A New Zealand running icon will again lace up at the Great Forest Marathon event at Waitarere Beach tomorrow in what will be his 576th attempt at the distance.

With each 42.2km marathon Mike Stewart, 66, has - one foot after the other - clocked up 24,350km. Earth is just over 40,000km round. New Zealand a mere 1600km long.

Taking into account the amount of training involved and other fun runs and smaller events, Stewart has probably run a ring around the world, with no sign of stopping.

"It's just something that I have enjoyed doing. I'm doing what the heart wants me to do," he said.


Fondly known as "Mad Mike", the Naenae rubbish collector was now a familiar sight at marathon events with his long grey locks and slight frame barely covered by his now infamous skimpy togs and singlet.

He strapped a water pack to his back lined with sheepskin straps made in Himatangi to prevent chaffing.

He has run every Waitarere Forest Marathon since it began 22 years ago. In fact, there weren't many marathons he hadn't run. Next year will mark 50 years of marathon running.

Stewart is a vegan and doesn't touch alcohol. He plans to keep running as long as he enjoys it.

"I do have a bit of a goal and that is to get fit," he said. "There's no reason why I can't run until I'm 100."

And with that attitude, it won't be long until the magic 600 mark is reached, although he will tell you records are not his motivation.

His father, Francis Keith Stewart, was an avid runner and introduced him to running as a 10 year old in 1962 with the local harriers club.

Stewart's first marathon was the Wellington Olympic Handicap in 1970 when he was 18. He "only" ran five marathons in the following seven years, but soon made up for lost time.


His best time was in 1988 when he ran 2h 59m 7s at Hastings. He reached the 500 marathon mark in 2012 at Upper Hutt. Nowadays, it might take him five or six hours to finish. But time is irrelevant.

Great Forest Marathon course director Kevin McCashin said Stewart was now a familiar sight and it was always great to see his name on the list of enrolments.

McCashin said Stewart added colour to the event and he remembered years ago he helped to map out the course.

Each year the course would change slightly, depending on which part of the forest was being logged, and organisers would measure and plot a track that missed logging and large puddles and pop-up lakes.

"It's fairly similar to last year," he said.

The course was always well sign-posted as it was completely off-road and easy to get lost, he said.

Solid support from the community helped to make the event a success, including more than 150 volunteers from different organisations and clubs in the region, he said.

One year, a storm bought down trees that blocked the track, so the local fishing club came to the rescue and cleared the path.

"We couldn't run it on our own. It would be completely impossible," he said.

Vendors selling coffee, and food stalls were at the start-finish line, while competitors were encouraged to stick around for the spot prizes.

The marathon was founded by the late Rene Steele and had grown steadily since to become one of the district's flagship events. Some years it had attracted more than 3000 runners and walkers for the marathon, half marathon, 10km and 5km events.

It is recognised as New Zealand's number one off-road marathon event.