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Brownlee prepares for Ironman World Championship debut

By Victoria Wiley

Alistair Brownlee on the run at Ironman 70.3 Nice.

After setting his sights on long-distance racing for the last several years, two-time Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee will compete in the Ironman World Championship this Saturday. With race week well underway, we caught up with Brownlee as he prepares for his Kona debut.

While he made his name as a short-distance triathlete, the Olympian says Kona was always part of his plan:

“I think since I was eight or nine years old and did my first triathlon. My uncle was doing Ironman and I knew about his race so I’ve known about it a long time. It’s always been in the back of my mind” he said, adding that after decade of racing: “it’s great to finally be here.”

While his road to this race saw some ups: wins at his Ironman debut in Ireland and Ironman 70.3 Dun Loaghaire, not to mention short course wins at the Cagliari World Cup and ETU European Championships this year – and downs – his 2017 season finished early due to a hip injury – Brownlee is excited not only to be in Kona, but about the training process that brought him here.

“The obvious three things for me to focus on for this race, or any triathlon, is nutrition, heat and conditions. So that’s been the real kind of focus and things that I’ve tried to address through training, and I’ve enjoyed that. I’ve enjoyed the challenge after so long racing in short distance.”

Not only is it Brownlee’s first Ironman World Championship, but his first time in the area at all. When asked about first impressions of training in Kona, he said he found Kona to be as advertised: “hot and windy and rocky.”

“I think in terms of the course, it’s probably a bit more rolling than I thought. When you see it on TV and stuff, it’s pretty flat looking. It’s all slightly undulated, which is a good thing. That’s really the only thing that shocked me in terms of conditions and the island.” He went on to explain why he didn’t stress about the course, saying, “My mantra my whole career in triathlon has been ‘a race is just another race.’ What makes a really good athlete is someone that can race in the conditions on that day, in that hour, with those competitors.”

He also touched on the advice he’s received in the weeks leading up to the race. Mainly the importance of being patient and once again referencing his emphasis on the right nutrition and hydration in his training. As part of his training this week, Brownlee won the Ho’Ala Training Swim:

“It was just a nice way to experience what the events about, do a training session, do a swim.” He explained that it was a way for him to enjoy the event, “one of the things about being here is that it’s a bit of a balance between experiencing how big the event is, the gravitas of it and how special it is, to hopefully lift your performance and give you a special performance on race day, and that balancing act with not doing too much and trying to keep fresh and being really fresh physically and mentally for the race. I think that’s something I’ve dealt with a lot obviously with the Olympics as well.”

Brownlee referenced his Olympic experience again when asked what the pressure is like for this race, saying that he doesn’t expect to experience pressure quite like the Olympics in London, possibly ever again. For Kona this year, he’s taking it as a learning experience and enjoying the process. That being said, he’s still a competitor:

“This is a race I want to do well in at some point. I think it is important that I learn what I can, having a learning experience etc.” He continues that this doesn’t mean he isn’t giving it his all: “if it goes really well and I get off the bike in transition and I’m running along Ali’i Drive, thinking ‘actually I’m just going to jog it in from here, because this is the experience, just take it in’, that’s not going to happen is it?”

Has anything surprised him about race week so far?

“I saw dolphins while swimming. That was a good surprise.”