Two-time Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee will take on his most gruelling challenge yet this weekend when he makes his debut at the Ironman World Championship.
While a gold medal remains the pinnacle of sporting achievement, within triathlon there is nothing more prestigious than the race held in Kona, Hawaii, every year.
Brownlee will take on the 2.4 mile sea swim, 112 mile bike ride and marathon as he bids to become the first British man to win the title and follow in the footsteps of four-time women’s champion Chrissie Wellington.
The 31-year-old said: “I’ve known about this race for a long time and it’s always been in the back of my mind. It’s great to finally be here.”
Brownlee has dipped his toe into longer-distance racing since winning his second Olympic title in Rio in 2016.
He has twice finished second in the half Ironman world championships but this will be his first full-length race.
The Ironman he won in Cork, Ireland in June to qualify for Kona missed out the swim because of poor weather conditions.
Brownlee, who is still mulling over whether to defend his Olympic titles in Tokyo next summer, has been training intensively for past five weeks in order to prepare for the specific challenges of Kona.
He said: “The obvious three things to focus on, more than any other triathlon, are nutrition, heat and the distance.
“I’ve enjoyed the challenge after so long racing in short-distance racing. I’ve definitely found this the most interesting and challenging thing I’ve done for quite a few years.”
The numerous bits of advice Brownlee has received have had one word in common – patience.
Known for pushing himself at times beyond his limits, the Yorkshireman said with a smile: “Through my racing career, I guess what you see is patience definitely not being a virtue.
“But I’ve been an endurance athlete for my whole life. I want to find a nice happy medium where I want to keep myself near the sharp end of the race to be competitive without doing anything that would be considered a bit silly.
“My mantra for my whole career in triathlon has been a race is just another race and what makes a really good athlete is someone who can race the conditions on that day, on that course, with those competitors.
“Get yourself in the race, get yourself in the best possible position and then back your ability to make hopefully good decisions.”
First-time winners in Kona are rare. Brownlee’s long-time rival over the shorter distances, Spain’s Javier Gomez, made his debut last year and finished 11th.
“He just said it’s really hot and hard,” said Brownlee. “We just joked about it. I think that’s what you’d expect racing here.”
The Leeds athlete is enjoying preparing for a race without huge expectations – Germany’s Patrick Lange is bidding for a third straight title – but the competitive juices are never too far from the surface.
“It’s kind of nice for me not standing on a start-line thinking it would be a bad day if I don’t win this race, rather thinking it would be a good day if I get round and do all right,” said Brownlee.
“This is a race I want to do well in. I think it is important that I have a learning experience but put me in the race and, if it goes really well and I get off the bike in a great position and I’m running along Ali’i Drive, I’m not going to be thinking ‘I’m just going to jog it in from here because this is the experience’.
“In terms of my fitness and what the body feels like, I feel I’m in the best shape I’ve been in years.
“I’d just like to be competitive and still going with the ability to race the last 15 kilometres on the run. Everything up to that point is kind of making sure you’re in the right position. If I’m racing the last 15km of the run and that leaves me in first or fifth, I’d be pretty happy with that.”