Jess Ripper/Niseko Multisport | Photos: Tim Bradley
As Ironman Japan approaches (August 24) for the second running in it’s new (as of 2013) home of the Lake Toya/Niseko region of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, local triathlon coaching & training camp operator Niseko Multisport have provided a must-read guide for anyone racing at Ironman Japan this year, or looking for the ultimate endurance training experience.
Fact: Hokkaido is quite possibly Asia’s best-kept secret as an endurance sports training and racing destination!
Whilst renowned for it’s abundant powder snow throughout the cold winters, during the summer green season months, the island’s natural beauty, topography and mild climate combine to create the perfect swim-bike-run location. Endless stunning alpine scenery, volcanoes, pristine caldera lakes, lush forests, and quiet smooth roads are abound. A perfect mix of flat, rolling, and mountainous terrain makes Hokkaido the ultimate venue for Ironman!
- Sapporo’s New Chitose International Airport provides direct links to many of Asia’s major cities; including Hong Kong, Taipei, Shanghai, Seoul, and Bangkok. For visitors flying in from the southern hemisphere, a short layover in Tokyo or Osaka is necessary, which isn’t such a bad thing if you want to shop till you drop!
- Lake Toya, the venue for Ironman Japan, is approximately 100-kilometres from New Chitose International Airport, with buses and trains regularly making the 2.5 hour trip between the two locations.
- Driving in Hokkaido is easy and safe, and renting a car* opens up so much more of the area to explore before or after the race, and provides a way for your supporter crew to drive to various points along the bike course on race day to cheer you on!
Note: A valid International Drivers License is required for renting vehicles in Japan.
Accommodation & Food
- Lake Toya – the start/finish location for Ironman Japan is a well-known and popular tourist area, renowned for it’s breathtaking scenery and many hot spring hotels. Accommodation is plentiful, with the majority being of the modest three-to-four-star rating. The area is also home to numerous Japanese ryokans (B&B) and minshuku (basic lodging) establishments. There’s also the plush five-star Windsor Hotel for those seeking something special! Lake Toya’s many hotels provide a good selection of restaurants to choose from, with both Japanese and western dining options available. There are not any large supermarkets in the area, however several convenience stores are located around the lake for emergency supplies or a quick snack.
- Niseko – situated approximately 45-kilometres (40-minute drive) from Lake Toya, this popular mountain resort area has been a hotbed of foreign property investment and development over the past decade. Accommodation options are wide-ranging; from simple Japanese lodges, to modern western-style condominiums, to luxury alpine chalets. There are plentiful good restaurants to enjoy in Niseko; from Michelin Star-rated fine dining, to traditional Japanese fare, to western-style dining, as well as many cafes with good espresso! Niseko offers the most in terms of western-style accommodation & dining options. If staying in Niseko, a rental car will be necessary to make for easy access to Lake Toya during race week.
Ironman Japan – The Swim
The triangular one-and-two-thirds lap 3.8-kilometre course takes place in the crystal clear water of Lake Toya, and is a spectator-friendly course. Rated as one of Japan’s top-three cleanest lakes, Lake Toya’s water is clean enough to drink! Water temperature on race day should be in the low-20 degree Celsius range, and should be wetsuit legal.
Ironman Japan – The Bike
A one-lap, 180-kilometre loop through one of Asia’s most beautiful landscapes. The first 30km is flat and fast around Lake Toya, before athletes begin a series of climbs (steepest approx. 10 per cent) as the course winds through lush forest, patchwork farmland, and around the base of the ever-inspiring landmark Mt. Yotei.
Total climbing on this course is almost 1,900-metres, although most climbs are quite short, and there are several long gradual downhill runs where athletes will be able to recover. Roads are fast and in excellent condition, and the challenging mix of terrain provides something for all types of cyclist.
Ironman Japan – The Run
The 42.2-kilometre marathon is comprised of two out-and-back laps, which wind along the picturesque shores of Lake Toya. With one slight, short gradient to tackle, the otherwise flat run course is great for spectators, and is lined with trees for the majority of the lap, providing good protection from the sun if it’s a hot day.
August is the most pleasant month of the year in Hokkaido. Daytime temperatures average in the low-to-mid 20 degree Celsius region, perfect for Ironman racing! The mercury can rise though, and hotter days in the high-20’s is not uncommon. As the sun sets, the air temperature can drop quickly, so if you expect a late Ironman finish, it might be best to include an extra layer in your run transition bag.
For those keen to take a first-hand look, Niseko Multisport holds summer training camps on the Ironman Japan course. The camps are based in Niseko, and provide the best opportunity for athletes wanting the recce the course, enjoy an incredibly scenic training venue, as well as eating well & recovering in style!
With qualifying slots on offer for the following year’s Kona (i.e. Ironman Japan 2014 is the first qualifying race for Kona 2015), Ironman Japan is the best chance to punch your Kona ticket early – come and prepare on the course in advance!
- Cycling – if you are up for it! Local roads are quiet and in excellent condition, and the scenery is simply spectacular. The Lake Toya/Niseko region is home to some of the best cycling in Asia, possibly the world, hands down!
- Hot springs (onsen). The region is famous for the many nutrient-rich onsens, which is a must-do after the race – the ultimate recovery!
- Volcanoes! The region is dotted with dormant volcanoes. The ever-present Mt Yotei (Baby Mt. Fuji) is visible from virtually all points on the Ironman Japan course. Mt. Usuzan, on Lake Toya’s shores last erupted in 2000, and has a ropeway accessing an observation deck near the summit – with great views of neighboring volcano Mt. Showa Shinzan, the Pacific Ocean, and Lake Toya itself.
- Food! Hokkaido is the food bowl of Japan, and the array of fresh organic local produce is well worth indulging in. Local favourites include wild venison, fresh seafood, and a countless assortment of vegetables – don’t miss the potatoes!
- Niseko – this globally renowned mountain resort is a great place to relax after Ironman. With a wide assortment of accommodation available (from modest to five-star luxury), the area offers everything from the thrill of white water rafting & downhill mountain biking, to hiking the many mountain peaks, and some of Asia’s best road cycling routes.
- Sapporo – Hokkaido’s largest city offers the bright neon lights and shopping experiences that one associated with a trip to Japan.
- Otaru – close to Sapporo, a pretty coastal city famous for top quality sushi, as well as an interesting meander along the canal and through the many old antique shops.
Niseko Multisport provides face-to-face and online triathlon & fitness coaching to athletes across the globe. Our personally customized training programs cater to your specific ability & fitness level, which will see you reach your triathlon & fitness goals faster! Join one of our triathlon training camps on the Ironman Japan course in summer 2015! (2014 dates sold out). Niseko Multisport is based in Niseko, Hokkaido, Japan – an endurance sports training wonderland.