INDIANAPOLIS - Tony Kanaan and Vitor Meira are in the race of their lives.
They've already logged more than 16,000 kilometres of training — and none of it has come behind the wheel of a race car.
No, this is not some crazy IndyCar endurance challenge, it's the next stop on their fitness tour: The Ironman World Championships at Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
"It's like the Indy 500, it's the world championship," said Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar champion. "It's not like everyone gets to do that. So it's a big challenge."
The Brazilians are well-known around the IndyCar circuit for being fit.
They can often be found riding bikes, lifting weights or running, only this time there's a larger purpose.
Kanaan and Meira will be among roughly 1,800 athletes participating in the 225-plus-kilometre race Saturday, and unlike their day job, they won't be among the top contenders. Most competitors qualify through sanctioned events; Kanaan and Meira were given VIP invitations, the equivalent of a wild-card entry in golf or tennis.
The goal is to show they belong in Hawaii.
Kanaan estimates he and Meira, his workout partner, have logged more than 11,000 kilometres on their bikes and run more than 5,000 kilometres. He can't even fathom how far they have swum. Plus, the Brazilians have built a training routine around a gruelling IndyCar season that required them to drive thousands of miles in challenging conditions.
And they had to fit it all in around their sponsorship appearances and regular work schedules.
"It's been a huge learning experience not to interfere with the racing," Meira said. "We've been spending a lot of time together because when we're not in the race car we're training. It's making the wives a little jealous."
The lack of free time isn't the only obstacle Kanaan and Meira have faced on the road to Hawaii.
Just look at their frequent flier miles.
Both raced in Japan on Sept. 18 and at Kentucky last weekend before heading to the Aloha State. Next week, it's off to Las Vegas for IndyCar's Oct. 16 season finale. Kanaan follows that with yet another race on yet another continent — the Gold Coast 600 V8 Supercars race in Australia. After that he'll finally take some time off before getting acclimated to the new 2012 IndyCars.
It's hardly the typical schedule of someone who wants to complete the Ironman, which consists of a 3.9-kilometre ocean swim, 180-kilometre bike race and 42.195-kilometre run.
But Kanaan and Meira are not your usual triathletes.
While Kanaan has competed in two half-Ironmans, neither has competed in the full version, and neither expects to wind up on the podium in Hawaii.
Kanaan is just hoping to finish within the 17-hour time limit. Meira, who drives for A.J. Foyt Enterprises and broke two bones in his back during the 2009 Indianapolis 500, is serious about enjoying the race.
"That's my first goal because if I enjoy it, it's going to be because I finished," he said. "I want to finish during daylight. I figure that's going to be no more than 11 hours."
To prepare, they've taken advantage of their time on the road.
When the IndyCar Series went to California, Meira said they rode bikes more frequently. They had opportunities for ocean swims at beaches near Baltimore or St. Petersburg, and, of course, there are all kinds of places to run.
The other keys were staying focused and disciplined.
In some ways, both drivers believe the crazy hours they've put in have actually made them better drivers.
"I've done plenty of workouts that were a lot harder," said Kanaan, who drives for KV Technology Racing. "I've come to race weekends with a lot more than 140 miles under my body. It's really just a long workout day, but it has helped me become a fitter race car driver."
Kanaan uses this season's results as the proof.
While Meira is 16th in the points, Kanaan is in line for his first top-five points finish since 2008 despite getting a late start on the season.
Kanaan left Andretti Autosport after 2010, signed on with Gil de Ferran's team, then found himself suddenly unemployed when his new team didn't come up with enough sponsorship. Five days before the season-opener at St. Petersburg, Kanaan finally landed a one-year deal with the team co-owned by Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser.
Not surprisingly, Kanaan is now looking for a new deal to stay in the No. 82 car.
"We're negotiating right now for a couple more years," he said. "I have to say that's most likely where I'm going to stay for the next couple of years. It's not done till it's done, but that's where I'd like to be."
After, of course, finishing one of the few races he's never tried.
"At the end of the day, I'm a professional race car driver, I'm not a triathlete," Kanaan said. "When I sat down to make my plans, I said it cannot interfere with racing and I'm not going to stress myself out. If I wake up tired, I'm not going to do it. Racing is the priority."