I was wondering if my opinion on races is tainted by my own performance but I probably did my best ever all-round race in Watarse this year and still rate it the worst triathlon I’ve ever done so I hope my opinion has still has got some cred.

This was the first ever ‘official’ half Ironman (70.3if you must) in Japan. We had hoped this race was going to come to Lake Toya near Niseko, but the local cops scuppered that idea. It’s very difficult to get roads to ride bikes on in Japan, as the key to society here is social harmony, and races upset this. This race was in Nagoya – a place I didn’t know much about except they like pork cutlet soaked in miso sauce and the headquarters of Toyota are here – it’s sometimes called “Toyota Town”. The race web site had some graphic of a plane and said the expo was in the airport, so I had visions of some unused airport terminal and a runway we could hammer at 45km/h on. I wasn’t the only one, but unfortunately not so much. The race sold out in about 6 hours to general entries and if you wanted to enter after that you had to book through the JTB (Japan Travel Bureau) but this had to include flights. As we thought we’d be coming from Hokkaido this was no problem for us, but Ness had to go back to Aus for dental work and I had to come back to Tokyo to cover staff shortage at Tokyo Physio, so there was no point flying. When they told me the flights were going to cost 78,000yen ($1,000) I dropped out of the race. They told me the fee we had paid for the entry (40,000 yen each for me and Vanessa – about the most expensive race I’ve ever done was non-refundable). Still no way I was going to pay that for the flights to a “C” race – I was still out.

About 5 days before the race friends started telling me my name was still down on the official start list so I thought maybe I could make a cheeky appearance and travel by train –which I did. When I went to register they had a “cancelled” next to my name but I played the dumb gaijin (foreigner) and they gave me the timing chip and race numbers.
The race-briefing they made such a big deal of attending was a bit of a joke. Whit Raymond ran it, and though I think he’s the best announcer in the business he is not a race organiser and knew nothing about this race. It was as if they grabbed him from the plane and threw him in front of us. ‘I think the swim course is shaped like this and we’re going anti-clockwise not clockwise’ – scrawls on the board. We don’t have any big buoys so we’ve got some sailboats at the turning points to sight/as buoy. ‘The start of the bike is rough I hear be safe’. The question time: “Is the run course two laps or one it’s not clear on the map?”. ‘Umm not sure just follow people, next question’. “Is the bike hilly or windy?”. ‘It might be not really sure’….and on it went until poor ol’ Whit wound it up mid sentence before anyone could ask anymore questions. The whole atmosphere of the meeting was farcical with an underlining ‘isn’t this a bit ridiculous’ in everything he said. The kicker was that there was only one aid station on the bike and they would give you PET bottles of water only, not in a bidon (normal cycling bottle). For 40,000yen entry this pissed me and many other people off, but was typical for triathlons in Japan at least they weren’t serving water in cups on the bike like they sometimes do here. Transport to the start was to cost 2,000yen and the pre-race meal was convenience store style sandwiches – we were wondering where our 40,000yen went to? I thought this race being an official M-Dot race might be a level up on the typical races, but it was becoming apparent it was just the same, just with a triple priced entry fee that was flowing back to WTC, the police and the race organisers.

Swim 32minutes
I started in the second wave of the swim – 5 minutes after the first wave (pros and under 35’s). Not a big fan of the age divided wave starts, nd the faster under 35 Agers got to swim and ride with the slower pros which is an advantage, but there you go. I lined up at the swim start next to Jenson Button who was doing the swim and bike legs with another mate doing the run. He’s a pretty similar level to me so I was disappointed not to race him overall (beat him off the bike and his relay team by a few minutes, but he’s a 37:xx oly distance runner – so it would have been interesting!

I started the swim really well and after 300m was in front of our wave, but due to the race briefing I was navigating to the boat as I thought we had to go around it. Turns out it was only for sighting and was 100m from the buoy so I had to change course and had lead my merry crew of followers down the wrong path too – sorry guys! Navigating was tough with no sighting buoys so just kept heading in the general direction trying to visualise Whit’s rough sketch on the whiteboard that looked like a rectangular lollipop. After the last buoy I thought I had to pass one more buoy (at the T of the lollipop) before heading in, but couldn’t see the buoy and people around me where heading into shore (actually swimming in all directions). After stopping and swimming breaststroke several times to look for the buoy and decide what to do, I decided to head into shore and hope I was not DQ’d by a paddle boarder. I think everyone did the same. Enjoyed swimming in the ocean for a change but aside from that – shitty swim. They landed us about 300m from T1, so there was a looong run to get to the bikes – hate that after a swim – the heart-rate skyrockets.

Bike 2.48
I had a host of mechanical issues recently and got my bike back from the mechanic at the race (my mechanic was the official mechanic at the race). I took it for a ride and it felt so weird I returned it to him telling him it was dangerous. No – I found out – turns out I’d been riding it with a sloppy head set/steering for a long time and he had fixed it. My ‘weird’ was actually normal. He fixed my warped disc that had been rubbing and convinced me to race with it despite me carrying a more friendly road wheel from Tokyo – this was a mistake due to the hilly, tight and rough nature of the course but I didn’t want to let him down. Coach Woody had told me to ride the first 30kms moderate to hard, and then hammer the last 60kms as fast as I possibly could. I was salivating at the prospect a first to have a licence to smash it! Unfortunately from my first pedal stroke I knew my legs were not at their best today. And further evidence to my theory pretty much everyone races their bike leg as fast as they can anyway, they just kid themselves they are holding back. I’m not sure why my biking is inconsistent – some days I bike like a rock star some days like a chump. Today I was a chump.After my pre-race Facebook proclamations and a subsequent slow bike time I’ve since received letters of condolences from Tobjorn Sindballe, Bjorn Anderson and Chris Lieto and they asked me to return my “Uber-Biker-Blow-Up-On-The-Run’ membership card to them – fair enough, will do guys, I’m all talk.

