Feeling strong on the Tamagawa

Feeling strong on Tamagawa

Back in the saddle today to take advantage of a break in the rainy season weather. It was overcast and a bit cool, both of which are good for cycling. I didn’t wear my mask (although I did use sunblock) and I didn’t get too sweaty. It was also a bit breezy, but overall I was not fighting the wind much.

I wore my cleats for the first time since having the gout back in April. I was a bit concerned, but my foot fit fine and I was more comfortable than with the light cotton tennies I’ve been wearing. There was a bit of pressure against the toenail of the big toe, but there always has been with these shoes.

GPS map of Hamura Round Trip
Hamura Round Trip

When I got to the big downhill in Futako, I had a recurrence of the mechanical that I suffered at the exact same spot two weeks ago. Fortunately, this time it only took two or three tries to get the shifter to respond again, and I decided to continue my ride rather than visit the shop.

I felt I was ready for a longer ride, and so instead of heading downstream on the Tama river towards Haneda, I headed upstream. The cycling course continues past Fussa to the Hamura intake weir, a major source of drinking water for Tokyo.

The path was crowded with joggers this morning, and there were moments where I had to bide my time and wait for traffic to clear a bit before passing. I try not to take too many risks as my handlebars are quite wide (it would be too easy to hook someone while passing) and my reaction time isn’t what it once was — and there’s always the chance that I’ll react in the wrong direction!

Funajima Inari Shrine
Funajima Inari Shrine
Pinecones at Funajima Inari Jinja
Pinecones at Funajima Inari Jinja

My first rest stop (apart from the convenience store to buy some rice balls for lunch) was Funajima Inari Jinja, a small and dilapidated shine on the Tama river adjacent to the Nikaryoushu river weir. As it’s an inari shrine, it’s dedicated to foxes, the messengers of the gods. I spent a few minutes here resting my hands (which get numb from my weight on the handlebars), stretching my legs and taking photos.

Nikaryoushuku river weir
Nikaryoushuku river weir 「二ヶ領宿河原堰」

Continuing upstream, I encountered a marathon in progress. It might not have been the regulation 42.195km, but the signs said “Marathon” 「マラソン」and I didn’t want to upset anyone’s Sunday morning adventure, so I tried to be respectful and share the road.

All the while, I thought I’d been benefiting from a tailwind. My legs felt good (apart from some cramps in the calves that I just pedaled through), and my 5km splits on the GPS were looking very good. I was pleased with my progress, but dreading a bit the ride back home.

Feeling strong on Tamagawa
Feeling strong on Tamagawa

As it happened, I was making good time and reached Hamura in about 3 hours 15 minutes total elapsed time. I like taking a photo with the statue of the Tamagawa (Seiemon) brothers, who built the 43km long aqueduct for the Tokugawa Shogunate beginning in April 1653.

GPS read-out on arrival in Hamura
GPS never lies

As I felt I was making good time, I scarfed down my (store-bought) rice balls. Considering my progress upriver, I was a bit concerned I’d be heading into the wind on the return. But I was determined to make the effort. I made a quick stop at the restroom (where an older “gent” splashed my shoes without any regard for aim) and then refilled my water bottles at the fountain. I was off on my way home.

How did it go? Contrary to my expectations, I was not headed directly into the wind. There was a crosswind, and I was feeling it a bit more than I had on the way upstream, but I powered through it. My 5km splits were not looking bad. In the interest of posting a good time, I skipped one of my regular rest stops, determined to make 15km before stopping.

My calf was cramped. Each time I stopped or climbed a switchback, I could feel it complaining as I accelerated once more. Each time I eased off the gas in reaction to the wind, it only seemed to be worse. As far as the cramp in my calf was concerned, pedal to the metal was the way to go. And so be it! I even skipped the very cyclist-friendly café with soft cream in order to maintain my pace.

