I haven’t written a race blog in a while, but this was a very special race. Some people know all about it while most others, even though being its 35th year running have never heard of it.
(I’ve included most pictures from Activ'Images from their Facebook page, most not of me but it helps paint a better picture)
The idea to race Embrunman came about in 2017 while in Park City while recklessly descending with no caution to safety. TriSutto has deep roots with this race, Cam Watt having race it himself back in the day and a lot of Brett’s athletes being sent there over the years.
This race is renowned for being the hardest triathlon going around 3.8k fresh water swim which starts in the dark, 188k bike with 5000m of elevation and a 42.2k run. But it’s not just the race that’s hard, it’s everything from even getting to the start line. I had spent a good summer training in Switzerland with our TriSutto Hills District crew and Home Of Triathlon squads in St. Moritz.
My Luggage for 15hrs of train rides
This is the Anti-Ironman - The long course race is held on the 15th of August every year regardless of the day while the short course race is 3 days earlier, this just happened to be a Wednesday this year. I left St. Moritz Switzerland Sunday morning at 5:30am with a train scheduled taking 15hrs with some fairly tight platform transfers with a heck of a lot of luggage and got to the house in France at 10:00pm
To hire a car was marginally more expensive than the trains, which was about $500 return from St. Moritz (SBB Swiss trains are a bit expensive, but they are reliable, on time and clean) If I can split a car with someone next time or even just hire a car it would cut the travel times in half. If coming through Switzerland I’d recommend getting a SBB half price 12-month rail cards for 185 CHF if you plan on doing a few trips but this will need to be done at the train station or onn the SBB website when in Switzerland.
Thankfully I had some friends who I had met in St. Moritz, Mathieu Bigaud and Jeanne Collogne who have raced here many times before, Jeanne is a multiple time winner so I was able to get some valuable information from them, however they left the day after I arrived. After the Paris terror attack in 2015, they have become very tight on security; a passport is needed to simply register and pick up your gear bag. Your passport is also needed to enter transition the morning of the race, I’m so thankful Mathieu told me this otherwise there’s no chance I would have bought it with me.
The race book is entirely French, no chance of finding anything out, I had no WIFI and I couldn’t top up my phone’s data (EU sim but can only be recharged in Germany so they tell me, but I couldn’t argue in French so I gave up) so the only way to find out information like “what time does the race start 6am, when does transition open 4:30am, what’s at the aid stations still couldn’t tell you, “are they going to implement the ‘BYO cup-less race this year’” apparently not “do I need my race belt and number on the bike” no…… but apparently getting a yellow card having to run back to transition meant “yes you do need your race belt” anyway all that info which is generally easy to access I had to walk around the expo asking if people spoke English and if they could help. To spice things up a bit more, the night I arrived and the next day was pouring rain, to this I get the response “It’s snowed during the race many years on top of the Col de I’zoard (2360m) when it’s raining like this….” Sorta nice to think, even if it’s snowing… They don’t cancel. I like that…
Where Ironman is all about making sure everyone is included and making sure everyone is happy, Embrunman… sorta feels like they really couldn’t care if you make it to the start line or not, that’s for you to figure out and part of your journey. Although stressful for the first time it gives you a great sense of adventure.
The day before the race I logged onto RideWithGPS created the course map on a TCX file and loaded it onto my Garmin, I would highly recommend doing this, (file is attached for anyone to use or message me and I'll send the TCX to you) it really helps with the descents knowing there won’t be a hairpin corner or a bend that tightens right up when you are going full noise with 100% commitment into blind corners with rock walls on one side and knee height guardrails with cliff drop offs on the other. Even then, I still locked it up 3 times skidding into or through corners.
I also drew the course elevation profile so I knew how far into the climbs I was and how long it was till the base of the next climb. I really feel as though this mentally helped as It felt like I already knew the course.
Course profiles on my stem
The most unique bike racking system I have ever seen. It does make you question your bike choice however and whether a road bike with clip on bars would be more appropriate to save 3kgs of weight and disregards aerodynamics.
