When 38-year-old Carl Read started doing triathlons in 2006 he couldn't imagine he'd ever complete the Ultraman Australia 12 years later – let alone win it.
After years of living by unhealthy habits, Read started racing triathlons in a bid to turn his life around before he was hooked, and the fitness-inspired endeavour quickly became more than a recreational hobby.
By the time Read turned professional in 2012, he had already completed his fair share of international events including triathlons in Budapest, Germany, and Rarotonga. But with a love of "punishing his body," the Waiuku-based draughtsman set his sights on completing the Ultraman Australia.
Considered as one of the most extreme endurance challenges in the world, the Ultraman triathlon sees participants complete a 10km swim, 421.1km cycle, and an 84.3km double marathon, in just three days.
Labelled as the "ultimate challenge down under," the annual Ultraman Australia starts and finishes at the Sunshine Coast's Noosa Beach and is one of only eight official Ultraman events across the globe.
The gruelling race is certainly not designed for the faint-hearted, which is why Read, who took out the 2018 title in May, described the experience of completing the event as surreal.
"It's defiantly my biggest achievement not only in my sporting career but life in general," Read told the Herald.
"Just to put myself through the ringer for three days and test both my body and mental strength and then to win, I still pinch myself about it ... It's something that I'll never forget."
"Even though Ultraman Australia hurt and it was a long three days, at the end of it I did love it."
"I think it's given me confidence in competing and in life as well, it proved that you can get over obstacles as long as you've got that support there, anything's possible if you put your mind to it."
Although smashing the Ultraman triathlon with an unofficial record-breaking time of 21:00:20, Read said he faced many hurdles along the way.
Battling the voice inside his head that pressed him to give up, Read's mental strength was pushed to its limit. But in true Kiwi style, Read credited a classic mince pie and coke for keeping him from throwing in the towel.
"On day two we had to bike 275km … I got to about 150km and I'd eaten quite a few energy gels and bliss bars but you get sick of them ... I was a little bit over my nutrition plan and as I went up one of the hills one of my support crew handed me a big chunk of pie and my eyes lit up," he said.
"Luckily it wasn't super-hot because I just stuffed it in my mouth and washed it down with a coke. It just perked me up and from then on I got the mojo back ... that was a big turning point."
"On day three my support crew would just fling me bottles of frozen coke, water, and red bull. I know it's not the best thing for you nutritionally but when you're halfway through an Ultraman you'll take anything you can to get you to the finish line."
Leading by example, Read said he's still astonished by how far he's come in the sport, admitting that he never pictured himself as a champion triathlete.
Sporting his signature mullet and more than 25 tattoos, Read admitted he's far from looking the part of a polished athlete, but said he hoped he could be an example for others to prove that anyone could achieve their goals.
"Coming from a rugby and cricket background I didn't think I was triathlete material," he said, "Just a good Kiwi lad is what I like to think I am and obviously I stand out a little bit from the normal athletes."
"It's still a little bit unbelievable that I race with world-class athletes as I'm just a guy from Waiuku putting in the weekend warrior hard yards, but it's been awesome."
"I think anyone can give any sport a go, my best advice is to give it a go and if you don't enjoy it try something else, but have a bit of determination to stick at it for a while."
"Set yourself a goal of doing a race, whether it's a 2km fun run or a marathon. I always find that setting a goal is good because a lot of people, including myself, can get stuck going through the motions."
Although nothing has been set in stone for Read and his triathlon future, he sure won't be stopping anytime soon.
Crazily enough, Read has already put his name down for next year's Ultraman Australia even though he admitted his body still ached two months on.
And if you thought it couldn't get more extreme, Read said he's also got his eyes on racing an Ultraman Non-Stop event that consists of covering 515km in less than 36 hours across the three triathlon disciplines.
"I'm really keen to do an Ultraman Non-Stop but my wife is not so keen, she said three days was tough enough, it would be extreme but it is something appealing to me," he said.
"I'm a huge sucker for punishment. I'll hurt the body as much as I can, I seem to enjoy that for some stupid reason … between now and the next Ultraman I'll probably look at doing some good training to get the base fitness back up there and maybe look at an Ironman."
"At the moment I haven't really locked anything in, I just enjoy the training … but I think I'll be doing this for as long as I can, or at least until my body gives up."