There is unfinished business for Joanna Lawn at Saturday's Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Ironman New Zealand in Taupo.
The seven-time champion is back for another tilt at title number eight, which eluded her grasp 12 months ago. Lawn had to settle for third in 2011 - a disastrous puncture that took more than 15 minutes to fix putting paid to her title chances.
Ironically, Lawn was in arguably the best physical condition of her career at the time. However, the 38-year-old is far from bitter about her misfortune.
"That's just racing isn't it? These things happen and that's just what happened to me on that day.
"It's what you always dread when you're racing - something happens mechanically that's out of your control."
It was a rare smudge on an otherwise impeccable record that Lawn has in Taupo. In the last 10 years, she has won seven times and finished second twice before last year's third placing. In fact, the only time she failed to claim a spot on the podium was in 2001, when she finished fourth on debut.
This year, Lawn is leaving nothing to chance. She has ditched a disastrous three-year trial on the 650mm bicycle rims, which contributed to her downfall last year (the service vehicle didn't carry the smaller rims) and has decided to simplify her approach to training.
"I'm just going back to basics. I've been trying too many things and now I just want to train hard and then unleash it on race day".
And unleash it she can, over all three disciplines. Previously known as a strong swimmer and superb cyclist, Lawn is now equally dangerous on the run leg. Twice last year, she ran down her opponents to win Ironman 70.3 events in Australia. She also claimed victory in Korea, finished fifth in the European Championships and added another fifth placing at the 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas.
Lawn has carried that form into 2012, notching up a record fourth women's title at the Port of Tauranga Half in January. Once again she suffered mechanical issues with her bike, only this time she would not be denied. The victory by more than six minutes served as a reminder to her rivals that they will need to be at their best to deny her an eighth title in Taupo this year.
That would leave her just two titles short of round figures, but Lawn is not interested in contemplating that possibility just yet.
"I just want to do it year by year – let's see if I can have a good race this year and maybe earn my title back again and see where I go from there. It's a difficult physical sport but it's super tough mentally."
Not that motivation is a problem for Lawn – far from it. After 13 long years in Ironman competition, the desire to compete is still as strong as ever.
"When you love what you do it's easy. I don't have any motivational issues at all. When I don't want to do it, I won't do it - but as of today I still love it.'
Lawn is top seed with last year's winner Samantha Warriner not racing as she is expecting a child. The main challenges are likely from Wanganui-based Gina Crawford and Americans Jessica Jacobs and Meredith Kessler who have eight Ironman victories between them.
There is a record 1600 field from 44 countries racing with professionals to start at 6.45am and age groupers from 7pm.
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