TW: When did you first race in Kona?
SN: It's my fifth start. I was an age grouper in 2006 when I was still working then. I went full time in 2007 and won Ironman UK, which was a much better result than I expected. This will be my fifth Ironman in last 12 months, which is quite a lot at pro level. I've had to race more because I don't have the same level of sponsorship.
TW: How have you been preparing for Kona?
SN: I've been training in Canada over the summer. My parents live about an hour from Penticton, which is where IM Canada takes place, so there's a big triathlon community to train with. I raced Ironman Canada six weeks ago, so I haven't had much time to recover or get into my training routine again. I've been here for four days. It's better to have two weeks to acclimatise but it's expensive. One group arrived six weeks ago but most pros arrive at least two weeks before to get used to the heat.
TW: How does Hawaii differ to other IM races?
SN: Obviously the format's the same but this is Ironman Mecca. It's what the Tour de France is to cycling. This is where IM all began and that history gives it a special aura. It's the race that everyone talks about and wants to win. The atmosphere is totally different. The buzz is incredible. There are triathletes from all round the world. I think the town of Kona is pretty sleepy the rest of the year too so that contrast over race weekend is exciting. The chaos created by the race is good fun. Everyone checks each other out in training.
On race day the crowds around the swim start are incredible but the bike course can be pretty barren. Apart from the draft busters, lead bikes and camera crews, the only people out on the course are the other competitors. The race goes through black lava fields that pump heat back at you. It's like the moon. What makes this race tougher than anywhere else, is the heat, humidity and unpredictable Pacific winds. The wind seems to come from all directions. There are rarely perfect conditions at the race - I think maybe once in the previous 32 races it's been perfect.
TW: How do you think the men's race will play out this year?
SN: Every year there are around 20 guys who could win it. Most of them will have won an Ironman round the world. There are people who've consistently performed well here over the last few years, but all it takes is a bad day and the race could be blown wide open.
TW: What's your goal for the race?
SN: I didn't finish the last two years - the first year I was ill and last year my gels fell off my bike so I had to resort to nutrition on the course and developed stomach problems - so my main goal is to finish. Top 10 would be a dream. Everyone will be so close though, and even top 20 would be great.
TW: What will you eat and drink during the race?
SN: I carry my own nutrition because it's so personal. I use PowerBar energy gels and water and have electrolyte tablets with me too. I avoid gels with caffeine.
TW: How do you see the women's race unfolding?
SN: Chrissie's the firm favourite to win again but Julie Dibens could upset things. She's Xterra World Champion and a really strong swimmer and cyclist. Catriona Morrison has a great marathon and is World Duathlon Champion, and Mirinda Carfrae came second last year so she probably feels she has unfinished business here. The fact that Julie's never done an Ironman might count against her, but Chrissie won as a rookie too. I know winning in Kona is one of Julie's goals. She's also doing the Xterra World Champs and 70.3 World Champs in Florida towards the end of the year so she's going to be busy - and tired! Debuting at Kona is pretty daunting but it would be great if she does well.
TW: What advice would you give to an age grouper coming to race here?
SN: Don't get intimidated by other athletes' training. Make sure you hydrate properly and take adequate electrolytes. Try to do any last-minute training in the early morning or evening when it's cooler. Short runs at midday are ok just to get used to the heat. Coming out a few weeks before is great if you can. On race day, stick to your plan and don't do anything you haven't tried in training.
The first time I came here I was amazed the number of people out on their bikes in the heat the day before the race. The pros train first thing in the morning when it's cooler. Some of the age groupers look fitter than the pros - it's hard to tell who's who. Some people find it hard to back off their training, even the day before the big day. I try to keep the intensity up but the volume a lot less in the week before race day.
TW: What are your plans for after the race?
SN: I'll go back to my parents' place in Canada then travel out to Western Australia as soon as I can. I trained there last year and I'll compete in Ironman Western Australia in December. Dates of IM races in 2011 have changed slightly so I haven't decided on my schedule yet.