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Embrunman « James Cunnama’s Blog




"The Hardest in the World"

Embrunman – the T-shirt says, ‘The Hardest in the World’. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t – people cite other events like Norseman – but it is right up there in the difficulty stakes and none of those other events have the strong competition Embrunman boasts! 3800m swim, 188km ride with 5000m climbing then a marathon, also with a fair amount of climbing. A tough day… maybe the toughest…


The swim started in the dark. The reason is beyond me – it is not like anyone was in danger of riding in the dark, and they were running in the dark anyway! A half-hour later start would have made a huge difference! I know it would have made a difference to the girls who got an extra 10mins in the dark water with their head-start, and it would have helped me too – about 50m into the swim I swam straight into a jetty! There were no lights on it, but a bunch of big men in boots (that’s all I could make out) pushing us off in the right direction. Needless to say I lost the lead group. I swam with one other guy and we swapped the lead a few times to come out about 3mins down on the leaders.

Up the first climb, which you hit after a nice 400m or so flat warm-up (!) and I caught and passed a lot of people. Near the top I caught Stephen Bayliss and a group of 3 others, which was the lead except for Marcel Zamora and Herve Faure up the road. (Oh, and Tereza – it would take us a while to reel her in!) We caught up to the lead pair at the base of the Col d’Izoard – a massive Hors Category Tour climb, 15.9km and average gradient of 6.9%, up to about 2360m alt. – and then the fun began… Up the mountain the group, much like a tour stage but without the drafting, rapidly shed riders until there was only Zamora and myself left with still a good 9km of climbing to go! And that is how it would stay until the end of the bike, just the two of us. Neither of us gave much at any point of the next 100kms, marking every move up the hills (in fact riding side-by-side for most of them), attacking the descents like dare-devils and pushing the tempo on the (rare) flat sections. I rode 10mins faster than last year for a race-best (and perhaps course-record?) 5h52 bike split (compared with ‘normal’ IM of around 4h30!)

What goes up... and up... and up...!



Down the final, dangerously steep, rough and pot-holed descent he got a small gap, but leaving transition for the run, Zamora was within sight. 42.2km’s to go. All I had to do was stay within sight of him and wait for the cracks to appear… I saw signs of some cracks, but they were mine, not his! He was very gradually pulling away from me, and despite all the spectators and Doc on the sidelines - probably due to his weird running style which makes him look like he may collapse at any second - telling me he was on the limit and would blow, he didn’t. I stayed as close as I could to pick up the pieces if he did blow, but he ran a very solid 2h53 marathon to beat me by a few minutes, in new course record. (Results)

Congrats to all my team-mates who flew the teamTBB flag very high and proud – T-mac for dominating the women’s race and Bella for toughing out 4th. Steve for his hard-fought 5th, Brandon for finishing an eye-(and mind-)opening experience. And of course my wingman, Scottie for 7th – another fantastic result as he continues to climb the ladder. And a big thanks of course to Doc who popped up all over the course with what we needed (if not wanted) to hear, and Fiona, whom he dragged along with him!

Top 10 - 3 from teamTBB!



It was definitely, as advertised, the hardest day I have ever had in triathlon, and perhaps my life! It is always amazing to me how short your memory for pain is – I distinctly remember thoughts such as, ‘This has got to be the stupidest race in the stupidest sport in the whole stupid world!’ and ‘This is by far the worst and toughest day I have ever lived through!’. …But then you finish and you cannot really remember the pain associated with those thoughts and you dismiss them as self-indulgent dramatics. And you look ahead to the next challenge, the next race, to next year at the same race. I’ll be back. …In fact, I can’t wait!

Onwards and upwards…


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