A super-fit pensioner has completed a long-standing ambition to run a marathon in 50 different countries.
Endurance junkie Jim Manford, 71, brought up the impressive half-century in Belarus on Sunday, July 9.
It means that the Warkworth grandfather has now clocked up around 270 races over the 26.2-mile distance – and is on the brink of becoming one of the country’s most experienced marathon runners.
After crossing the finish-line at the International Friendship Marathon, in Belarus, Jim said: “I feel as if I have got a monkey off my back. Running a marathon in 50 different countries is something that has taken a lot of years to reach and I am delighted that I have finally done it.”
Over the last 18 months, Jim has run marathons in countries such as Egypt, Israel, Spain, USA, Macedonia, Luxembourg, Sweden, Lithuania, Republic of Ireland, South Africa, Romania, Slovenia, Cuba, United Arab Emirates and the Faroe Islands.
He also travelled to marathons in Madeira and the Seychelles, but was unable to run in either due to a hernia problem that required an operation.
It has been a long road – literally! – for Jim, who ran his first marathon in Western Australia in 1985 – on his 40th birthday. His debut over the distance was certainly a baptism of fire.
He said: “I have run some bad marathons over the years, but I’d have to say that the first one was the worst. I set off too fast and paid the price and ended up walking parts of it and finishing in four hours and 26 minutes.”
So bad was the experience, Jim vowed never to run a marathon again – but needless to say, he didn’t stick to his word.
In fact, three years later, he ran what was to be his fastest marathon – clocking three hours 21 minutes in Blackpool.
Time, though, is Jim’s biggest regret. “I’ve never done a sub three-hour marathon,” he says.
But while dipping under 180 minutes has eluded him, Jim’s 33-year marathon career has taken him to some far-flung places and has left him with one or two stories to tell.
He said: “When I was doing the Belarus marathon, an ambulance was following me for a while. It turned out that it was because I was the oldest competitor. I said, ‘don’t you worry about me, I know what I’m doing, I’ve done hundreds of these.
“Then there was the time that I was in Cuba for the Havana Marathon – and Fidel Castro died. Everything just stopped; you couldn’t get a drink, no restaurant was open – the whole country just shut down and I had to observe this week of mourning like a Cuban citizen.”
His best story though has to be winning the Vet 70 category at the Brisbane Marathon – on his 70th birthday, exactly 30 years on from his debut 26-miler.
It was rich reward for someone who has dedicated much of his life to the sport. Jim, who turns 72 next month, said: “I’m hooked on running marathons. It’s the challenge of them – they are difficult and you don’t know what will happen. I have never started a marathon without apprehension.”
When Jim isn’t running marathons, he’s writing about them. The long-distance specialist has published a number of runners’ guidebooks in his Marathon Tourism series. He is currently concentrating on Marathon Tourism in Eastern Europe and is set to run in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro later this year.