By ANDREW ROWLINGS
WHEN the field of more than 1600 competitors hit the water for the Australian Ironman Triathlon Championships on Sunday at the new venue of Port Macquarie, locals will again be well represented.
The majority of the field will approach the day with the goal of completing the country's most gruelling one-day sporting challenge.
Some participants will harbour thoughts of personal best times, and perhaps advancing to the World Ironman Championships in Hawaii to be staged in October.
A small percentage will push themselves to the limit in the hope of crossing the line in first position and claiming the $8500 prize cheque in open male and female categories.
One Coffs Harbour participant, however, approaches the event in a different manner... he just wants to have as much fun as possible, along the way entertaining the crowd and making as many new acquaintances as he can.
That competitor is race number 1566, Coffs Harbour's Peter Wood who is facing the starter for the sixth time over the 3.8km swim, 180km cycle and 42km run.
While some competitors have been preparing for 12 months for their tilt at this race, Wood's lead-up comprises a crash three-week training schedule in the final month before the event.
A quick look through the cycle compound on race day usually leaves the observer gobsmacked at the compilation of sleek, aerodynamic cycling equipment on display.
Some of these machines have cost their owner up to $15,000 and are built from space-age scandium and carbon fibre components.
Wood's Principia bicycle started it's life designed for speed, but after many modifications and additions now looks as though it has come directly from a primary school bike decoration day.
Essential equipment such as hooter horns, streamers, ribbons, sheepskin seats and other sundry decorations have made him a favourite with crowds wherever he races.
And, yes, despite his happy-go-lucky approach he does treat the event as a race, and does finish well inside the 17 hours allowed to complete the course.
With a best time of 13 hours 30 minutes, he certainly won't challenge for line honours, but he will savour every moment of his journey to collect another Ironman finishers' medal.
Along the way he will make many new friends, and provide some light-hearted moments.
Wood has a dream to compete in the Ironman World Triathlon Championships in Hawaii, and has set 2010 as his year to race on the lava fields.
Is Peter Wood ready for Hawaii? Maybe.
Is Hawaii ready for Peter Wood? Definitely not!
n Joining Wood in the event will be six other members of the Coffs Harbour Triathlon Club.
Geoff McCann is likely to be the first Coffs entrant to greet the finisher, having prepared well and set himself for a slick time somewhere around the 10 hour mark.
Evergreen Anne Grundy set an age group race record in 2005 at Forster, and hopes to bring that form further north to Port Macquarie. She will start as the favourite in the women's 55-59 category.
Grundy's training partner, Wendy Maley will hope her strong swim leg sets up a quick time on the day.
Her consistent cycle and run will be tested on this very hilly course.
Recently relocated to Coffs Harbour, Ironman veteran Teresa Kunaeva will tackle the Australian Ironman Championships for an incredible 20th time.
She is certainly aware of the determination it takes to conquer a challenge of this magnitude.
Andrew Rowlings has enjoyed an injury-free preparation for this race, and is hoping to get close to a personal best time over this distance.
The progress of all these competitors can be followed live on the internet by logging into www.ironmanlive.com and following the links.