Crazy bike racking system
Fast Forward to race morning. It was an early start, 3am, breakfast, coffee, safety poo and the 1km walk to transition. Once again, DON’T forget your passport or you don’t start. Putting my wetsuit on Scott Defillipes ran into me to say hi, plus told me the race doesn’t start till the top of the I’zoard, which Echo’d exactly what Brett (Sutton) Cam (Watt) and James (Cunnama) had said to me.
I have never seen this before, but the women start 10mins before the men, the dark fresh water lake was 20.5 degrees which is a perfect temp in a wetsuit. The order to get to the front of the start line however is not so perfect. Privileged we are having a separate pro start, where you can get to the water’s edge whenever you like and know you’ll have a good position, this was more like the mass start at Kona but with AG’ers and Pro’s combined but all corralled through a holding arch, I was stressing because I didn’t get an opportunity to rinse the detergent out of my goggles until minutes before the start where I was able to grab someone’s water bottle, and even then they were very sudsy, I was thinking “here we go, 100m in and I’m goanna be blind from detergent in my eyes”
I only managed to get about 3 rows to the front after pushing though, speaking Australian and getting some disapproving looks. If anyone has raced Goondiwindi’s Hell Of The West, the swim is exactly like that, you start when there’s only just enough light to see.
Dark as start, so much like Gundy
Start hooter goes off! Not being on the front line combined with it being so dark was hard to know what feet to go with, I figured out about 300m in that I was on the wrong side of the groups splitting, in the past I’ve been unable to do this but was able to bridge a 15m gap to the 2nd group where I stayed for the rest of the swim coming out in 53mins and 4mins down from the leader Romain Guillaume, this was one of my better swims so far.
I remember seeing that 03 capa few people in front of me, i really was trying to get behind him when we were lined up on the sand
Straight out of the water you’re met with a 6km climb, Andrej Vistica (previous race winner) came past me, I rode with him for a bit before deciding I wasn’t willing to ride that hard so early into a race that I had no experience with. (In hindsight I sorta wish I did go to see how hard you need to ride the first half of the course) I finished the climb with eventual race winner Diago who rode away on the next big climb and Erik Merino who I rode 140k with.
Hitting it straight our of transition up the first climb
Romain Guillaume hitting a really steep pinch on the first climb
This is the most spectacular bike course, ridding through tunnels, descents on narrow unprotected roads, a course which you’d rarely ever see. I love the fact that it really tests your bike handling skills, you can really save tremendous amounts of time (or loose) if you’re a confident descender.
I was on the brakes so hard coming into the following corner that took a hard right, was using every bit of road I had.
What guard rails?
And there was people complaining about the old Sunshine Coast 70.3 courses hill where there was a nice clear marked 90 degree corner the bottom being too dangerous... BAHHAHHA - you people make me laugh....
On the way up the 29km 1300m ascent of the I’zoard we pushed close to 300w for an hour, with my 39/28 setup once we hit the final 9km of switchbacks I think I was sitting on 60-65 RPM for the most part, maybe next time I’ll consider a 30t cassette as those extra gears getting closer to 75-80 would have been very appreciated, however about 2k from the top I had to back off a bit and let Merino go as I was concerned about doing a good back end bike ride.
Hairpins up the Col de I'soard
There’s an aid station at the summit which is roughly the half way point of the race. You completely stop and re-stock water bottles, I grabbed 2 fresh bottles of Infinit a bottle of Coke, shoved a banana down the front of my top and a croissant down the back, which I got to eating about 25kms later.
Descending the I’zoard I think hurt my legs more than the climb, I was determined to get back in contact, so I took a lot of risks, hit the corners hard on the brakes and fast on the wrong side of the road (roads are semi closed) but looking back there was just too many 600-800w accelerations out of the corners. I choose not to ride to power (no screens showing on my Garmin) in this race as I going more on feel, recovering where I could and just holding speed, but it would of been a good indicator to ease up a bit.
