BOLTON’S Ironman UK contest is a huge challenge for any athlete but when you have had a long-standing fear of water, it becomes even more of a daunting test.

But experienced marathon runner Stephen Knowles has had a trump card up his sleeve in training for his first shot at the event in the shape of 11-year-old daughter Hannah.

The youngster, who is also competing this weekend 24 hours beforehand in the Ironkids contest, has been putting dad through his paces in the pool.

And now he feels ready for Sunday’s gruelling schedule of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a marathon to finish it off.

Stephen told The Bolton News: “Water is my nemesis – I have always had a fear of it but Hannah has helped me get over that.

“She has been my rock in that respect and was having none of me shying away from it.

“She has been down at Bolton One with me getting me in the pool and it has been a huge help to get me ready for Sunday.”

Stephen, from Farnworth, is confident now he has mastered the swimming he can do well this weekend in his first stab at Ironman UK.

He enjoys cycling and has been running since he was at school.

A former Bolton Harrier, he has competed in the London Marathon and three Manchester versions – including this year’s in April when he ran sub-four hours. He added: “I think running is in my genes from my dad.

“I was team captain at Hayward School in Great Lever as a kid doing cross country and distance running.

“I joined Bolton Harriers and did 400m and 800m then got into the Bolton parkrun.

“I have done marathons as well and treated the Manchester one this year as part of a training exercise for the Ironman and finished in 3hrs 57mins.

“I decided to do Ironman after last year’s event when Martin Selby, who regularly competes and is a work colleague of mine, suggested I had a go. I started training in September last year and have done a lot on my own to prepare for being on my own on Sunday.

“It has helped me go down from 16 stone to 12 stone in a year and now I’m ready and looking forward to the challenge.”

With Hannah also involved on Saturday, it is something of a family affair for the Knowles’s.

Wife Kim has been a big support and, despite a date for a family christening on Sunday morning, Stephen says she will be there to cheer him across the finish line.

He said: “When I decided to do it, I had to pluck up the courage to tell the family. I had given up regular running because of them, when I met Kim and when Hannah was born, to put the family first.

“Last August, when I decided to do it, I bought Kim and Hannah tickets to a One Direction concert to soften the blow, and it worked!

“Seriously, though, they have been massively supportive.

“They are all at a christening on Sunday morning but have promised to come down after.

“I will probably have the best-dressed supporters at the finish line – I may even put a bow tie on myself to fit in.”