By ANDREW ROWLINGS
AT 38 years of age Geoff McCann can lay claim to being the fittest man in the Coffs Harbour region.
Based at Sandy Beach, he has spent the past six months honing his body in preparation for the ultimate test of endurance... the Australian Ironman Triathlon Championship to be staged at Forster-Tuncurry on Sunday, April 3rd.
Sure, any gym will provide you with a body more muscular.
Certainly, any Group 2 rugby league club can come up with a man more powerful.
Undoubtedly, you will find a runner with more speed at one of the local athletic clubs.
But, to complete a 3.8km swim, 182km cycle and 42.2km run you need a little of all these ingredients... and an additional mountain of tenacity and mental strength.
McCann has reduced his body fat percentage to an incredibly low 6 six per cent he has developed his lung capacity and endurance to enable him to cope with the challenge of an event that seems almost impossible to the everyday person.
In order to cope with the demands placed on the body during the course of this race, he has cycled 500km, run 80km and completed 14km in the water... every week since Christmas!
And, yes, it is a race.
In fact there will be more than 1600 like-minded competitors facing the starter as dawn breaks at 6.15am on Sunday.
Many of those will take more than 15 hours in their quest to be called an Ironman, while the winner is expected to finish somewhere around the 8hours 30minute mark.
McCann completed last year's event in nine hours 57minutes, but seems certain to knock a healthy portion off that to establish a new personal best over the Ironman distance.
Following some impressive lead-up results, where he was prominent in the event staged at Coffs Harbour in February, and a longer race in Port Macquarie where he finished toward the front of the field, he will again push his physical limits in an effort to complete the course in the quickest possible time.
He is not the only local resident taking their place in the field, with another 11 members of Coffs Harbour Triathlon Club also participating.
Having their first crack at an event of this distance are Mark Skeates, Geoff Turner and Jon Marr. All have experienced strong preparations and now keenly await the starters gun.
Glen George, Barry Campton, Ian Hartmann, Adrian Hawke and Sean Golding have all completed an Ironman event previously, Golding and Hawke at Forster and the others in New Zealand. Their collective goal is to finish, and hopefully in a better time than their previous race.
Hartmann, in particular, has been consistently putting in enormous training kilometres and is expected to perform strongly.
Having raced internationally, Peter Wood is always a crowd pleaser, and will be racing this distance for the fifth time.
Providing the experience are 'old heads' Anne Grundy and Andrew Rowlings, both hoping to finish their eighth Ironman race.
Although McCann is expected to lead the locals home with a sub 10-hour time, the remaining Coffs competitors have all endured the same early morning starts in order to best prepare themselves for the challenge ahead.
At 6.15am on Sunday, spare a thought for these locals as they begin a challenge that to most of us seems like a crazy way to spend an Autumn Sunday.