JOHN McGrath is the ‘marathon man’ of Bendigo.
The 61-year-old equipment hire business owner will line up for his 41st event, when he faces the starter in this Sunday’s Medibank Melbourne Marathon.
He shows no signs of slowing down.
There’s virtually nowhere he won’t go, or distance he won’t travel to compete in a marathon.
McGrath was only the 52nd Australian to become a Abbott World Marathon Majors (AWMM) champion, and recipient of the coveted Six Star Finisher medal.
The program recognises and awards athletes all over the world, who have completed six of the most venerable global marathon events; Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York.
It’s what McGrath refers to as the ‘tennis’ grand slam equivalent’ of marathon running.
“It’s almost impossible to do them in the one year – you also have to remember we are in the southern hemisphere and these are all over the place,” he said.
“We as Australians have to travel to get to all of these events, let alone participate.
“It’s pretty much been a labour of love over a period of time.”
His Six Star Finisher Medal ranks as arguably the proudest reward for his years of blood, toil, sweat and tears, along with his ‘Spartan’ singlet for completing 10-plus Melbourne Marathons, presented to him by Australian sporting icon and four-time Richmond premiership coach Tom Hafey.
With anywhere from 32,000 athletes in Tokyo, to 50,000 in New York competing in the majors, McGrath stresses he is in it for the fun and experience.
“I am not an elite athlete by any stretch of the imagination, I just go to participate and enjoy what we have to do,” he said.
“For me, it’s about joining in and enjoying the run.”
“It’s taken me 10 years to complete the six majors, not that I had any goal of ever doing that - 2008 was when I did my first (of the six) in New York, but at that time I had no idea there was such thing as the world marathon majors.
“New York was supposed to be the epitome of marathon running, I entered, I qualified and I did it.
“It was only after I did Boston and got to London, then someone told me about this Six Star marathon thing.”
He completed the sequence by running two events in close succession in Chicago last October and Tokyo in February.
McGrath estimates he runs more than 500 kilometres in a period of 10 to 12 weeks in preparation for a single event – the equivalent of nearly 12 marathons.
Included is a minimum of three-30km-plus runs.
“As you get older you probably get a bit smarter … probably,” he laughed.
“Earlier on I was training four or five days a week, but as you age you become more injury prone and become busier with life.
“You just have to pinch-hit and become a bit smarter with the training.”
McGrath, who has battled a hamstring injury in the lead-up to his latest marathon attempt, formerly ran with South Bendigo Athletic Club, but is now to content to train most weeks with a group of good mates.
Sunday’s event, which is expected to attract more than 30,000 runners, will bring McGrath full-circle in his marathon journey.
It was in Melbourne two decades ago where he competed for the first time in a marathon event.
His Spartan status entitles McGrath to his own distinctive green, blue, red, gold, black and maroon running singlet and his own personalised race number.
Earlier on I was training four or five days a week, but as you age you become more injury prone and become busier with life. You just have to pinch-hit and become a bit smarter with the training.John McGrath
He remains an unabashed fan of the race.
“When I did my first Melbourne Marathon back in ’98, it was Frankston to Melbourne, so the course has changed immensely,” he said.
“It starts in the middle of the centre and the course takes you around the more elaborate parts of town.
“They have more-or-less settled on the course they have now and it’s very picturesque compared to a lot of the other runs.”
Despite his extensive travels, McGrath is not adverse to a running adventure closer to home in central Victoria, where is the owner/manager of Bendigo Hire.
He has competed in two O’Keefe Rail Trail Marathons, from Bendigo to Heathcote, and will be a likely starter in next year’s event in April.
While he has pounded pavements all across the world, McGrath rated introducing his wife Jenny to marathon running as his single biggest achievement in the sport.
“Jenny used to hold my bags in New York, or Boston and she said ‘I’m getting sick of holding your bags in these cold places, I’m going to join you’,” he said.
“She ran her first one when she was 52 and she’s now done 12.
“She started off doing fun runs and built up to the half-marathons and marathons.
“So the biggest accolade I can claim is kind of being a non-playing coach for her to get through her first marathon.
“It was amazing to see someone really strive and have the fortitude to come from a zero-base and complete such an arduous, tough event.”
While each marathon presented its own unique set of challenges, setbacks and achievements in their own right, McGrath maintained he was a long way off from hanging up the running shoes.
“The story still continues … I will do this for as long as I can,”
“If push comes to shove, I might back off to half marathons if the need-be.
“From the time the Chicago marathon kicked-off last weekend, I would have run five marathons in 12 months.
“I will probably need a bit of a rest, to recover physically and mentally, but I’ll continue to run lightly for a few months and see what’s ahead.”
It was amazing to see someone really strive and have the fortitude to come from a zero-base and complete such an arduous, tough event.John McGrath