IMAGINE for a moment getting on your bicycle and riding to the NEC in Birmingham as quickly as you can – then travelling an extra seven miles.

I forgot to mention, you’ve done that ride after just completing a two-and-a-half mile swim in open water.

Oh, and when you finally manage to experience the relief of dismounting after your 112-mile bike ride, you have to face completing a marathon. Twenty six miles on top of the swim and cycle.

That’s the mind-bending challenge 1,900 athletes took on as part of the annual Ironman UK which once more came to Bolton at the weekend.

As ever, it was a fantastic event for lots of reasons.

It’s impossible not to marvel at any human being who takes part in such an energy-sapping challenge which is a huge mental test as well as physical.

This year the youngest was 18, the oldest, 70.

Even the fastest competitor knows they will be out there for more than nine hours.

Most will finish around the 12 or 13-hour mark.

Some spend 15 hours and more trying to get over that finishing line.

Imagine exercising non-stop for that length of time, never mind at the same time taking part in the gruelling disciplines mentioned earlier.

Finishing at all is an incredible achievement and everyone who take part deserves the utmost respect.

However, as well as the brave (or foolhardy) souls who take part, praise should go to all those who line the route - sometimes in the most rural stretches - to cheer on, cheer up and motivate the competitors.

It’s this support from the people of Bolton that makes the event particularly special and, as the managing director of Ironman UK told me, it is one of the main reasons they come back to our town year after year.

Ironman is such an enormous event and affects such a large part of town that organisers need the community to be welcoming.

By and large Bolton people have really taken the event to their hearts.

It also helps to boost the local economy. Athletes, their friends and families travel from across the country and the globe to take part, spending money in hotels, shops, bars and restaurants.

Although the Sunday Ironman event is the main challenge, the weekend festival has developed to become a great way to get more people active.

There aren’t many of us who could contemplate taking part in the swim, bike ride and marathon, but this year a 5k night run was organised for the first time to enable more people to get involved.

More than 700 people of all ages took part. Next year, hopefully lots more will join in.

The youngsters aren’t forgotten either.

On Saturday they got to take part in their very own event, Ironkids. Three thousand youngsters (the largest Ironkids event in the world) got their running shoes and clearly had a great time.

It’s brilliant to see such an Inclusive annual event being hosted by our town. Brian Fogarty from Blackburn might have crossed the finishing line first in a time of 9hrs 27mins 12secs, but this is an event where everyone is a winner.