When Paul Knight sets his sights on the finish line of a marathon it takes a lot to stop him getting there.
But, the 61-year-old Marlborough athlete who has so far completed 113 marathons around the world, has this week been halted in his tracks.
Paul, Maintenance Manager at The Vines Village and Marlborough Croquet Club lawnsman, was committed to running the 2020 Tokyo Marathon, which was staged in Japan on Sunday, March 1.
However, after qualifying for the event, paying the entry fee and training towards race day, Paul has been stymied by the world-wide coronavirus scare.
In a move designed to reduce travel within Japan and prevent the spread of the viral respiratory disease, event organisers limited the race participants to elite runners and wheelchair athletes, reducing the field from around 40,000 to approximately 2000.
Making the late change even more galling for Paul is the fact that if he had completed the Tokyo event he would have conquered what are known as the Abbott World Marathon Majors, the world’s top six marathons – being Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York City and Tokyo.
“I have ticked them all off except Tokyo,” explained Paul. “This was my shot to finish it and I have been waiting two years to get into the Japan race … they get so many people wanting to do it they allocate just 10 places to New Zealanders.”
Paul is hoping for a refund of his entry fee and has been advised that his place in the field will carry forward to next year, but is unsure if he will be on the start line in 2021.
“We’ll see. Once the disappointment disappears it will probably be ‘yes, I have to go’ but I don’t think I’ll be making it a holiday like my partner and I intended this time.”
Paul was something of a slow starter on the marathon front, completing his first 42km [the Hamilton Marathon] in the mid-1980s, but then there was no stopping him as he “caught the bug”.
He describes his first marathon encounter. “I was in Hamilton, coming back from a night on the town, sitting drinking beer on the lawn of my house when the marathon field went past. My friend and I looked at each other, said ‘we can do that’, and we did [the race] the very next year. And I have loved it ever since.”
He set a goal of completing 100 marathons before he turned 60 and knocked that target off in appropriate fashion, reaching three figures at the home of the sport, Greece, when he trod the same route that Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to inform his army of victory over the Persians.
“I figured if I was going to do 100 I would do it at the Athens Classic, over the original course.”
Paul’s best time is 3 hours 18 minutes 24 seconds, set in Rotorua “many years ago” but now he runs at a more sedate pace, having bigger goals in mind.
One of these was the Triple Seven Challenge, which involves completing seven marathons, on seven continents, in seven days. He was advised that if he wanted to attempt that rare feat he would have to aim at a finishing time around 4.5 hours, “and since then I can’t get any quicker”, adds Paul.
In 2015 he took on the Triple Seven and completed it, with a minor hiccup at the end. After running consecutive marathons in Melbourne, Abu Dhabi, Paris, Tunisia, New York and Punta Arenas in Chile he set off for the final continent [Antarctica] but his plane was unable to land. However, he went back five days later and completed his seventh marathon, on King George Island, ticking off the seven continents in just 11 days.
He lists “getting 800 metres off the ground and not being able to land in Antarctica” as his worst moment in the sport and is proud of the fact he has finished every marathon he has started. “I have crawled some, I have had torn calf muscles and hamstrings but I have never pulled out,” he added.
His best moment came when he completed the Paris Marathon, one of 32 international races he has completed. “It is just such an amazing race – with the scenery, the atmosphere, the whole race was just unbelievable.”
Paul has raced shorter and longer distances but says the length of a marathon is his best. “I have done Kepler and a few 60km events and, I know it’s rude, but anything less than 42km is not worth putting your shoes on for,” he adds with a laugh.
“I love the challenges associated with running 42km … there’s always that challenge to finish and sometimes you get tweaks along the way but you overcome them and it make you a lot more determined … your brain just takes over … it’s a mental race, not a physical race.
“I have been very lucky with avoiding the sort of injuries that have put a lot of people out of running and figure that while I am able to [run marathons] I am going to do it … I still have a lot of goals that I need to achieve.”