By now I have read so many race reports from Ironman finishers I can probably piece meal my own Ironman race report from theirs. But my first Ironman was in July 1990 in Japan. That is almost 19 years ago. Wow!
I you read some of my old posts about my athletic bio you remember I really tried hard to qualify for Kona at a shorter distance but luck was not on my side. So in the winter of 1990 I got a transfer from IBM from Houston to Boulder. Lucky for me my old boss had moved from Houston to Boulder so he asked for me. Thanks Keith. That also meant IBM bought my old house and paid for moving and the expenses associated with buying a new house in Boulder. That was another great thing. Even back then living in Boulder was not cheap. I almost could not find an affordable house. But I got lucky enough. However, the timing of the purchase was not great (read later). I am going to keep the price of my old house private but lets just say that today the same house (I do not own it anymore) sells for 3.5 times more. That is good appreciation in 19 years I think.
So once I moved to Boulder I called my friend Matt Ellis and convinced him to sign up for Ironman Japan with me. He was an old training partner from Houston working in New Jersey then. (still does). Matt and his friend Brian Carter had already done an Ironman when they went to Germany for Ironman Roth. (Now Challenge Roth). I had to do some arm twisting but he went for it.
I really had no idea how to train for an Ironman but I was determined. Rode long every weekend and got up to 100 miles or so and got my long run up to about 20 miles. I even did one brutal weekend of training were I rode 100 Saturday, got up the next day and rode 50 and then ran 20 in the afternoon. That hurt but in my mind I knew I could finish the Ironman after having done that. The swim for me was a non issue. As you may know that is my best leg usually and the longer the better usually.
Every time I travel to a race I like to soak in the town or in this case country. So I applied for a home stay were we got a local Japanese family to host us. The trick was we wanted a family that hosted Matt and I together. That was going to be tricky but we got lucky. The Sasahara family hosted us. What great host they were. More on them later.
My trip to Japan was not without some drama. I had looked for a house that I could afford in Boulder but all I found was dumps. But my realtor showed me a house that I really liked and I could afford. The problem was that it was under contract already. So I was kind of mad about that. Why are you showing me this house I asked the realtor. Well I wanted to know if this is what you liked. Now I know what you like he said.
It was the night before the trip and I was ready to go to bed and set up my alarm when the phone rang. It was my realtor. The house I liked was on the market. The buyer had dropped out and I could buy it. Listen I have to go to bed as I am leaving for Japan. I have no time for this I said. Luis you have to put an offer now, I will come over and we will do this ASAP the realtor said. So here I was at nearly midnight the night before I go to Japan signing papers to buy a house. Ok I did it, I hope it works. Bye Mr. realtor. See you in 10 days.
I got to Tokyo were I met an old IBM friend who lived in Ropongy. Perhaps the most expensive place to live in Tokyo. He could never afford it but was there for a few years for IBM. So the deal was IBM paid for a house in Tokyo similar to what he had in Houston. Can you believe it. He even had a car and parking. No one can afford that in Tokyo unless you are a millionaire. But he got it. I stayed with him for a few days and then took the bullet train to Osaka which was near the race site in Lake Biwa. There I met Matt and our host family. Our host family did not speak a lick of English so what they did was bring the local high school English teacher to translate every night to insure the family knew what we wanted the next day. The mom of the family told us. “This week I have no husband, I am here to help you only, let us know what you need”. Talk about service. They had a table full of food every hour of the day for us. It was incredible. They lived in a very modest house that was passed from generation to generation. But they were loaded. Apparently the family owned several businesses in town. What a great time with the Sasaharas.
We did a little training and got ready for race day. We got up to rain on race morning. Oh well what are you are going to do? Don’t worry about it I thought. Then the realization that I was about to go into a race that took all day set it. On the way to the water I ran into Todd Jacobs who was a decent professional at the time. Any words of wisdom Todd? I asked. Take salt, that is my advice. Ok Todd thanks. Were in the hell am I going to find salt now?
I wore a full wetsuit for the swim which I am sure was fine but I was seriously overheating. I also found myself a little lost on the way out. I was swimming on my own and that did not seem right. So I stopped and looked around and saw that a group of guys was swimming a little more direct route. I may have lost a few seconds but quicly caught up to a group. I got out of the water in something like 57 minutes and 7th overall I think. That was quick. But I definitely got hot. Time to ride and cool off.
Well it was a cool morning so it felt good to get on the bike. But it was pouring cats and dogs. In the first few miles of the bike I got passed by some of the top Japanese professionals. They were followed by camera men. Hey I may get on TV. The Ironman Japan bike course had a bunch of fingers. So you rode uphill to the top of each finger, turnaround and fly back down hill. The down hills were very scary. There were sheets of water on the road, me going 30 to 40 miles an hour down and some Japanese guys weaving as they climb up the other direction. I literally closed my eyes a few times.
I felt very good for most of the bike ride. There was one pro woman who caught up to me and I used her as my pace setter. I just kept her in sight. I also got to see my buddy Matt at all the finger turn arounds. He was not too far back. Maybe a few minutes at best. Now came T2. My bike split was something like 5:20 to 5:25. I can not recall my exact time. I could look it up but it’s filed with old results somewhere in the house. So far so good.
I started the run fairly conservative. But my buddy Matt caught up to me and I decided to run with him. The great thing was that while we ran together we went by the spot were the Sasahara family was waiting for us. The picture here is one they took. So they got to see us together and were thrilled. That was wild. What are the chances of that?
Matt was running a little quicker than I wanted to. Then all of a sudden here comes a cramp on my hamstring. Oh no. Here we go. Then I remember Todd Jacobs before the race. “Take salt”. So I got to an aid station and asked for salt. But wait a minute why are they looking at me funny. Oh yes they do not speak English. How do you say salt in Japanese? I have no idea. But guess what. Some guy showed up with a bunch of table salt on a plate. I could not believe it. So I took a whole bunch and kept on going. It worked my hamstring cramps went away and I ran hard again chasing Matt. Where is he? I could not catch him. So we finished in something like 10:19 and 10:22 if I recall correct. We both finished top 100 in the race. Many Japanese guys passed us on the run. The Japanese triathletes may not be great swimmers in general but they are fast runners.
One funny note was I had no quads to hardly stand up after the race. But I had to go to the bathroom. No big deal, but in Japan they do not have toilets. They just have a hole on the ground. There is no way I can go to the bathroom squating. So someone told me that the handicap only bathrooms had American style toilets. Japanese are very orderly and they do not break rules. Well I told them I was sorry. But I am handicapped. No hole in the ground for me. I will fall in for sure.
So in the end Japan was a great adventure. I had never gone to Japan otherwise. Both Matt and I got Kona slots. We experienced real Japanese culture. Unfortunately Matt knew he could not go to Kona because he was starting a special program at Cornell University and there was no way he could study and train. His employer was paying the bill. No messing with that. But I went later that year and did my first Hawaii. It took Matt some time but he competed in Kona eventually.
Oh yes I got back to Boulder and closed on that house too.