Fabled eighth continent lures runner to New Zealand for marathon record

Lounging on an Hawaiian beach last week, a day way from achieving his own slice of history, an inconvenient truth dawned on Dave Jones.

Science was about to rob him of a hard-earned distinction and there was simply no way he could tolerate that.

So, soon after chalking up his 57th marathon in less than a year, the intrepid American dashed to Auckland to keep his record intact, lining up for and completing one more, before the 12-month deadline officially expired.

Standing in a puddle of sweat at the Auckland Domain, he could finally rest, the first person to run the 42.195km classic on every continent of the world and in all states of the USA within a year.

"I'm done running now," says Mr Jones, channelling his best Forrest Gump impersonation. "I think I'm going home." 

It's an impressive record that perhaps only an American can truly appreciate and Mr Jones thought he had the feat well in hand, knocking off seven continents in seven gruelling days last January and then picking off the states over ensuing months.

But as the Kentucky native prepared for what he thought was his final outing in Hawaii, his best mate alerted him to the discovery of a fabled eighth continent  the mostly undersea landmass of Zealandia.

"He started goading me, 'Isn't there another continent now?'

"He kept asking me, 'Are you seriously going to let the year go by without running the eighth continent?'

"I just laughed and said, 'Yes, I am. It doesn't matter to me, seven continents is fine'."

It took about an hour (and a veiled threat of divorce from wife Kristin) to realise that, actually yes, it did matter to him very much.

After 20 years of study, Zealandia only really became a thing in 2017, after Jones had completed his tour of the existing continents.

Some scientists believe the five million square kilometres, with only New Zealand and New Caledonia visible above sea level, fit all the characteristics of the world's other recognised continents.

"It depends who you believe," admits Mr Jones. "If you're National Geographic, it's up for debate, but other scientists say there is no question.

"If the oceans of the world had a plug, like a bathtub, we could pull it out and see that Australia is one continent and New Zealand is another.

"Since we can't do that, we have to just trust the scientists."

Mr Jones was lucky to even find a marathon in New Zealand within the time limitations. It just happened that another group of crazy runners were embarking on an eight-continent challenge, with a specially organised YMCA event in Auckland.

He covered the distance in 6hr 13m 05s - almost two hours slower than his fastest time of the year - with a suspected broken bone in his foot.

"My wife is still on the beach in Hawaii, enjoying our vacation," he says. "But this is over now, it has to be over."

Five years ago, Jones weighed 130kg, smoked two packs of cigarettes a day and had never dreamed of running a marathon.

"I was hopelessly addicted to nicotine, so I decided to play this game with myself, which was basically decide what I dislike the most and then use that as punishment.

"Every single time that I got a nicotine urge, I stood up and took off running. I still hate to run, but it's got easier over time."

Mr Jones, 41, has literally run away from his addiction or, as he prefers to think of it, towards a cleaner, healthier lifestyle.

Since quitting a lucrative job in the mining industry to pursue this challenge, he has turned his experiences into a motivational speaking and coaching business, branded 'Eternal Endurance'.

"This is a good life lesson in general," he explains. "Whenever things are hard, run at them - it makes the hard times pass more quickly."