Jim Barr finishes the Richmond Half Marathon in 2017. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

ATHLETICS

CHRIS COGDALE
chris.cogdale@age.co.nz

Not many people celebrate their birthday, let alone their 75th birthday, by running a marathon, but that’s exactly what Masterton man Jim Barr will do to mark his semisesquicentennial on Saturday.

Running the ultimate distance is nothing new for Barr, who has completed the 42.2km 26 times previously. However, he thought his long-distance running days were behind him when he was diagnosed with a heart problem after completing the Remutaka Rail Trail Half Marathon.

That problem resolved itself and Barr was back pounding the streets, with the aim of running the Hawke’s Bay Marathon on Saturday. He was to have support from his and wife Barbara’s extended family, and grandchildren, who were intending to race over varying distances.

“It was disappointing when it was cancelled, as eight of our kids, including Barbara’s daughters, Rebekah from London, and Olivia from Melbourne were coming. My youngest son David was going to run the marathon, and the others were going to do the half Marathon, 10km and some other distances,” Barr said.

The cancellation of the Hawke’s Bay event because of the covid-19 restrictions left Barr despondent, but determined to celebrate his milestone in style he has decided to run the Wairarapa Country Marathon of two laps around the Lees-Pakaraka course.

“I had cut back the training but once I set the goal of running the Wairarapa course I have been back doing 70km a week. I hope I make it around.”

Two of Barr’s sons are expected to support him during the marathon, which he hopes to complete in a time of about six hours, a far cry from Barr’s best time of 2.55:11 in the 1986 Hastings Marathon.

Barr immigrated to New Zealand from St Helens, between Liverpool and Manchester, in 1973 looking for a better life. His love affair with running didn’t start until he underwent a lung operation when he was 37 years old. That forced a lifestyle change and Barr gave up smoking and took up athletics.

His first wife left in 1988, and Barr became a solo father with five children.

The family discovered orienteering in 1989, and it was their involvement in the sport which led to Barr meeting his second wife Barbara.

“I was living in Hamilton at the time and Barbara had travelled up from Mauriceville West with her kids for the 1996 nationals,” he said. “The kids knew each other first and we met through the kids.”

The couple clicked and Barr moved to Mauriceville West and they married in 1999.

Four of Barr’s children – Antony, Madeleine, Stuart and Malcolm, and Barbara’s daughters Felicity and Kristian Anderson went on to represent New Zealand in orienteering. Stuart competed at two world junior championships. Barbara has also represented New Zealand in the women’s 55 grade.

Barr edited the NZ Orienteering magazine for three years and became an ‘A’ Grade controller. In 2000 he organised the national championships held in the Mauriceville area, and in 2002-03 was presented the Silva Trophy for voluntary contribution, the highest non-competitive award in orienteering.

Barr is still a regular competitor in national orienteering events and was targeting the title in the men’s 75 age group, before the 2020 championships were cancelled due to the covid-19 pandemic.

Barr has also returned to the United Kingdom on several occasions to compete in long distance events, the last time in 2017 when he competed in the Richmond Half Marathon in London, and ran the Liverpool Half Marathon with his brother John.

Barr will start his birthday marathon attempt early on Saturday morning in Gordon Street and complete two laps of the Lees-Pakaraka course finishing outside the Henley Lake gates.