Every now and then, Samurai Sports staff and other poor victims (better known as contributors) write about their first-hand experience at a sporting event in Japan. In Event Reviews, we give you the scoop on what it's like to participate in everything from rides to runs, triathlons, and everything in between.
After swimming 1.5KM, cycling 40KM, and running 10KM, more than 1,000 participants crossed the Kujukuri Triathlon finish line on Saturday, the 16th of September. Despite the dodgy weather, the 2017 Kujukuri Triathlon was another smashing success for event organizers, triathletes, and spectators. Though the event never witnessed a heavy downpour, intermittent rain drizzles seemed to dampen the celebratory mood. However, those with prior 99T experience noted that the weather was still an improvement from the year before, when the event saw steady rain throughout the event.
For some, Kujukuri capped off their 2017 triathlon season. For beginners, it marked the beginning of a new fitness journey. And for others yet, it planted a seed of curiosity and possibly, determination.
Make It a Weekend Getaway
Known also as the 99T, the Olympic distance Kujukuri Triathlon takes place every year at Ichinomiya Beach on the shores of Kujukuri town in Chiba Prefecture. Located on the Boso Peninsula, Kujukuri is a seaside location popular with tourists for its mild climate. The beaches of Kujukuri extend over 66KM and face the Pacific Ocean. Strong winds are not uncommon, making the Kujukuri shorelines a popular surfing destination. From Central Tokyo, Kujukuri is less than a two-hour trip by train or car (via the Tokyo Bay Aqua Line).
All Bikes Aboard!
The 99T was one of the first triathlon events to collaborate with Japan Railway (JR) to deploy a cycle train, which are normal commuter trains with seats covered by a protective tarp and creative utilization of hanging straps to rack bicycles. For a nominal fee, participants are permitted to board an outfitted cycle train with their bikes fully assembled at either Ryogoku or Chiba stations. Event briefings are conducted on the train and participants are given their race packet before alighting at Ichinomiya station. From Ichinomiya station, participants rode approximately 3KM to the main stage and finish area for the (free) bag check, then about 2KM to transition and prepare for their race.
Event Briefings for All
If there's one thing the Japan Triathlon Union (JTU) loves, it's a mind-numbingly long event briefing. In total, four event briefings were held in Japanese - two on the Friday evening before race day, and two on Saturday morning. Samurai Sports held an English event briefing on Saturday morning and were available on-site to answer any questions.
For the record, we will always go through the event briefing page for page - but we try to add some humor and acknowledge the level of ability/experience among those being briefed. If it's your first time, we can't do anything about those butterflies in your stomach but we're here to support you and make doubly sure that you feel confident at the start line. Not your first rodeo? We'll tell you what you need to know and let you focus on your race.
Cruising, then Fighting
The Kujukuri Triathlon is a wetsuit mandatory race. With a water temperature of about 23 degrees Celsius (73F) and outdoor temperature in the high teens/low twenties (high 60s/low 70s), most everyone swam in a full length wetsuit. It's important to note that the swim takes place in an estuary, rather than on the beaches of Kujukuri. Truth be told, the strong winds that day gave way to powerful waves smashing down the Kujukuri shore - a 1.5KM swim in those conditions would not appeal to the majority.
At the same time, an estuary is subject to both marine and riverine influences. While swimmers traveled downstream in record time, it was not unusual to see some swimming upstream...and literally moving backwards. Most of the swim route however, was shallow enough to walk in and due to the strong currents, many simply opted to conserve energy and walk upstream. Considering the tough conditions, water safety was paramount - at least a dozen lifeguards on paddle boards and a handful of rescue jet skis were on standby at all times.
Blink and You Might Miss
Once out the swim, most triathletes found themselves quite a distance away from their bikes. In fact, the transition area was a whopping 500 meters long and set up as a narrow, snakey space. Depending on one's wave and designated rack space, you could reasonably expect to add up to 1KM to your triathlon. 51.50? Try 52.50.
Unfortunately, only a limited part of the transition area was accessible to the public. Once an athlete turned right into the transition, you would lose sight of them as they galloped into the distance. Even if they turned left, your reunion was limited to a few seconds while they stripped off their wetsuit and hurriedly grabbed their bikes. Furthermore, the 3 loop bike course was not easily accessible by foot. In fact, most spectators hunkered down at transition to wait for their athlete's two-wheeled return before cheering them into the run.
A Run to Remember
While most of the run takes place on asphalt, the Kujukuri Triathlon is unique for its run route, which takes the athlete onto the dark sands of the beach and the paved boardwalk stretching across Ichinomiya Beach. This path along the beach lends itself to the rhythmic lull of the ocean as waves crash into sand and the remarkable sight of the expanse that is nature. Windy as it may be for city dwellers, the run may be one of the most serene parts of the race. Of course, some runners prefer to stay away from sand. At 99T, no amount of tiptoeing will keep you off the sand and in fact, the finish chute is a forty meter run...on sand. The run itself is one and a half loops, with the half loop being a smaller loop within the first loop.
One of the biggest highlights of the Kujukuri Triathlon is the beach party after the race! Tables and chairs are set up around the chute and stage area, enabling spectators to keep an eye out for their athlete finishing (or reaching the podium!) while enjoying a beer and a wide range of food provided by a selection of local eateries. Of particular note that day was the local take on bouillebaisse, a French fish stew served piping hot with bread. All participants were entitled to a serving of hamaguri clams, a dish from any one of the Chiba gotouchi food booths, and two drinks. Of course, all food and beverages were also available for purchase (cash only).