Three Hawke's Bay triathletes have earned a place on the starting line at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, later this year.
John Moriarty, Brendon Vesty and Erik Blomberg made the cut as top-five age-group qualifiers at the Kelloggs Nutri-Grain Ironman New Zealand in Taupo at the weekend.
It was no easy feat for the trio who, with 1534 competitors, swam the 3.8km choppy lake, cycled the 180km distance in cross winds before running a marathon.
Moriarty conceded it was a tough day and he should know — he's got 17 ironman races under his belt.
Although he finished third in the 65-69 age group in a time of 12h 5m 32s, he believed he could have swum better and was left shattered on the run because he'd "spent all his pennies" on the bike.
"I'm not good at the fast stuff but I can endure ironman," said Moriarty, who will be 65 when he competes in his fifth championship race on the Big Island of Hawaii on October 12.
"It's a privilege to race at Kona. There are no slugs there. Everyone is at the pointy end of their age group."
Kona, with its large lava fields, strong winds and unforgiving heat, is on the next level.
"It's just brutal," Moriarty said, although he loves the challenge and so does his wife who was just as excited as he was when he gained the highly sought-after race slot.
Blomberg's children were also ecstatic to learn they'd be going to Hawaii, thanks to his third placing in the 45-49 age group on a time of 9h 32m 48s.
The Swedish national recently joined Triathlon Hawke's Bay while on a sabbatical of sorts.
The Blombergs are living in Napier for nine months so the two children can experience New Zealand schooling and culture.
The ocean swims of Hardinge Rd and bikes around the Tukituki River have become an ideal training ground for his third ironman.
"I think a lot of overseas competitors underestimate the Taupo course and the weather. When the wind picks up on the bike it's really challenging."
Blomberg managed to avoid going to the "dark places" that often haunt endurance athletes, by recollecting a conversation he had with his daughter in which he promised to do everything he could to take the family to Hawaii. It was the second time he'd qualified for the championship but the first time he'd accepted the race slot.
Kona also will double as a family holiday on their way home to Sweden.
"It's just about the experience for me," Blomberg said.
Vesty clocked 9h 48m 34s in finishing fifth in the 45-49 age, while battling a cold and carrying a leg injury.
"I can't complain, all things considered it was a pretty solid performance," said the co-director of Stortford Auto Sales in Hastings.
He will be returning to Kona for a second consecutive year, looking to improve on his run — if he can overcome the injury in time.
The 46-year-old will now give the run training a break while focusing on his swim and bike ahead of the ITU Aquabike world championship in Pontevedra, Spain, in May.
Triathlon HB general manager Bruce Richardson said of Taupo: "There was a great contingent both competing and supporting."
Mike Phillips, of Christchurch, won the 35th edition in a time of 8h 5m 8s with American Jocelyn McCauley claiming the women's title in a record-breaking time of 8h 53m 10s.