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London Marathon's oldest entrant, 83, braces himself for 37th race

Ken Jones says he's a bit apprehensive about taking on the London Marathon on Sunday because he's "so much slower these days".

As he approaches his 84th birthday next month, training session durations, apparently, have been extended from a maximum of around two-and-a-half-hours in his younger days to more like four hours now. There are fewer of them, too.

"I used to find running easy, but it's really hard work now," Jones, the race's oldest entrant, said. "I am going to be at it for about seven hours in the race. That's how long it takes an old guy!"

Jones trains three or four times a week [it used to be every day, and several times on some] with two long sessions of walk-running and a couple of others of two miles or so around the rural area near Londonderry, in Northern Ireland, in which he lives. He swims, too, on two of the other days.

The retired civil servant has completed every London Marathon since it began in 1981 and is a member of a slowly dwindling band of ever-presents; this year the group that formed a club of 42 in 1995 is expected to be down to just 11 men.

Sunday will bring the 37th edition of the race, but Jones would not be satisfied to stop after that. "I'd like to do 40 races, I'd think that was some sort of achievement," he said. "I've just got to keep myself healthy. I'd be pleased with that."

The tales of the ever-presents are fascinating. Most of those who remain have been impressive amateur runners, with all but one having finished a marathon in under three hours. One of them, Chris Finill, even did so in London last year aged 57.

There is also a painful range of impediments that members have completed the race with: on crutches, with a broken wrist, torn cruciate knee ligaments, cracked foot bones and suffering from the norovirus.

Jones himself fell over four years ago and landed heavily on his face, but said he got himself out of an ambulance to complete the 26.2 miles.

"I will finish the race and I always enjoy it," he said. "I lived and worked in London until moving here 14 years ago, and I love going back.

"I'm still a member of my athletics club, Orion Harriers, in Chingford, and they're very good to me, picking me up and driving me around in London.

"On race day the ever-presents meet at the Green Start, with the celebrities, and have a chat. We don't see each other much otherwise because we are scattered around, but I'm in touch with most of them on Facebook or email.

"But at the beginning, it was dreadful. There were no toilets at the start in Blackheath and you had to go in bushes. They had buses for all the bags and you just put them on there -- it was chaos. At the end you'd have to find them yourself."

"The marathon has changed a lot over the years. The crowds seem to get bigger and everything gets better every year.

"But at the beginning, it was dreadful. There were no toilets at the start in Blackheath and you had to go in bushes. They had buses for all the bags and you just put them on there -- it was chaos. At the end you'd have to find them yourself."

The London Marathon is a slick operation these days, with the facilities and organisation for runners and the clean up afterwards impressively efficient.

It's still a tough challenge to get round the course, though. "At around 18 or 19 miles it hurts a lot," said Jones, who walk-runs these days.

"But it helps to know the course so well because you know where you are and what you have to come.

"My favourite parts are the Cutty Sark and going over Tower Bridge, and what better finish can you have than Buckingham Palace?"

Given the effort involved, some may wonder why the octogenarian is still tackling the race; his doctor certainly jokes with him about giving it up.

The record for the oldest person to complete a marathon is 100 years old, although it was not recognised by Guinness World Records due to a missing birth certificate. The landmark age for oldest woman to complete the 26.2-mile discipline is 92.

Jones, who says he was a sickly child and only discovered his love of running in the army, has a different driving force, but is there a secret to his continued athleticism: diet perhaps?

"No, I eat like normal people," he said, listing porridge or cornflakes as his pre-race meal and bananas as his fuel during the race.

"It's a challenge and every year the London Marathon has been my target to do it," said the pensioner who estimates he has run 112 marathons in total. "It was always a must for me because it was the biggest one and in my home town. I just had to do it.

"I enjoy running because I feel always better afterwards; I can move better and my joints are loosened. You feel healthier.

"My other old friends are all walking sticks, and 'oh my knees'. When I look around now at the old men my age, they are bent over and have something wrong with them.

"I've got nothing wrong with me at all. No aches, pains, nothing. I can bend down, stretch, work in my garden." And, most extraordinary of all: complete marathons.