DAWN had barely broken when more than 2,000 competitors lined up on the banks of Pennington Flash for the start of one of the world’s toughest competitions — the 10th Ironman UK.

Their months of training had led up to this point as they faced one of the world’s toughest triathlons.

This is the sixth time Ironman UK has been held in Bolton and 35 nations were represented.

People travelled from across the country to be part of the sold out competition.

For many it was their first time and 12 per cent were women.

One competitor had to be encouraged to “give it a go” at the start of the swim by three-time Ironman World Champion Craig “Crowie” Alexander after his nerves got the better of him.

Craig said: “These people are inspiring, a lot of them have full-time jobs doing 40 hours a week and then fitting in the training to prepare for this.”

Families and friends gathered in their hundreds, carrying banners and wearing T-shirts bearing the names of the Ironmen they were supporting.

Among the contestants were the inspirational 34-strong Team True Spirit, made up from members of the armed forces who suffered physical and mental injuries during service, and were raising money for Help For Heroes.

Kate Airey, who is involved with the organisation through her husband, Mark, an ex-serviceman, said: “These guys are amazing.”

Police officers from Bristol were also out in force, taking part in their first full Ironman event.

Tony Peters, aged 52, from Leicester, set himself a personal goal to finish as he has type one diabetes and was not able to finish last year.

He was being supported by his family including his wife Catherine, aged 53.

She said: “He has being doing a lot of training for this. It is a brilliant atmosphere here.”

Lukas Ranicar, from Leigh, was raising money for Scope and it was his first triathlon.

The 34-year-old, who works as a builder, said: “I’m looking forward to the finish line.”

His fiancee, Chandri Rallan, aged 27, said: “I am really excited and so proud of him.”

Steve Houlton, aged 74, was there to cheer on his son Philip, aged 44, a regular Ironman UK contestant.

He was raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support in honour of his mother, Linda, who is being treated for cancer.

Mr Houlton said: “He has raised £1,800 so far. I think it is brilliant what he is doing.”

First out of the water were GB’s Harry Wiltshire and Belgium’s Axel Zeebroek.

The last out was Paul Bigmore with a time of just under 2 hours 37 minutes.