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The superfit Coleraine man (62) who has run 600 marathons and raised £700,000 for charity

Peter Ferris's amazing efforts have earned him an MBE and even seen him arrested in Turkey. He tells Ivan Little that he's not putting his feet up yet and that a 3,000 mile route across the US is next on his list

Coleraine's marathon man Peter Ferris makes Forrest Gump look like an also-ran. For while Tom Hanks' movie character clocked up thousands of miles on his long running odyssey, Peter reckons he has probably covered half a million miles during his 45 years on the hoof.

The 62-year-old superfit superman has completed more than 600 marathons and he's set his sights on a gruelling coast to coast run in America, Forrest Gump style.

Which wouldn't just be an astonishing achievement for a man of Peter's mature years - but even more of a triumph for a runner who has a reconstructed left foot.

That injury was sustained in a road accident in 2009 when keen cyclist Peter was on his bike. He says: "I was hit by a car and I was in hospital for nearly a year. I've ended up with two massive screws in my left foot and there were even more complications in hospital where I got C diff and MRSA.

"My weight dropped to eight stone and I was anointed by a priest who asked me to say an act of contrition. But I told him that I wasn't for dying."

A lesser mortal might have been tempted to hang up their running shoes after their recovery, but not Peter who believes he was born to run... in Omagh.

"I was always running, even as a child. I would sprint to the shops to get the messages for the family. I loved it. But I didn't take it up seriously."

He got there in the long run, so to speak. "I lived in a place in Belfast where there were up to 17 runners and I decided to join them. I was hooked. I started doing 10k runs and half marathons before running my first marathon in Belfast. I did it in 3 hours 45 minutes.

"That was in 1982 and I'd already run round the course a couple of times in the days before the marathon. The next one I did was in Derry/Londonderry and then I started to enter marathons right around the globe."

Peter doesn't run just for the fun of it. He also raises money along the way, primarily but not exclusively for cancer charities.

He says: "My mother and many members of my family died from cancer and I decided to seek out sponsorship to collect funds for the charities who were trying to find a cure."

At the last count Peter had raised over £700,000 for charities north and south of the border and his feet's feats were recognised with the presentation of an MBE at Buckingham Palace by Prince Charles.

"He was brilliant," says Peter, who slows down occasionally to indulge his other passion of gardening. "I made a joke to the prince about talking to my plants just as he does. He gave a big hearty laugh and he was amazed to hear about the number of marathons I had run.

"He asked me when I planned to retire and I told him that I'd leave it to the man above to let me know when I've had enough."

Peter says he gets a lot of satisfaction from helping other people. "I believe in karma," he adds. "What you give to others comes back to you in different ways."

Just listening to Peter talking about his running CV is exhausting.

"I've done 582 marathons and 21 ultra-marathons which are five miles longer than the ordinary one. I've done the Marathon de Sables in the Sahara desert; I've done 100 milers; 62 milers, the lot," says Peter, who has run all the major marathons around the world, except Tokyo which is still on his bucket list but which is hard to get into.

"I've done marathons on all the continents apart from Australia," he adds.

"And I've completed marathons at the South Pole and the North Pole as well. I also did 100 miles at Mount Everest.

"I've been to Berlin and London 20 times each, Boston 10 times, and New York seven times. One April I ran London on the Sunday and hopped on a plane to do Boston the following day. I once did two marathons in France on the same day.

"Closer to home I ran seven marathons in seven days and I also did the 266 miles from Belfast to Cork.

"With all my marathons and training runs, I think I have probably covered maybe half a million miles which I've been told is the distance between the earth and the moon."

People, not surprisingly, often question Peter's sanity. And he admits that he probably does have a screw loose.

He says: "I always joke that the screws the medics put into my left foot were taken out of my head.

"But seriously, running is second nature to me. It's part of my life now. And I still get a buzz out of it. People often ask me what I think about when I am pounding the streets and I tell them I'm usually contemplating my next marathon.

"I'm just thankful that I am still here to run my marathons and I am still making good times. My best was 2 hours 47 minutes but I will never see that again.

"However, I did my last marathon in about three and a half hours which isn't bad for someone in their 60s."

Two recent marathons, in Belfast and London, were marred by tragedy with the deaths of two runners.

Peter says: "Every time I hear of someone dying during the marathon it makes me feel terribly sad. I always think about the loved ones they leave behind."

One death, in the Connemarathon in the west of Ireland, still haunts Peter.

"A young man called Frank Hayes died just two miles short of the finishing line at Maam Cross. His girlfriend was waiting there for him and it later transpired that Frank had an engagement ring with him and he planned to pop the question at the end of his half marathon.

"The organisers erected a marble plaque at the spot where he collapsed and we always held a minute's silence for Frank."

Peter, however, says the tragedies haven't put him off, adding: "As you go through life you find the path isn't straight. There are bends and hills and turns in it - obstacles that you have to get over."

But Peter is convinced that his healthy lifestyle has helped him to keep on running and he's never failed to complete a marathon course.

He says: "I don't drink or smoke and I don't eat red meat, biscuits or processed stuff like ham. I concentrate on grilled fish and chicken, fresh fruit and vegetables. I drink water all the time and I take hot water with lemon to detoxify the body."

His training regime is strict. "I run once and sometimes twice every day," he says. "But I do take one day off every fortnight."

Peter's favourite marathon is Boston but, happily, he wasn't there five years ago when it was bombed with the loss of three lives.

His toughest challenge, he says, was in 1997 at the Marathon de Sables, a punishing six-day 156-mile endurance race through the dunes and over the white-hot salt plains of the Sahara Desert.

"I ran along with SAS soldiers from London and they were a great source of encouragement to me at the start and they cut the blisters off my feet but by the end of it I was keeping them going," says Peter, who seven years ago ran into unexpected difficulties with Turkish authorities who accused him and fellow athlete Harry Riley of being terrorists.

The two men were arrested by armed security police at Izmir airport where they were threatened with 20 years in jail after they were mistaken for al-Qaeda operatives who were planning to blow up a plane.

Peter and his friend were held in horrific conditions for several days before the Turks conceded they'd made a massive blunder.

An IT technician, Peter has lived in Coleraine since 1981 after leaving Belfast at the height of the Troubles.

He's retired from his job in the University of Ulster but has become involved in sports massage therapy and he also does voluntary work with a number of organisations including the National Trust.

But he insists that he has no plans to put his feet up and that aforementioned American jaunt is still on his to-do list.

"I really want to run from New York to Los Angeles which is about 3,000 miles," he says. "The plan would be to run 27 miles a day which would take me 110 days.

"I would start on St Patrick's Day and finish on Independence Day and the aim would be to raise $1m for Marie Curie and the American Cancer Society."

And yes, he knows, his run would be compared to that of Forrest Gump who in the 1994 film criss-crossed the States for several years.

He laughs: "I've been called Forrest Gump before and people shout 'run Forrest run' from time to time but it doesn't bother me."

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