Despite being told it was 3kms – the first and last 12 kilometres were done on the horrible beachfront elevated pathways / esplanades town planners in Japan decided were a good idea some time ago. I’d ridden on these on Tour De Chiba social rides before, but it was a bit embarrassing to have to ride on them in an ‘international’ race. The concrete was about 2metres wide and had many large cracks that had separated. Lots of sharp turns and short rises made this area ‘interesting’. A French pro who had travelled for the race afterwards was telling me how disappointed he was in the race and said “I would not even take my mountain bike to these placez”….but maybe we triathletes are just too precious?
The ride had many very sharp tight turns and over 100metres of climbing – I was very happy I had my bike serviced before this race or I would have been into some barriers for sure. The one (in)famous Aid Station was classic Japan. On the first loop I missed it completely (I never thought you could ‘miss’ an aid station on the bike but I did – went straight by not even knowing it was there…). You had to leave the course completely, go into a parking lot and stop to receive some of the PET water bottles. It was the sort of aid station/lunch spot you get on social rides and cringe worthy for an M-dot race. To make matters worse the ride on the cracked footpaths saw maybe 50% of athletes have water bottles eject; so there was this double whammy of thirsty riders and this crappy aid station. D’oh. I did the whole ride by myself and was bored/frustrated throughout. Legs just weren’t co-operating at all.

Run 1.42
The run course was pretty good, but a few too many U turns. The Japanese love to run you up and down dead ends on run courses to make the most of space. The support from volunteers throughout the race was a highlight. There were 1,200 of them on the course (most without much to do except say “Gambatte” and “Fighto”), but they did so with gusto and it was well received. I’ve always been a fan of wetting myself when hot (It was 32 degrees), so love the hoses and sponges. One trio (I called them the Toyota family) – seeing this was Toyota town…were out with the daughter holding a hose and Mum and Dad a big bucket staggered one after the other on the pathway. I agreed to the hose first then came to Mum and Dad and said yes to the bucket – WHAM – got knocked by a full bucket of water right in the face/body from Mum and as I was reeling from that – WHAM – Dad hit me with the same full bucket of water – “Oh What a Feeling……”…..sorry outdated gag I know. My poor ‘water resistant’ Garmin 305 got a big drop in its screen after that….hmmm. Hopefully it comes good. Anyway struggled through the run without feeling too bad – the half IM is so much easier mentally than the full. Time was a bit shite though – glad it was over as usual and managed to finish pretty strongly out-sprinting a guy in the last km.
Overall the event was NVG and speaking and eavesdropping on the pros that had travelled here to do the race I was pretty embarrassed for Japan. Don’t get me wrong I love Japan and there are so many good things about living here, but in many ways they just don’t understand what international Western standards are and how to meet them. As I mostly live in Niseko – a town that was built on foreigners providing services for international standards that the Japanese couldn’t, it’s something I’m acutely aware of. I really want people to come to Japan for a holiday, and international tourism is probably Japan’s only way out if it’s economic malaise but most of the locals have no idea what foreigners want – a bit like me in my teens and early twenties trying to understand what women want – no idea! Here’s your $150 a night room sir: a smoke stained tiny tatami mat space and for furniture you get a coffee table and a 20 year old TV in the corner. I always thought some animals get more furniture than the humans here….. “But don’t worry for entertainment we have a nice bath at the end of the hall”. It won’t cut it in an international market just like this race won’t either. Fortunately for them’ the race organisers are not aiming at an international market and I’m sure it will sell out just as fast next year….but you won’t see the name Colless on the starter’s list.

Anyway, next weekend I’ve got Murakami Olympic distance, which is a much better event and race – so really looking forward to that – a chance to get some redemption and a decent result on the board too maybe.

h1

Nike+GPS Launches As Mobile Running App

September 9, 2010

Following the recent launch of Adidas’ (free) miCoach running app, Nike has launched Nike+ GPS as an iPhone app to help educate runners on their training and performance progress. The advantages of the mobile app over its precursor – Nike+ hardware – include utilization of GPS radio in compatible iDevices to track, plot and map your runs, utilizing the accelerometer in the iPhone to record your pace. For $1.99 (vs. $29 for the Nike+ chip), you can track your progress online, browse previous runs, and share it on the Nike+ site – and do much of this from the same hardware from which you’ll play your music playlist during your run.

While the comparable Adidas miCoach app is free, it will be interesting to see if the equity Nike built amongst runners with Nike+ will translate into higher mobile app downloads – and increased running shoe/apparel sales – for Nike than for Adidas. In this case, the competition between the two brands is ultimately good for more educated runners, with more options.

Courtesy of PSFK.com