Tucked into the Hautes Alpes of France is the small village of Embrun sitting perched on an 80m high cliff known as the ‘Roc’. Historically it was a Roman Empire Capital city and much of its history can be seen and felt by walking through its narrow, winding alleys. This race is not for the faint of heart or those looking to set a personal best over the long course distance. In fact, it’s probably best to not set any performance expectations for the day and simply show up prepared to dig deep and suffer in one a beautiful location for a very. long. day. While I tend toward races that are notoriously difficult in terms of terrain, Embrunman took it one step further. I stayed in a quaint hotel right in the center of the village. Read: you park your car outside the village and make several trips to unload all your gear. Up a tiny elevator, through a maze of tiny corridors, up a steep narrow flight of stairs and finally to the room. I should’ve packed a bit more compact and saved myself a few trips. I actually love this aspect of racing in these types of villages. This race is decidedly French (as it should be, since we are in France!), so I had to translate most race information to be sure I knew the rules. Luckily the race briefing the evening before the race was both in French and English so I picked up a few more important details. Even the transition area is set up different than I’ve ever seen before. We rack our bikes vertically by hooking the saddle over a fence and each person has a white lawn chair (probably to collapse into after the bike) and a crate for their belongings. This race starts all the women first, then 5 minutes later all the men. It is a beach start and in the dark. Our navigation is a single lantern off a boat up ahead, which gets obscured by a few other boats that are in the water as well. The gun goes off and as we scramble into the water you are left to trust the splashing bodies around where they are going. Not until 15-20 minutes into the swim can you finally see the course buoys for certain. But the lake is calm and oddly enough I felt the most relaxed and at ease I ever have in a swim. Dare I say I was actually enjoying the swim in this race? There we go, I just said it. 😊 Now for the bike. There’s no time to mull over what awaits you because straight out of transition you’re onto a 15k steep climb out of town. That’s a waker-upper! Follow this with some tricky, bumpy, switchbacky descending mixed with climbing, then after this loop, a straight, gradual uphill with a headwind. Warmed up yet? You better be. You’re heading to the lower slopes of the Col d’Izoard and its gradual climb/false flat in the beginning slowly zaps you before you get to the real stuff. I’ve done many of the Alpe climbs over the past few years; however, the Izoard has escaped me until this day. Not having previewed this part of the course (mistake on my part), I relied on the km markers indicating the % grade. I lost count of how many that read 8.8% or higher and at times went with the “ignorance is bliss” attitude and ignored them. Do enough of these climbs and you’ll discover each of these cols have a personality, an attitude, a certain “je ne sais quoi”, if you will. Izoard can fool you in the early parts of the 30km climb with its straight portions going through a few villages. Just because it’s straight doesn’t mean it’s flat! It gets hot on this side too. Exposed. The switchbacks are pretty regular and the gradient hovers around that 8-9% mark for what seems like forever. Three quarters of the way up you get a very short descent/flat area of about 1km, which only wrecks your legs when you immediately hit 8.8% again. But sooner than I expected, I was at the top in the special needs area, taking the time to grab my two new bottles and extra nutrition for the rest of the ride. Beautiful, smooth roads and fast descending greets you for the next 45 minutes as you come off the Izoard. I overcooked a few turns that gave me a bit of a fright (no barrier to stop from plummeting way over the edge) and quickly found myself in Briancon navigating traffic and roundabouts before heading back up for the last 60km of the bike. Roads here were freshly paved with the Tour de France recently coming through and it’s always great to see remnants of the painted names on the road. On the way back to Embrun I start to really feel pretty good and notice I am passing many of the men who crept past on the Izoard climb. With only 10k left in the ride there is one more feat – The Beast. A 6k-ish climb above Embrun on some fairly bumpy, gravelly one-lane roads where you get baked by the sun and heat. Apparently this was part of the original course and is in the race for history’s sake. That was a long 10k. And the steep, bumpy, turning descent back to transition wreaked havoc on my shoulders and patience until I was safely back into T2. Oddly enough, I jumped off the bike and my running legs felt great. I’m pretty certain I should’ve ridden harder, but I also felt that I nailed my nutrition plan well. Thank you, Mars Bar. Onto the 3-loop run course... In your race packet they provide you with a small plastic cup to use and refill at aid stations. I couldn’t figure out how to best deal with this cup while running, so I luckily had a hand bottle I strap around my palm and used this. Of note on the run course is a switchback climb into the village on each lap. Each time up it the legs grind to a halt. Once through that, you continue climbing through the cobbled streets of Embrun while folks shopping and eating and drinking cheer you on. This was a fabulous experience! It’s hard to get a sense of where your competition is on the run course, but I gathered from some of the cheering that I was 4th place. It took me awhile to figure out if it was 4th or 5th, trying to remember my numbers in French kept me occupied for a long time on the run. un...deux...trois...quatre... Posting the fastest run time of 3:07 for the women (and a new course record to boot!), I was thrilled to make it to that finish line in just over 11 hours. Yes, I said 11 hours for a full distance triathlon. Given all that I learned on race day, I’m oddly eager to do this one again to get under the 11 hour mark. I’ve heard that this race is for the slightly unhinged…so I’m certain that qualifies me as “completely off my rocker!”. Thanks for reading this long account of a long day racing!