Every year two free entries to the next Ironman New Zealand event in Taupō are given away at the post-event volunteers' dinner. LAURILEE McMICHAEL met this year's two winners, prospective Ironmen Brent Knight and Mandy Edwards.

Training for Ironman New Zealand is not going to be a problem for Brent Knight. In fact, overtraining is probably going to be his problem.

The Taupō builder, who won a free volunteer entry into the 2021 Ironman event in Taupō, does not do things by halves and is already training hard, despite the challenge still being nine months away.

Brent, 33, was a volunteer at an aid station with a Hilltop School group during the last Ironman event, on March 7. His daughter Amy-Lee, 11, had to do a set number of volunteer hours to complete her Mahi Peak school challenge and Brent found himself press-ganged into helping when he went to drop her off. His five-minute drop-off wound up being five or six hours of handing out drinks and food to Ironmen.

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When he and wife Elle, who had also volunteered, went to the volunteers' dinner the following Monday, Elle made Brent put his name into the draw for a free 2021 entry.

"I wanted Brent to do the Ironman for years," Elle says. "He's naturally very athletic and capable but he's always said no and so this year I managed to convince him.

"He said he only put his name in the draw to shut me up so I think I was more thrilled [with the entry] than he was."

Brent has an advantage in that he is already reasonably fit.

"I've played sport my whole life, rugby predominantly from the age of 5 and still playing. I've done all things and I've always run as well, a lot of adventure racing as well recently too, I love it. I've done a bit of mountain biking but up until a few weeks ago I've never done much road riding."

Just before lockdown Brent bought himself a road bike and a Zwift-compatible smart trainer at Top Gear and spent lockdown road riding and running.

"I've always been a good runner so I'm not worried about that and cycling I can pick up and do but swimming I've never done before. I had my first lesson just before lockdown. That was a bit of a laugh and I only just went back last week."

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Elle says that given the chance Brent will easily train for eight hours straight.

"He's all or nothing. I think by the end of lockdown he could have done a half Ironman. He had numerous six- or seven-hour training sessions because he had nothing else to do. And lately he's been getting up at 4am and going for a run and then to the pools."

Brent says he's excited about the journey to becoming an Ironman, not just the day itself.

"Part of the experience is the journey getting there ... I love training and I'll train anyway so it's a good purpose for the training. Or else all I do is work so it's good to have something else to focus on outside of work."

Mandy Edwards says doing the Ironman event is something she's always wanted to do. In 2021, she has no excuse not to.

Mandy 52, was on an aid station with a St Andrew's Church group during the Ironman. and has volunteered at the event for the past six years.

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"I definitely wanted to put my name in [for the draw] and I thought I needed some motivation," Mandy says. "I wasn't expecting to hear my name but it was a bit of a shock."

She says that since then, occasionally the reality of what she has to do hits her.

"Every now and then I have fits of hysterical laughter and then a slight tremble."

The early childhood educator says last year she did the Taupō Marathon, and the half marathon the year before that, and training for those events showed her anything was possible.

She took up running after suffering from back pain, which she realised was related to her fitness. She made a resolution to get fit, went to a naturopath and did a year-long programme with Precision Nutrition, a Canadian exercise and nutrition programme.

Mandy Edwards is a keen runner and says she's always wanted to tackle an Ironman event. Photo / Supplied
Mandy Edwards is a keen runner and says she's always wanted to tackle an Ironman event. Photo / Supplied

"I had this lovely mentor and I realised it was really the mind game that was the crucial part of the whole process and it was really being able to focus and believe it was possible.

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"I hate anything to do with the gym but it was really important, especially learning how to squat properly and it really strengthened my back. And that led to the half marathon."

Mandy started her training by running for a minute and walking for a minute and steadily built up from there. She says that helped her realise the importance of starting small. Having done the half marathon, she wanted to keep going and set sights on completing a marathon.

Earlier this year Mandy also resigned her job to look after her parents and be a relieving teacher, which has given her more flexibility.

"So this has come along at the right time but I never expected [winning an entry] to happen.

"It's exciting, it's really cool, I know I've got a base level of fitness and with the right support I'm determined to do it and I'll be back on that stage next year saying 'I've done it'."

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