Dan Halksworth has made it. The Jersey boy, in only his second year as a long distance pro triathlete will be lining up in Hawaii for a first crack at the World Ironman Championship on Saturday.
It wasn’t easy though. The 27-year-old was one of the last of the 50 male pro qualifiers after a substandard 16th placing at Ironman Frankfurt meant he missed the first cut off for Kona slots.
With a hasty restructure of his racing schedule the Team TBB triathlete found himself back in Bolton defending his Ironman UK title before heading to Canada a fortnight later for a satsifying fourth place at Mont-Tremblant.
It proved enough and as Halksworth prepared on the Mexican island of Cozumel, readying himself to face the might of Ironman world in arguably the most talent-filled long distance triathlon race ever on Saturday, 220 caught up with him.
220: First time on the Big Island, Dan, ready?
It’s the one race you turn up to and all the age-groupers are all ripped, tanned and making you look and feel average. I want to stay out of the show and just enjoy myself, rather than freak out. It’s not the cheapest of races to get to but I’ve wanted to go since I first found triathlon. I’m also not expecting to do really well but I want to learn from the experience.
Hopefully I’ll have a solid day, I’m determined to pull something out of the hat, but if I’m dropped on that swim I’ll be chasing all afternoon.
220: Are the tactics already sorted for race day?
I don’t really know the course and I don’t want to look into it until I have to. This year I’ve really focussed on the bike and the run so my swimming is not where it used to be, but I’ve been working really hard the last couple of weeks.
I need to make sure I’m there in first 100m and work hard for the first 400m and try and swim with those guys at the front to have the potential of getting away for a little bit on the bike. The group comes through at such a stupid pace for first 40km it’s easy to get blown off the back. The plan is to get out settle in and wait for them to come.
220: What will constitute success?
Top 20, I’d be really happy, top 15 would be like a medal for me. I definitely need top 10 to break even though [It is $10,000 for 10th, the lowest paying place in the field]. With flights to Mont-Tremblant, to Mexico, to Hawaii and back to the UK and accommodation, hire car and food my prize money has gone and I’m into my savings. Beer tokens after the race depend on how much money I have left.
220: What has the preparation been like with Team TBB in Cozumel?
[Coach] Brett [Sutton] said the camp is not going to be improving us. This is about maintaining fitness, getting used to the weather and getting to Kona in one piece.
It’s been the hurricane season. It’s one bike loop around the island and we go one way to the edge of town and then back trying to avoid all the taxi drivers in the city – and the potholes. The terrain is very flat, but really windy. Probably the same temperature as Hawaii, maybe a little warmer, but definitely more humid.
When it rains the temperature drops and the humidity goes through the roof. There are days when we’ve gone out for a six hour ride and it rained for six hours. Some days it’s quiet, but in peak season 12 cruise ships come in, with the holidaymakers on the booze driving round the island. It’s a bit nuts.
220: And it led to an untimely mishap for your team-mate, and one of the early Hawaii favourites, Mary Beth Ellis?
Yes, Mary Beth hit a pothole and went straight over the handlebars. She rocked up in a sling poolside the following morning. Now she’s up in altitude at Vail in Colorado on a turbo trainer. She’s not had the best of luck. A big crash in Ironman Nice and then she was bitten by a dog. But it still looks like she’s racing Kona.
220: You’ve also had one or two issues with your equipment?
I only got my new 2013 Cervelo P5 bike three weeks ago, so not ideal. People who have joined the team this year didn’t have Cervelos so it was priority they got their bikes first. I’ve had a P3 and been going well on it. I’m glad I raced [at Cozumel 70.3 as I felt the position wasn’t right. [Dan finished eighth with the race won by Team TBB team-mate James Cunnama].
I was using all the wrong muscles in my legs. I feel a little bit better now. There’s no-one here to fit and I’m not sure getting a fit once I get to Kona is the best idea. I’ve been playing around with the saddle angle, raising it, bringing it forward a bit. In the race it felt like I was only using hip flexors and all knees, whereas on the P3 it was calf muscles and lower legs, which I prefer.
220: Aside from Ellis, you train with Switzerland’s Caroline Steffen and British Olympian Jodie Swallow, so are keenly placed for a view on the women’s race.
There are a couple of quick female swimmers, including Jodie, and that’s going to change the race. If she doesn’t kill herself on the bike she’s got a really good chance and she runs well in the heat. Everyone will be chasing Jodie and as there’s not going to be a big bike group like the males, it will be interesting. I kind of want to watch it in a way.
220: You had to validate for Jersey’s Commonwealth Games team and also chase qualifying points at Bolton and then Mont-Tremblant in a short space of time. Talk us through it.
I had to race the London Triathlon as part of qualification for Glasgow and then went to the start line in Bolton having never defended an Ironman title before. I had a really good day again, it’s amazing what you can do when focused and determined to win something. I backed it up in Mont-Tremblant and had a really good day there too.
220: Is it getting tougher to grind out a career as a professional long distance triathlete?
Hopefully one day we’ll be able to make a good living out of it. We train hard and I don’t see why we can’t make more money out of the sport. Unfortunately a lot good pros end up retiring early. They want a family, get married, buy a house and have to make a decision.
There used to be a lot of money in the sport and that’s when triathlon wasn’t growing as much as it is now. Prize money has got stagnant at races or even become less.
The pro licence has gone up to $800. The governing body [the World triathlon Corporation], says it has to raise costs because it wants to do more drug testing which is great. I was tested last week by a German guy who visited my hotel with a suitcase and freaked out the guy on reception. I don’t understand why I’m not on a testing pool in UK. I’ve been tested three times this year and only after races. I’ve not been tested out of competition.
Add up how many pros there are and that’s over $1,000,000, just in pro licences. I’m not entirely sure if they need to raise the price. I think there’s a lot of money in the WTC and if they really want a drug free sport they should be paying for it.
220: Whatever happens on Saturday, it cannot be any worse than last year on the notoriously tough Embrunman course in the French Alps.
It was definitely the hardest course I’ve ever raced, about 5000m of climbing, a crazy day out in 37 degrees heat. After about 20km of the run I started seeing stars. I walked 2km and people were staring at me thinking: ‘We should probably pull this guy out’.
I sat down in the shade in someone’s garden and fell asleep for an hour. My girlfriend Chelsea couldn’t find me and was freaking out. It’s all a bit of a blur and I’m hoping that’s the worst day I’ll ever have.
220: Finally, when it’s all done, how will you recuperate?
Really I’m an island boy and like to chill out with my mates. So I’ll go spear fishing and just chill down the beach.
Photo: Getty Images