Embrunman in the beautiful little French town of Embrun is one of those races that should be on everyone’s bucket list. It is said to be one of the toughest iron distance races in the world and it certainly lives up to its reputation. The swim starts in pitch darkness, the 188k bike through the mountains has over 3800 metres of climbing and some of those are killer climbs including Col D’Izoard. The marathon run is hot and hilly and the pro prize money is much better than your average race (HOWEVER, there is a very frustrating inequality in prize money for men and woman!) This was the 30th anniversary of the race and I was excited to be giving it a go.
Before the race my training didn’t go quite to plan. After Ironman Austria I began having some trouble with my foot and hip. I thought my foot had cleared up and if felt fine in the run up to our training race at Alpe d’Huez where I finished 2nd. After that race my problems returned this time feeling worse than before and we decided that stopping running before Embrunman was the best option. It wasn’t ideal before a race like Embrunman but I knew I would just have to do what I could on the day.
We loaded up the cars and headed to Embrun on the Tuesday before the race which was on Thursday as it is always held on the 15th of August. After the long car journey we registered and made our way up the mountain to where we were staying. Leading in to the race it felt completely different from any other Iron distance race I’ve ever done. Maybe it’s because I was looking at it as one big long training day.
Race day arrived and we set up our transition and got ready for out 5.50am start in complete darkness. The women were off first and as we stood on the start line I realised that I didn’t have a clue where we were going. I thought it would be easier to see which lights we were supposed to swim towards but as I stood there I could see a few different lights of different colours and they looked to me to be all over the place. I looked around for some English speaking people to ask which lights we were to follow but with no luck so had to just hope I would find the feet of someone who knew the way. The gun went off and we started swimming and soon I found some feet to swim on. The pace was good for about 200m then it dropped to a really easy pace, I knew it was too slow but not knowing where I was going I decided to stay where I was and follow as I was so disorientated in the darkness that I hadn’t a clue what part of the lake I was in or where the buoys were. So after a very slow paced swim I got to transition and was ready for the long day on the bike.
I built in to the bike going fairly steady to start and when I reached the bottom of the biggest climb Col D’Izoard which rises to 2361m I was feeling pretty strong. It’s a long climb and I just climbed at a good solid effort. I felt pretty comfortable and was passing a lot of people. After stopping briefly at the top to pick up some extra nutrition I set off on the descent and after a very bumpy section at the bottom (where my handlebars dropped) I started to feel really strong. I could see Anne Basso just ahead on a flat section and rode past feeling pretty strong. I rode pretty strong until I hit a short uphill section and could see the next girls up ahead so I knew I was making good ground after my pretty poor swim. Soon after that point I realised that I was beginning to slow a lot. I wasn’t feeling great and not long after Anne passed me again; I tried to stay with her and with around 40k to go of the 188k I realised I was blowing up big time!
I could still ride at a reasonable pace so I just kept turning the pedals. Eventually I got back to the town of Embrun and I had blown properly. Not a great condition to be in when you have been riding for over 6 hours and still have another 6 or 7 k climb to do with a very tricky gravelly bumpy descent. I saw Brett just before the last climb and he shouted something to me. I didn’t have the energy to respond, I reached the bottom of the climb and I felt like the whole world was coming past me. It took every ounce of energy I had just to turn the pedals and I was seriously wondering if I was even going to make it to the end of the bike. I felt so weak and unwell that I wanted to get off the bike, lay under a tree and sleep. That last climb seemed to go on forever and eventually I saw the aid station at the top which I needed badly. I grabbed two bottles, one of which happened to be coke. I have never had coke on the bike before but this accidental grab of that bottle may have saved my race. It felt so good and instantly made me perk up a little. I drank the whole bottle at once and headed down the descent. At the top French athlete Alexandra Louison who I had ridden away from at the bottom of Col d’izoard came past me again so I stuck with her down the descent to transition.
In transition Lousion was in and out like a shot and I was left wondering if I would even be able to run as far as the 3k mark. I had gone from 4th and eagerly chasing 2nd and 3rd to 6th wondering if I was going to finish. I sat in my chair and thought about what I needed to do then after some thought I slowly reached for my socks and shoes then put my number belt and run vest on. People were shouting at me wondering what I was doing but I just sat there then after a few moments slowly got to my feet. Before I tried running I decided to take some more time to put some sunscreen on my shoulders then picked up a small bottle of water and trotted off. I was surprised to find that my legs still worked a little, that was a bonus so I thought I would see how far I could get. A few km in I was still trotting along slowly but at least I was moving. Soon after I saw Brett and he was giving me instructions on how to run up the big hill. Oh no! I had forgotten about the fact that it was a hilly run too! I shouted back at him saying ‘I’m not in good shape’ (not the exact words!). He ignored my comment and just shouted clear instructions which I followed and the next time I saw him I was feeling slightly better. He shouted that a podium position was possible but it would take a big run so I got to work and soon began picking people off. I managed to keep a steady pace going, it was slow but it was in control and I just kept trucking on the best I could making sure that I took something on at every aid station. I made up some positions and by around 25k I was in a podium position and I held on to take 3rd.
After thinking that I wouldn’t even make it to the end of the bike I have to be pleased to have made the podium at the end of the day. It was one long tough day out but I’m dying to go back and do it all again. Embrunman lived up to its expectations and it is a race that I would recommend to anyone looking for a real challenge!