I could see Merino on the next hairpin, was getting after it. Awesome being able to use both lanes descending the I'soard, Still not sure if the roads where closed or if it was only open in the direction the bikes were traveling
I had been warned about the last 6km climb right before transition, you can loose 20-30mins on it if you crack, you see a 6km sign to Embrun, but instead of going into town you do a right hand turn over the bridge for one last uphill. This course could easily be 180km if they took that hill out, but instead it adds way more character by having it, and an extra 8k to get over. (185km at Frankfurt and 188K here, will be nice to ride a normal distance course at the next race!)
What I wasn’t expecting thought was the a climb called Pallon , 2nd climb you do after the I’zoard, this is a steep bugger, 50rpm for a lot of it, 5km long, this was where my legs started to give-way on the climbs, I could still hold good speeds on the flats TT’ing but climbing I could feel I was starting to haemorrhage time now, which I lost about 10+mins in the final 50kms.
There’s a 6k slow, tight descent into T2, which gives you time to pee if you have to and try and shake the legs out. I grabbed my gear quickly and set out onto the run course in which I only knew was 3 loops but had no idea where it was taking me or what the surface and elevation were going to be. I was prepared to be self-sufficient for nutrition on the run however, I had 2 x 10oz flasks of Infinit Nutrition’s Napalm which 2 oz = 100 calories, 1000 calories would be all I need plus getting my hands on some Coke and electrolyte drink or as they say “energy”
You can’t really rely on aid station here, as you can only really get 1 cup each station if you run through because they are hard plastic cups which are only half full.
Ask for coke and you get energy, ask for energy and you get water, ask for water and you get a sponge, so it’s more of a matter of grab something hoping for the best, taking a sip and find out whether it goes in your mouth or over your head. Being 3 laps, you do pass transition which has a “special needs bag” accessible each lap. They are grouped in crates of 10-20, but very orderly, It’s safe to say you can rely on these bags for nutrition if needed, next year I’ll definitely visit the bag at least once.
10z flask of Inifint's Napalm is 500 cal, in an already diluted drink, no need for water on course, love it!
The run however is also a very cool and scenic route 3 x 14km loop, but like the bike ride is also honest, you do a large portion of it on trails (wide hard packed foot/bike paths) running along the La Durance River before taking a left turn onto a long hill of maybe 1-2k through the centre of town which you see around 2km from transition 3 beautiful times over. Normally I’m an extremely good uphill runner, but this day I was struggling to find turnover, the hill hurt and if struggling to find rhythm it defiantly doesn’t help.
Scott Defilippis can run, I respect a 2:54 on this course!
Crazy French fan on the hill
Running by the cliff's are cool
The cobbles hill through the centre of town, crowds were nice to have on this bad boy.
I ended up running 3:09 which felt more like 3:30 and came in 9th place - 10:33 hrs - which was a fair way off where I would have liked, but I come away very humbled and to be honest extremely satisfied. Not often can you walk away from a race having not got the result you set out for but can still be 100% happy know the actually race itself was a great experience. I actually pulled up so sore after this race, not so much in my legs as you would expect, but more my overall body as you'd use and fatigue so many different muscles in relation to a typical Ironman.
To know that events like this still exist where they attract big competition, huge prize purses, still have a grass roots feel, half the world doesn’t even know about them and yet they have been running for nearly as long as Kona is a cool thing.
All I can say is, if you’ve done the Kona thing, but can’t find another “panicle” of the sport, come to Embrunman once in your life. You won’t regret it. That’s the best race ever! There’s nothing easy about it and I think that’s why you come away so satisfied.
Much respect to everyone on the podium, I now know what it takes to go top 5 here and that’s no small task, that’s some real mongrel.
For now I've got an extremely long trip home, 12 hours of trains, 2 nights in Zurich/Sursee, 2 night sleeping on the plane and in the airport before getting back to Brisbane. (We are actually so far from everything)
Since the trips basically over and I have all this mammoth travel ahead of me, I can't wait to get back to Australia to see Ash and my family. Couple days rest, couple days work and I'll lace up for another round at Sunshine Coast 70.3