By Scott Mills
If past experiences were anything to go by, you could easily forgive wheelchair athlete John Smith for never wanting to race in Manchester again.
In April 2016, Smith was racing in the Manchester Marathon where the pace-setter took the racers the wrong way on several occasions across the course.
Despite this, Smith still managed to win what actually turned out to be a 30 mile marathon rather than the usual 26.2, and now he is back, but this time to compete in the Manchester Half-Marathon.
In fact, the event couldn’t have come at a better time for the Weir Archer athlete, after he recently finished 2nd in the Lisbon Half-Marathon at the start of October.
However, even though the course is notoriously fast, Smith is not necessarily looking to go one better in this weekend’s race.
“This Sunday, I am not really going for a win, I am just aiming to get a sub 50 [minutes] and hopefully a PB,” he explained.
“Beforehand, I tend not to look at the courses and I don’t even look at the starting list as I don’t really care who is in the race.
“Obviously, I don’t just race for the sake of it but I’ve heard it’s flat and fast which is one of the reasons I picked Manchester to compete in.”
As far as Smith’s season is concerned, it has been rather successful.
Out of the five marathons he has competed in, he met the qualifying times to compete in the marathon at the Paralympic Games in three of them.
After battling illness for several months, his 2nd place finish in Lisbon was only 53 seconds behind Spaniard Rafael Botello Jiminez, who currently holds every national record from the 100m up to the marathon.
In fact, his coach Jenny Archer MBE has even expressed that he has gone from strength to strength in training, something Smith also believes is paying off.
“As you know, the track season starts between May and ends in September and then the marathon season starts in September and goes right until April, so I don’t really get to have an off season.
“I feel as time goes on I am getting stronger, quicker and my stamina is creeping up so everything is getting better all around and I think it will interesting to see what happens on Sunday.”
One challenge that this hard-working athlete is also looking forward to is competing against his Weir Archer teammate, Stuart Bloor.
The pair recently competed against each other in Lisbon and whilst they are good friends, Smith is also aware of the threat Bloor possesses.
“Stuart has always been a threat in any race on any surface.
“I know he still is very good in the 5000m on the track and he’s gained a lot more experience,” says Smith.
“This is only my second season as a wheelchair racer and Stuart has been around a lot longer than me.
“He is very good when it comes to the tactical side of it, he’s got speed and he’s got power.
“I really look forward to racing Stuart he is one of those guys that when we race together, you know it will be a good race.”
And whilst Smith has trained and performed exceptionally well since his illness, he still believes that this is part of the season is still like a ‘test drive’.
“Like Lisbon I see this as a ‘test’ so to speak. When I was in Lisbon, Jen just said don’t worry about times, don’t worry about finishing places just go, see what happens.
“For all we know, I was going to get to Lisbon and I was going to burn out after a couple of miles or I could have broken a world record.
So it’s just to go there and enjoy the race, if you can win go for it, if you can’t just pace yourself and have a good race.”