By Scott Mills
Overcoming life threatening illnesses, fighting adversity and battling it out for world titles against some of the globe’s greatest wheelchair athletes is something that Weir Archer and Great Britain’s John Smith has being doing his whole life.
So it comes to no surprise that the man who won the Dubai Marathon in 2016 with a time of 01:35:56, is relishing the chance to defend his title in this year’s competition against the likes of the current marathon world record holder, Josh Cassidy.
“Last year, I am not sure what the course record was but my main competition was Rob Smith who is not in the same category as me.” Smith tells Lloyd Bell.
“It is nothing personal but I’m a T54 which is the fastest category there is in wheelchair racing and Rob’s a T52 and the two categories don’t usually compete with each other.
“This year it is completely different as Ireland’s number one racer; Patrick Monahan, Spain’s best in Rafa Bottello Jimenez and then Josh Cassidy who holds the World Record are all competing against me.
“So I am racing against three of the best in the world to keep my title and I honestly cannot wait for it.”
However, the road leading up to his first marathon of the season has not been easy.
After being diagnosed with septicaemia in 2016, Smith was bed-bound for up to three months and not only did he see his dreams of completing the six World Marathon majors crushed, his hopes of representing his country in the Paralympics were also in tatters.
For many, seeing such a huge dream taken away from you that you’ve grafted your whole life for could be enough to make you not want to ever take part in that event again.
But not for Smith.
Instead, the Kent-based athlete saw this as just another obstacle he would have to overcome on his path to being one of the best in the world and even bounced back by narrowly missing out in the Rock’n’Roll Lisbon Half-Marathon to one of his rivals this time round- Rafa Botello Jimenez.
“I actually believe that the long lay-off was a blessing in disguise because I think I’ve come back stronger than ever before,” Smith states with confidence.
“On reflection, I feel like I was over training but I didn’t realise it at the time and I just wanted to get my head down and go.
“But I had a lay-off and I did a half-marathon in Lisbon in September, where I got second place to Rafa and almost a personal best.
“Now coming into this race I’ve prepared the best I can and I am defending champion so I want to walk away with my title still intact.
“Like I said in the press conference, I am really looking forward to this race because it will be a 26 mile battle and I can promise you that.”
Regularly doing 26 mile workouts on a daily basis, the distance does not phase Smith.
Neither does extremely steep hills because more often than not the British athlete has fought his way up some of the highest climbs in the country with ease as part of his training routine.
However, being an extremely flat course, the Dubai Marathon brings with it a different test for Smith and it is not just the heat that he has had to adapt to.
“I will admit that this is a course I am not used to,” Smith explains.
“Usually, I prefer courses with hills, turns and tight bends like the New York Marathon for example and London as they suit me better.
“With this it is long, flat and straight so you’ve got to change your training, your tactics and you have to race differently.
“You haven’t got to worry about looking up and seeing if you are going to hit a roundabout or not because this is literally a certain amount of miles straight and then back again.
“So like I said I just need to get my head down, prepare differently and also take into consideration the heat as that will be a big factor as well.
“Back home it is minus two and over here it is over 20 degrees at 11am so it is all about preparation.
“But a good athlete does what he needs to do, like working out his tactics, adapting his training and just gets his head down and does it.”
As race day edges ever closer, one thing is for certain and that is if Smith is to retain his title this time round, he must be at his very best to do it.