Sunday, March 13, 2011

As the world is now well aware, last Friday Japan suffered a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, followed by massive tsunami and a still ongoing emergency at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture.

Tokyo was not nearly as hard hit. This is the worst of the damage at our apartment-- some stuff fell off the walls, and my bikes fell over. At the time it hit, I was at work in an office building in Shibuya, downtown Tokyo. Not a fun place to be! All the staff sprinted down the fire escape as things really started shaking-- we could see our eight-story building rocking back and forth at least a meter, while huge hotels and office towers swayed overhead-- so scary! It was by far the longest quake I'd ever felt, maybe 5 minutes? Several large aftershocks followed. Work was cancelled.

As the trains had automatically stopped, I was forced to walk the 15 kilometers home back to our town in Kanagawa prefecture, a four hour journey. It was a weird scene as Tokyoites made a mass exodus by foot from central Tokyo. The sidewalks were packed. A woman working in a convenience store made small talk with me- not normal in Tokyo! A strange almost carnivalesque atmosphere prevailed. The phone lines were jammed, and my cell phone was almost dead from constant attempts to reach my wife when we finally connected. She was ok, and only after talking with her did I begin to understand the level of devastation to our north.

Despite all this, I had my first race of the year scheduled for Sunday. At first I naturally assumed it would be cancelled, but it was pretty much business as usual in the Tokyo area, so after a call to a friend who works for the Kanagawa Federation, we found the race was still on. Maybe when something this terrible happens it's good to carry on as best you can? I don't know, but with no compelling reasons not to, I decided to go to the race as planned.

And I'm so glad I did. My teammates and coach were there, as well as some friends and people from the Federation I've come to know. The racing and camaraderie were a welcome distraction. I was even able to get excited about looking at some cool bikes, like this sweet hot-pink Kalavinka carbon above.

And this brand new Cervelo, owned by teammate and keirin ace, Ichikawa-san.

Ichikawa-san and Kameyama-san preparing to do damage.

Ichikawa-san in points race action.

I signed up for the kilo and sprints. It being March (very early, I usually peak in June or July), and given the extenuating circumstances, I had no high hopes. Just looking to have a good time. But after getting an 11.9 in my flying 200, I thought, "hey, that's a lot better than I thought!", and started to feel a bit more up. However, I didn't know it at the time, but there were several university team hard-asses there, one of whom clocked a phenomenal 11.3. Usually at local Federation races I can count on Kameyama-san to post best time, with me trailing closely behind. Not so on this day: I just squeaked into the tourney in 6th place. Presumably, Kameyama-san qualified narrowly ahead of me.

Then it was kilo time, a time I both anticipate and dread. I know it's my best event, but as I've said here many times before, it's an event only the insane could enjoy! Oh well, saddle up...

The start felt good, mostly in that it just felt automatic. I think this is down to the excellent coaching I've been getting from Wada-san. He's given me some great mental cues to latch onto, and I guess maybe I've started to internalize them well. Later Wada-san confirmed this, telling me my first 200 meters was 16.9 seconds, probably my fastest kilo start ever.

I was a little bit disappointed with my peak speed, but the "float" was excellent. There was almost no wind, so I was able to hang onto the float until well into the last lap. Of course then the pain kicked in like it always did, and the last 200 meters was pure hell as always, but overall I felt I'd done it pretty well. It felt pretty automatic, which in my experience is usually a good sign. But given the fact that it was March and about 16˚C I had no wild hopes about the time. Just happy with a proper execution.

As I rolled by Wada-san, he shouted out the time to me, "one-oh-nine!", "REALLY?!" I said in shocked disbelief, before rolling onto the infield grass and collapsing off the bike into the usual post-kilo fetal position. Here's evidence:I'd set a new PR in MARCH! I would have been surprised and happy with a 1:10, satisfied with a 1:11, maybe secretly disappointed with a 1:12. But 1:09.70..., shocked and ecstatic best describes my feeling! And not only a PR but a win in my first race of the season: 2nd place was a 1:10.34, 3rd a 1:11, followed by a gaggle of 1:12's. All great times given the time of year. Thank you Wada-san! Maybe I can hit 1:08 this year...

EDIT, 3/16/11: This just came in the mail. Not even a nuclear catastrophe can stop the Japanese postal service! Ganbarimashita!

Apparently this was a Kanagawa Federation selection race for another national competition (like the Kanagawa championship race I won last year), so the federation head, Ochiai-san, asked me to represent the prefecture again. Sadly, due to our impending move back to the States, I had to decline. Extra bummer, it's close- in Tachikawa! -and soon, April 24th. We fly out on April 12th. Dammit!

On my own personal cloud, I was brought back to earth abruptly: Time for the first round of sprints. My opponent? Kameyama-san. Shit!

He destroyed me easily, jumping on the back straight with a little less than a lap remaining, I had no answer for him. His jump is super explosive- he gets a gap so quickly, and has the speed to make it stick. I had no chance! My day finished, I became a spectator.

Kameyama-san won the first race of the final easily with his patented back-straight jump.

But he couldn't hold off the strong university rider in the last two rides, so had to settle for second. Probably he is not too disappointed. Coach Wada told me he doesn't usually come into form until summertime. Just a training race for him.

Kanagawa Cycling Federation coach Yajima-san, killing it in typical style.

Japan Cycling Federation official Miashita-san totally chilling.

Beautiful Shonan Bank Keirin-jo, I've been calling it my home track for two years. Maybe my last visit there, so happy to leave it with a win, while wearing the Kanagawa jersey no less! I have to say 'thank you' to the place and it's people for a day of perfect distraction from the real world, and a couple of great years of racing and friendship. ほんとにどうもありがとうございます!

Here's a great way to donate to help the victims of the disaster:


  1. glad you and your loved ones are OK, what a disaster; living 13 years in LA and through several 6.0 range quakes, I learned to "get under the desk" when things start shaking; too many things falling to run down stairwells; man, five minutes is huge; longest quake I remember is 30 seconds and that seemed an eternity; I will really miss your race reports from the Keirin nirvana. bh, st louis

  2. Thanks, Bill. I'm gonna keep a foot in the door over here. I'm gonna remain a member of my Japanese team, and come back and race or do camps with them as I'm able. They might even come over to the States for some racing!