Monday, August 15, 2011

ECFR11 – Day 2 – The EmbrunMan Triathlon

EmbrunMan Olympic Distance race (1.5km swim / 42km ride (with 750m elevation) / 10km run
Bike ~15km with another 750m elevation

Scott Molina won the EmbrunMan race once in the 90’s and is considered a true legend in these parts – as he should be (we take him for granted sometime). When we realised we could include the Olympic distance race in the camp we just had to make it happen. The Iron distance race is insanely hard including a ridiculous amount of climbing including the Col D’Izziord amongst many other climbs. The race has a tremendous history and not many people realise that is has the best prizemoney in the world outside of Kona and Abu Dhabi – the winter takes home 20,000 Euro (this is nearly double the prize money of say IM Germany or the Nth American IM Champs).

We all did the Courte Distance (Olympic) which was a real treat for everyone with an amazingly hard course, great spectators and some typical French gimmicks.

The swim start was classic French (I had a couple of seasons in France in the late 90’s). We were all warming up then realised they were clearing the swim course. Thinking we’d just get out of the water and go straight to the start line I waited back. Then suddenly I realised that everyone was actually queuing up behind the start line in a narrow line. With around 400-500 starters I was well and truly in the back 1/3. They then called us to the edge of the stony beach and I managed to move up to about 3 rows from the front and went far right which was clearly the best line to the first buoy. At the risk of further sandbagging I really have been doing very very little swimming (I basically didn’t swim since our NZ camp 18mths ago and then have been doing once a week for the last couple of months) so didn’t have high hopes. Standing on the start line it wasn’t sure it was going to get going. We were on the grass verge and there was about 30m of deep pebbles between us and the waters edge. I thought we would be called to the water then we’re be off but no, the gun went and it was a made stampede into the water with people falling over and a general chaos. I did really well to get through the traffic in the first 100m and then caught a draft for the rest of the swim. I seemed to be in the first big group around the course but in the final leg my lead out man dropped off the back and I didn’t have the desire to bridge the gap preferring to save my energy for later in the day. So a good start to the race which I was planning to do the swim & run around half IM effort (based on current fitness – which isn’t very fast) then take it pretty easy on the run. I had a woeful transition struggling to get my wetsuit off - it’s been a while since I’ve raced!. Then it was off on the bike. I’m pretty good at pacing myself so just settled into my zone. What this meant was I was getting absolutely smoked with a constant steam of athletes coming past me, some of them very fast. It was déjà vu from Roth in 2008 when I had a great swim and got drilled on the bike. Today I just accepted that this was part of the camp and I’d just compete with my fellow epic campers at a reasonably comfy pace – although I must say it did hurt with a few girls came zipping past, yes I am an athlete who does not like getting chicked!!

As we finally came over the top of the last climb a guy I thought was Molina came zipping past me. It was a gentle descent and the guy was humming. It was a classic Molina move as he loves to descend fast and knows how to make the moves on his competitors. I knew I could probably give Scott a little time on the run but not too much so I set about increasing my effort. I couldn’t keep up but I did start to go a lot faster/harder. We then came to the long decent. Whoahh that was fun and very scary at the same time. It was high speed and some awesome corners. The guys I was riding with were pushing on the pedals on the moderate descents which I found surprising -I used my tactical skills to save some energy by getting really low on the drops and just free wheel. This was much faster than pedalling and I was saving energy. It was a huge buzz coming back down to the lake and time to start hitting the coke I had not had a chance to drink earlier. The final 15km or so was a mix of fast flat and rollers. The Frenchies who had smoked me on the climbs were not so good on the flat and I re-hitched to some that had got away.

Off the bike and I was not feeling as fresh as I would have hoped. I thought I was 3rd camper having had Zac come past me fairly early in the ride and I knew the speed he was going that I would not be catching him no matter how slow her ran. I was wondering how far up the road Molina was but the way I was feeling I didn’t think I was going to be doing any express running today and I did not want to smoke myself for the rest of the camp. The other issue was that my knee was giving me a lot of grief. I gave it a good bang in yesterdays crash and every step my knee was collapsing which was rather concerning. So I just settled into an easy pace and accepted that if anyone came past I’d just let them go. Approaching the turn Zac had 4mins on me and had a very impressive day however there was no Molina. It then transpired that it was not actually Scott that passed me on the bike but someone remarkably similar. Rob P was next behind me and not too close so I just keep and easy/steady pace with a number of runners zipping by but my knee was still sore.

Despite not a hard effort on the run I was tired at the end but after a 10min soak in the snow melt fed river I felt much better.
To top off the day we had to ride up to our accommodation which just happened to be at the top of a 10km climb with an average grade of around 7-8% - a nice little loosen spin. We’re staying at a basic Gite (like a ski lodge) and with today being a public holiday there was a lot of locals up here having a big luncheon. As we arrived in one by one the whole place erupted in cheers for us – maybe all the red wine they were dinking had something to do with it but is was highly entertaining.

This hasn’t been a typical start to an epic camp with the drive in the cars yesterday and race today. What it has meant was this afternoon we’ve had a good chance to kick back and enjoy each others company - or write my blog ;-)

It was great to see Craig Watson at the expo today and yesterday. Craig is a kiwi from Christchurch and I’ve known him from day one of my triathlon career. He now lives in France with his wife Helene and run a well known tri clothing company called kiwami. Craig is an unsung hero for NZ triathletes. As well as earning a bronze medal at the ITU World Champs in Canada one year he was a consistent performer on the World Cup circuit and raced at the Sydney Olympics - he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. What isn’t so well known are his exploits in France as he really paved the way for many young kiwi’s such as myself to join French clubs (in particular ASPPT Mulhouse). Craig came to France as a raw young kiwi and was thrown in headfirst with a small club and he spoke no French. He proceeded to immerse himself in the culture and race his guts out year after year climbing his way up the triathlon ladder. Within a few years he was a dominant force on the French circuit and was loved by the French as he spoke the lingo and was just a good bloke. I think it’s critical that we celebrate people like Craig and start to document the history of the sport in more detail.   

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