The Mt. Fuji Hill Climb Really Tested Me
Last Sunday I participated in the Mt. Fuji Hill Climb cycling race, which I completely underestimated. I do a 40 km or so ride with my cycling club, Tokyo Cranks, every weekend but this didn’t prepare me nearly enough for the pain of riding a 25 km race, which was entirely uphill!
On Friday I, along with a bunch of cycling friends of various nationalities and levels of cycling prowess, rented a big house in the woods for the weekend so that we could prepare for the race in comfort, without distraction and with plenty of time. It was a lovely new place, complete with all sorts of special eco-friendly technology.
After a hearty barbecue in the woods near the house on Saturday night, and after getting slightly lost on the way from the house to the starting line on Sunday morning, my team and I began the race at 8 am in the crisp mountain air, along with over 8,000 other cyclists (Yes! Over 8,000!)
Well, at the 5 km mark I realised that it was going to be considerably tougher than I thought. My heart rate was already up to 145 beats per minute, and I was sweating quite freely in spite of the cool air. Fortunately, at the 10 km mark my heart rate settled to an average of 124 bpm, and I was breathing deeply but comfortably. This was good, because I wasn’t aiming to win the race or anything. I just wanted to finish it without getting off my bike and in a respectable time. As i mentioned earlier I do a 40 km or so ride every weekend, plus I lift weights about 3 times a week (including heavy deadlifts which are great for the legs and lower back) and I train in kung fu once a week. So I was I was in reasonably good shape for this race.
However, my hamstrings soon began burning like someone had put flame to them! I used my mindfulness skills to try to simply observe the pain without creating aversion to it, but it was relentless. I kept having to stand up off my saddle to stretch my hams out and get some minor relief, but this of course meant not pedaling, slowing down, and then having to pedal harder to maintain speed again. This went on for more than 2 hours…
At the 17 km mark, I actually started to think that maybe I wasn’t going to finish the race. I was passing many younger, fitter guys and girls than me who’d given up and were walking their bikes up the hill or sitting in the grass beside the road. But I really didn’t want to join them, so I pushed on.
It wasn’t all bad, though. People lined the road cheering us on here and there, and at one point there were even cheer leaders waving pom poms and calling out to us to “fight!” Then there were the taiko drummers. When I heard the loud booming which typical of Japanese drums, I got a surge of adrenaline! Surely they were saving the big drums for the finish line, right? Wrong… It was just a way point around the 18 km mark…
So on I pushed… And suddenly the road fattened and I passed a “1 km remaining” sign. Praise god, I’d done it! Not quite. The road was indeed flat for a short while, and my hamstrings stopped torturing me somewhat.
But then, with the finish line in sight, the road through one last 500 meter long hill at us. Having dropped their guard on the flat part of the road, the final hill proved too much mentally for some who just got off their bikes and walked them up the hill. True to my promise to myself, I didn’t get off my bike and rolled over the finish line in 2 hours and 28 minutes while my faster mates cheered me on from the side of the road.
After zooming back down the mountain to the start line at about speeds of up to 58 kmph, I ate free udon noodles from one of the many outdoor stands, and contemplated the events of the day.
This was an interesting and humbling experience for me. As a health coach and long term martial arts instructor it’s my job to get people properly prepared for whatever it is they are aiming for – weight loss, general fitness, fight preparation, etc. But my own preparation for this race fell short of what was required. Admittedly, cycling is my tertiary type of training, with kung fu being my primary type, and weight lifting being my secondary type, and I just turned 51 a couple of weeks ago. But that’s no excuse! I knew what was coming and I was not fully prepared for it. So I will practice what I preach, address that correctly with a different training strategy, and crack the 2 hour mark in 2017.
See you next year, Fuji-san.