TREVOR HENDY could relate because he had been there before. He had been where Shannon Eckstein was in 2011 and last year, that unforgiving place where being the best no longer means the world, where winning titles is good but not great, where smashing your body at training every day becomes harder and harder.
Eckstein chatted with his good mate about how retirement was regularly crossing his mind and ways he could recapture the competitive drive that had earned him the moniker of ironman's greatest performer. "Trevor's good friends with Kelly Slater and he said to me 'You're getting into Kelly Slater territory now and you've got to find something new to keep you going'," Eckstein says. "Trevor had dominated before, too. We spoke about keeping motivated, keeping things fresh. He helped me quite a bit."
After winning five Australian Ironman titles, six Kellogg's Nutri-Grain IronMan series and four world titles, Eckstein, 29, finished third in last year's domestic IronMan, a good performance but, given his exceptional record, one which raised questions about his future. He responded this season and on Sunday, in the final round event at Noosa, is poised to regain the prized crown.
"It's hard when you're expected to win all the time and, if you don't win, people question what you're doing," he says. "Everyone's human. Everyone loses. Last year a few people said it was a poor year for me, but I finished third overall. I beat a whole lot of other people, so it wasn't too bad.
"When you're young you just want to keep winning. But you get over that feeling of just beating everyone else. The last two years, it's not that I didn't enjoy it, but it was getting a little bit over doing the same thing all the time.
"This year I've felt a bit of renewed enthusiasm for it. You've got to find different reasons."
Part of it was becoming a father to Ellie in March. Part of it was renewing his search for perfection. And part of it was in the nature of the sport. "You can find motivation in our sport because there's three disciplines in the surf, plus the running, different formats and different venues. For instance, this year is the first time I won at Portsea, which is an iconic venue for us with its big surf. I'd never won there before, which hadn't worried me. But I really thought about that and set a goal to win there this year. Things like that, just trying to keep it new, keep the goals changing, keep the goalposts moving."
He plans to continue competing "for another couple of years". He has a bachelor's degree in exercise science and hopes to stay involved in the sport once his days of domination are over. "I've grown up in the sport, I love it and I'd like to give back to it when I retire. I just want to keep helping prove it as one of the best summer sports in Australia," he says.