On the way home I felt weaker, and I felt hungry despite having had three rice balls, a yogurt drink and string cheese. Disregarding my subjective feelings, the GPS said I was making progress as good as I had been on my way upstream. I posted a couple of 5km times at 12 minutes 15 seconds or less. I decided to ignore my feelings and go for the big gear whenever the wind wasn’t making it too hard a go.

I had another break at a tiny little shrine (even Google Maps doesn’t name it) where there was a public restroom, a bench in the shade and a fountain to fill my water bottles. There was a message from Nana, my partner, asking when I’d be home. I wasn’t quite sure. I knew I had 25-30km to go, and I knew how I’d been going up to now. But I also knew I was flagging, and I had a good climb ahead of me on the way. I gave her an estimate of two hours. Then I said it could be longer.

At this point I knew that I only needed one water bottle. I’d make Futako and the climb that followed, and there was a fountain there. From there, a final 12km home. I was still feeling hungry. But enough! Time to be on the road.

Back on the path, I felt that I was flagging. I wondered about coming down out of sixth gear. After all, I was still going more than 20km/h in fifth. But each time the wind let up, I knew I had more in reserve. Back to sixth it was!

Between the cramping and the exhaustion, I wasn’t sure I’d make it up the Futako hill. I determined to try it and see how it went. I was just behind some kid on a minivelo. When I dropped to the small chainring, he rocketed ahead. But I soldiered on. The GPS said I was climbing at 9-11km/h. Pretty much the usual, then. There wasn’t much traffic, thankfully. I got to the top, thinking I couldn’t have gone another meter higher, and there was the “kid” on the minivelo — with greying hair, yet!

Water bottle and Snickers
Emergency energy

There’s a small park at the top of the hill, and I stopped to enjoy a Snickers that I’d bought at a convenience store at the bottom of the hill. I thought it would satisfy my need for carbohydrates, but I only felt more hungry after eating it.

From this point, I know that it’s less than an hour home. I messaged Nana that I’d be home by 4:30, and I set out. There’s a tricky combination of lights and an overpass immediately after this point, but I determined not to race it, to wait for the second light so that I wasn’t racing (and creating a hazard) through a crowd of people going in the opposite direction.

All the way home, my 5km times remained good. Less than 15 minutes for 5km means better than 20km/h. I was a bit weak on the very moderate hills along the way, but not dramatically so. I reminded myself on numerous occasions that I was tired, so I shouldn’t try to beat that light, slip between those cars, ignore that pedestrian who was itching to cross the road in front of me without looking.

At last, the home stretch. There’s a generous downhill alongside Shinjuku’s Central Park. Wide double lanes, but lots of parked cars that suddenly try to merge into traffic. I kept shifting up, right past 35km/h, while keeping my wits about for the traffic racing up behind me or merging suddenly ahead of me. I neared the condo and hastily checked the GPS. Just shy of 105km. I decided to circle the block until the chime for the final 5km split rang. It only took once around, and then I was walking my bike down the ramp to the parking.

How did I do? I was eager to plug the GPS into my faithful laptop, but when I arrived home I discovered that the furniture workers were busy laying down multiple layers of lacquer in my study. Rather than interrupt them to ask for my laptop, I decided to bide my time. I took photos of the sunset and corresponded with a friend via my smartphone.

Shinjuku sunset
Shinjuku sunset

When I finally got the chance to plug in my GPS, the results were a bit anticlimactic. One goal that had kept me going today was my personal best for 40km — 1 hour, 41 minutes and 51 seconds — set last year along this same route. My best 40km segment today was 1 hour, 42 minutes and 0 seconds, 9 seconds off the pace. I knew that today hadn’t been my farthest ride, but then I had to consider when I started using the GPS. As it happens, last August I traveled 20m farther than I did today, along pretty much the same route.

All said and done, though, I’m confident I did set one personal best today. My total elapsed time (recorded by the GPS but not tracked as a record) was 6 hours, 34 minutes and 21 seconds, and I know for a fact that’s the first time I’ve done this course in under 7 hours.

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