Thurrock Harrier Pat Dobbs will remarkably line-up for his 32nd consecutive London Marathon on Sunday.
He is one of a select group of 17 “ever presents” that will toe the start line on Blackheath Common, just as they did at the first ever edition of the race in 1981 and have done every year since.
This year, the 73-year-old fears he may not be in the best condition.
He has been suffering from chest complaints that he puts down to years working in a “dusty coal plant”. He has had to go to hospital to have his chest X-rayed, but nothing will put him off running the streets of London again.
Incredibly, not even a stroke did that.
In November 2009, he had a stroke that left him hospitalised for 15 days. By January, he was running again and by April he was on the start line once more.
“That was a real eye-opener,” said Dobbs, from Grays. “I have always been a fit man and there I was stuck in Basildon Hospital for 15 days. I couldn’t remember my wife’s name.
“That certainly brought it home to me. I was in a wheelchair for a few weeks after coming out of hospital. But my wife, Margaret, couldn’t keep me in there and after Christmas I started running again.
“I fell over 11 times trying to get running again. I just couldn’t get my balance. They said I could trip over a matchstick, but I kept at it and made it to London.”
That year, he made it round the 26.2 miles in his slowest time yet and it was still 4h 7s.
His best ever time around London is 2h 31m 38s (his PB is 2h 26m 44s set on Canvey Island), while last year he finished in 3h 49m 6s, which was good enough for third in the over 70s category.
That meant he added to a collection of trophies that include five age group victories, three second places and three thirds.
“I’m quite proud of that,” he said. “I just loving doing it. Every time I go out running it gives me a high. And every time I run around London I love it.
“There are so many people cheering you on, calling your name. You can’t pick out all the faces, but you hear the voices and I just love it.”
And over the years he has formed quite a bond with the dwindling band of ever presents.
“It’s a way of life for all of us,” he said. “Over the years the group has got smaller and smaller. It was 18 last year and it will be 17 this year.”
Dobbs was a keen runner while part of the Army serving in Malaya and Cyprus, but it wasn’t until he was 40 and living in Thurrock that he was encouraged to join the Harriers by current club chairman David Staines and the late Mel Batty.
That was in 1977 and four years later he was on the start line for the first ever London Marathon and starting his own remarkable story.
As well as a stroke, he has had a tendon operation, keyhole surgery on both knees and a stress fracture of his foot to contend with. But nothing stopped him from being ready come April.
And this year’s no exception.
“I start training after Christmas,” said Dobbs. “I become like a hamster on a wheel. My body can’t take the mileage like it used to. If I do 30 miles a week, that’s enough for me.”
But despite the declining mileage and the concerns over his chest, Dobbs will go into this year’s race in good form.
He ran 1h 35m 56s at the Paddock Wood Half-Marathon two weeks’ ago, suggesting he could have his best run in several years come Sunday.
* THREE south Essex youngsters will be competing in the mini-marathon on Sunday.
Canvey’s Jessica Judd will be looking to add to her tally of wins in the under-17 women’s event, while Grays’ Gemma Holloway is in the under-15 girls race.
Westcliff’s George Elliott will be in the under-15 boys race. All are competing for the eastern region.