Friday, June 22, 2007

Japan: National Joba Club and NTT DoCoMo at Endurance Ride

Japan's Perfect Ride

It really was a perfect ride. After a few days of rain and unsettled weather, ride day dawned with bright blue sky and comfortable riding temperatures. It couldn't have been much better weather! And all of the work- the plans - paid off for a smooth and exciting event. The meals, the meetings, the awards, the trail, the pre-ride symposium, the transport of vets and officials from Narita airport to the small country town of Kita-Karuisawa - everything was 'right'. The completion rate was pretty good - 10 out of 18 finishers - in spite of (or maybe because of) a tough course. The race felt much like those we have in the USA. I think the fact that Hasumi san has 4 Tevis buckles and knows what 'real endurance' is about had something to do with this. Riders did their own thing, the pressure to win was not strong, to finish was a big deal.

And relative to events I've seen around the world, I would call this one a 'world class' event, as good as it gets. An incredible effort was made by so many people, from organizers to volunteers, from local people to Tokyo transplants (Hasumi san recruited employees from his publishing company to come out and help!) to foreign officials and vets - a sincere effort and willingness to give 100% was the mode.

The ride's main sponsor was Joba Ride - the horse 'robot' training machine made by National. There was a booth set up near the vetting area with several units for people to try - it was almost like a carnival ride atmosphere - the little horse robots were working all day long. This machine has become very popular in Japan, and honestly I want one! It's a great workout for abdomen and glut's and legs. I think I can even type at the computer while I'm riding....

The rider tracking provided by NTT DoCoMo - a cellcom company - was incredible, and to my knowlege the first of it's kind. Every rider carried a cellphone with GMS coverage, and a GPS tracking system. Several guys were set up in the office/community room with wires and computers and software to project the tracking onto a large screen, syncronized with a map of the course. We knew at every moment exactly where every rider was. Officials, crews, OC, we all knew how the race was going, when riders would be in, when the passed the check points, etc. Fantastic!

I haven't been to any other rides in Japan, but I heard from many that they were all well run. There's a very active group in Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, that ran Japan's first endurance ride, and many since then including the National Championship rides. They were all here - with or without horses (which have to be ferried from island to island) - to ride or crew or help.

...and I heard talk about 'next year' - I think this ride is a keeper!


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