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Eimear Mullan Wins Embrunman!

Embrunman was never on my race plan, in fact I hadn't even thought about it until the night of the entry deadline. I had raced there last year and finished 3rd (read about that race here). I totally loved it but I thought I wouldn't be ready to race there this year. After changing my training for the super sprint distance at the Commonwealth Games, having a mid-season break, injuring my shoulder and travelling to Switzerland for the remainder of the summer, I knew it would be a risk. It was a spur of the moment decision to enter but even then I wasn't sure if I would go especially well. When I went for a 3hr training ride the following day I felt so terrible I didn't think I was going to make it home.

Four days before the race I decided that I was up for giving it a go, even though I had done no long runs or rides. I love racing in France, the race suits me and the money is good so I thought it was worth a shot. I decided that I wouldn't taper for the race, I'd just train as normal right in to it and see what happened. It was like a bonus race to me, with no pressure. When I arrived in the beautiful town of Embrun I had a good feeling about and I was instantly really excited about the race. Embrunman is known as one of the toughest Iron distance races in the world (it's actually a little longer) and just to make it that little bit more difficult the swim starts in pitch darkness. This is followed by an extremely mountainous 188k bike ride which takes in the Col d'Izzard and a very tough hilly marathon to finish off the day.

One of my main worries for the race was actually the swim in the dark. Last year I was so disoriented that I didn't have a clue what direction I was swimming in - I was just following the feet of someone who luckily seemed to know where to go. This year unfortunately I was on my own for the whole 3.8k. I seemed to manage quite well up to the end of lap one at which point I went completely off course and didn't realise until spectators on the bank were shouting and pointing where to go. This happened a few times but I stayed calm and relaxed and finally made it to T1.

Without any sense of urgency, I put on a cycling jersey, gloves and arm-warmers. The first climb starts as soon as you leave transition, and I set off on the bike at a very steady pace. I knew instantly that I hadn't put on enough clothes; it was completely freezing and very windy. I was shaking almost uncontrollably by the bottom of the first descent. It was so cold I couldn't tell how hard or how easy I was riding. Last year I rode a little too hard at the start and with 40k to go I had blown completely, at 20k to go I was seeing stars and was barely able to make it up the final climb. This time I knew I was feeling much better towards the end of the bike and I was able to ride up the last climb instead of just surviving. It helped that I made sure I ate properly with a mix of home-made energy balls and High 5 gels. I spent most of the bike in 4th place but with no idea of how far up the road the leaders were. I was telling myself if I could keep the gap to less than 15 minutes going on to the run, I could still be in with a chance.

I entered T2 and as I was putting on my run shoes, I was trying to work out how far back I was. My French isn't great but I figured out that I was about 9 to 10 minutes down. I started running and went with a high cadence, small step run style to get me going. I kept it like that for the first 15k then returned to my normal run style as I ran in to a very strong headwind around the lake. By that point I was in second and was around 2 minutes from the lead but I was not closing the gap very quickly at all.

I kept relaxed and told myself to hold back until at least the 21k point. I stopped at special needs for extra nutrition and Isabell Ferrer who was leading at that point must not have stopped as suddenly the gap had grown again. I decided to push on and try to close the gap. I stepped up the pace but backed right off on the steep hills and it seemed to be working as the gap was getting smaller until eventually I could see her just in front. With about 12k to go, I took the lead and just kept running without looking back to the line. I didn't want to back off, firstly because I didn't want to get caught and secondly so it would be over sooner. It's not a race where you can ever relax and think you've won before you reach the line. After over 11hrs of racing anything can happen.

The finish shoot at Embrunman feels very different from any other race, you have been through so much in one day and it is such a relief to see the finish line. I was so happy to reach the line and I couldn't quite believe that I had won; it was a pretty special feeling. Embrunman is a great race and its one that I would recommend to anyone who is up for a good challenge. It's not like other races and it's an experience you'll never forget.

Eimear's next races are Gerardmer Triathlon in France, 6th September followed by Ironman Mallorca at the end of September. 2014 has been quite a year for Eimear so far:

  • Embrunman Triathlon - 1st
  • Ironman France - 4th
  • Ironman UK 70.3 - 1st
  • Challenge Rimini - 1st
  • Challenge Fuerteventura - 2nd
  • Porto Colom Triathlon - 1st
  • Aguilas Duathlon - 1st
  • Commonwealth Games Triathlon Relay (Team Northern Ireland) - 6th
  • Northern Ireland Cross-Country Championships - 1st

19 August 2014