London Marathon: Running towards the record books in gruelling style: On Sunday Steve Edwards will take a step towards the mark for lifetime marathons. Mike Rowbottom reports

STEVE EDWARDS will be taking it easy this year - relatively speaking. He plans to run only 30 marathons.

For a man who completed the fabled distance of 26 miles and 385 yards on 87 occasions between March 1991 and March 1992 - a world record - such a total is comparatively modest. But this 30-year-old computer network controller with Coventry City Council is now pacing himself for an even more gruelling challenge as he seeks to run the marathon more often than anyone else in the world.

Edwards' target is the record held by Sy Mah of the United States, who completed 524 marathons over a period of around 25 years before he died in his mid-seventies. A successful London Marathon on Sunday will bring Edwards' lifetime total to 232; at his current rate, he has another 10 years' slog ahead.

There is no temptation to speed things up. The effort involved in cramming 87 marathons into a year - travelling to 13 countries on three continents, covering nearly 40,000 miles by car with 46 ferry crossings and 14 flights - was daunting.

'When you know what's involved, it's not something you want to do again,' Edwards said. 'The logistics and travelling was the hardest part. Once you got to the start line you could breathe a sigh of relief. People think that's incredible when I still had 26 miles to run. But once you reach a certain level of fitness, completing the distance is not so hard.'

The distances have not merely been completed, however. Edwards has run below 3hr 15min on 105 occasions, and below 3hr on 20, with a personal best of 2hr 51min. 'It means more to get the record with times which will make people say 'That's respectable',' he explained.

'I think a lot of people would like to set records. I have been running since I was 19. I knew I was never going to be up there with the best runners, but I just wanted to achieve something at my own level. What I am trying to do is not like a record you can belt out in 10 minutes, or a day, or a week. The pressure is on you for a long time.'

That pressure extends to his family - his wife, Amanda, and nine-year-old son, Jason. But they are able to travel with him for many of his races, and even when he was packing in weekend races back-to-back - the Netherlands on Saturday, Denmark on Sunday, Coventry City Council on Monday - his midweek training was light. The racing was its own training.

'Basically, I enjoy running marathons,' Edwards said. 'They've been a real education for me. I've travelled to places I wouldn't otherwise have gone to, and I've made so many friends. I can pick up the phone to people in most countries and they'll say, 'come on over to stay.' '

Since he began running in earnest five years ago, he has run the Swiss Alpine marathon, completing the last nine miles with a broken foot. He has run the Midnight Sun Marathon in Tromso, Norway, finishing at 1am in bright sunlight. He has run in Finland and Crete in temperatures of 90F. 'There are so many factors that can affect your run,' he said. 'But one thing you have to realise is that you are only half-way when you reach 20 miles. I don't care what anyone says, when you get there it starts to hurt.'

Using his own measurement, he is not yet up to the 20-mile mark in his long-term ambition. 'I've still got age on my side,' he said. 'There's no point in trying to do too much at this stage. Running a marathon every two weeks doesn't really bother me.' And to think that some people reach the Guinness Book of Records by eating eggs . . .

(Photograph omitted)

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