IN the native language of Hawaii, Kona means windward.

That element, Alison Rowatt declares, is just one ingredient in the spell which the island has cast over triathlon's long-distance superhumans for the past three decades, the annual Ironman world championships which is contested over a course whose ever-changing physical quirks provide a test like no other.

For the 32-year-old, it offers both a daunting and enticing challenge. All the more so because when she dives into the Pacific Ocean today at the race's outset, she will be swimming, biking and running further than she has ever done before: journeying into the great unknown.

Originally from Rutherglen but now, by trade, a solicitor in family law in Edinburgh, Rowatt displays few fears about taking a leap of faith. Until three years ago, she was an accomplished hockey player, good enough to win two caps for Great Britain as a midfield dynamo and a stalwart in the Scotland team which came fifth at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

For most, it would have delivered enough satisfaction for a lifetime. The realisation that an Olympic odyssey was just out of reach instead added to a sense of disillusion. So much work yet insufficient reward. "Maybe it's because I'm too selfish," she remarks. "But I never got out of it what I put in. I enjoyed the team aspect but there were parts I found frustrating. It was too restricting. And that's what I liked about triathlon, that I could do my own thing and what I put in, I got out."

Initially, it was a far from obvious switch. "I couldn't really swim at all," she laughs. Fortunately, the other disciplines came easier. It was a starter for ten. Retiring from hockey, she dedicated herself to the craft, assisted by her partner Fraser Cartmell, himself an accomplished triathlete. Barely a year later, she was the amateur world champion at the shorter 70.3km distance and, with a series of positive results, she was established as an emerging force.

Then, as it cruelly often does, the wheel turned. Foot injuries came one after another. Training kept grinding to a halt. Rowatt began to believe she would never run again. "I couldn't see a way out, especially when nothing could be diagnosed. I felt like I was hammering my head off a brick wall."

Entering her first full-length Ironman in Bolton in the summer of 2012, she made it through the initial two stages but had to withdraw after the cycle. In desperation, she turned to the surgeon who had repaired her knee during her hockey career. A scan showed her tendon was torn. Going under the knife, she now knows, saved her from oblivion.

Nursed back to full health, she set about regaining her status. All along, getting to Kona had been the driving ambition, the carrot dangled at the end of the stick. Venturing to this past summer's European Championships at Wiesbaden in Germany, Rowatt had no genuine idea of her capabilities but she ended up victorious. Critically, the win also punched her ticket to Hawaii.

She had been there once before, accompanying Cartmell in 2010 when the Inverness-born hopeful came 30th. Being a spectator was an extraordinary experience, she affirms. Since arriving in Kona last week to acclimatise, the alternative reality of what being a competitor entails has quickly sunk in.

"I don't think I realised how tough the conditions are and what the impact is on you," says Rowatt, a member of the Freespeed-Virgin Active team. "The swim is 1.2 miles out to the middle of the ocean and then back. You're coping with salt water and sea.

"The bike seems simple: 112 miles out and back but I did a portion of the course this week and the winds are horrendous. They change and they're so unpredictable and then on top of that, there's the heat. You think you're getting on top of what you need to do, with nutrition and drinks, and then something else kicks you in the butt." And then, through the exit gate from that torture chamber, lies the checkpoint to begin the concluding marathon.

One of two Scots in the 2000-strong field - the other is the former age-group champion Scott Balfour - the lawyer needs no reminder that the final 26.2 miles on foot will take her beyond past limitations. Scoping out a course which slices through fields of black lava rock has reduced only a small part of the intimidation factor. Even the best in the sport have often been eaten up and spat out by Kona's monstrous climate, one that generates crosswinds of 45 miles per hour and temperatures well into the 30s.

It has taken months of intense preparation to confront the 140.6-mile adventure head on. "Especially in the build-up to this, my life's pretty much been working, eating, sleeping, training," she says. "Social stuff, seeing friends and family, has gone out the window. But they understand. I'll appear again when this is all done."

One journey completed, the most exciting one now beckons as the Ironman's mantra reads "Anything is possible."