4 Oct 2019

A Kiwi is now Thailand's record breaker

12:18 pm on 4 October 2019

A Dunedin distance runner is living his dream at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, but in unfamiliar colours.

Tony Payne

Tony Payne representing Thailand at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta Photo: Supplied

Tony Payne will represent Thailand in the men's marathon on Sunday morning (NZT), having set the Thai national record of 2hrs16.56mins in Frankfurt 12 months ago.

Payne, 30, won the New Zealand marathon title in 2012 and competed in the black singlet at the Oceania Championships in 2013, but last year switched allegiances to Thailand, his mother's country of birth, in a bid to qualify for the world champs and Olympic Games.

"I'm at a world championships. That's a dream come true. The Olympics are a lot harder to qualify for, but it's possible," Payne said.

"About two years ago I started to explore the possibility of representing Thailand, because Athletics New Zealand sets the standards a bit harder than the international body requires.

"Even if I did get into shape where I meet the standards that the International Athletics Federation set, the New Zealand standards have an overarching top 16 requirement and I would never had met that.

"It's a way to make my dream possible where it wouldn't be realistically because I just don't have that very top end talent Athletics New Zealand requires."

After getting his passport the Athletics Association of Thailand (AAT) has been happy to have him.

"I was a little bit worried going into the team that there might be a bit of contempt towards me, but on the most part they've been very welcoming.

"I have taken someone's spot on the team and he wasn't happy initially, but he's moved on to a coaching role now."

Payne "donned the Thai singlet" for the first time at the Asian Games in Jakarta last year and finished a creditable eighth.

No caption

Photo: Supplied

He's since put his career as a lawyer on hold to become a fulltime marathon runner, with the help from the AAT and a few commercial partners.

"One of the advantages of doing this is the Thai market.

"In terms of marketing power you've just got a larger population base so I've been able to actually generate enough income to pay the bills at least.

"Not a lot of money. We're talking about ITM Cup money or whatever the competition is called now. It's enough to pay the bills and travel to improve."

And he's seen the benefits of being able to focus entirely on his running.

"My time since I joined the team has come down about four minutes and that's with some weather that hasn't been favourable so I think next year when I'm targeting an Olympic qualifier I should be able to get down another two or three minutes."

Tony Payne currently resides in London, but is embracing his Thai heritage and is trying to give back to the country's burgeoning running community.

"My Thai is very rusty. I learnt a little bit as a child, but I really didn't embrace the Thai culture very much at all.

"I'm taking Thai lessons in London and I gotta say it's been very good eating a lot more Thai food going to Thailand as well.

"Running in Thailand, despite the conditions, is very popular at the moment, but the running knowledge isn't quite there in terms of how to train for marathons. So I've been trying to provide a bit of knowledge to improve the standard."

But that's not to say Payne has forgetten his roots.

He's a proud Otago rugby fan and is perhaps more anxious about Otago's Ranfurly Shield defence against Canterbury than competing at the world championships.

"I can't believe that the Otago boys have held on to it to the last defence and of course the last defence is against Canterbury.

"I'm very nervous, but hopefully we can lock it up for the off-season again."

No caption

Tony Payne on his way to setting a Thai national record at the 2018 Frankfurt Marathon Photo: Elizabeth Campbell

In Doha, Payne willl line-up in the marathon against New Zealand athletes Caden Shields and Malcolm Hicks, who he both knows well.

He attended King's High School in Dunedin with Shields, who "kicked my arse at school", while he was a Wesley Harriers club-mate of Hicks in Auckland.

"We've trained hours and hours together in New Zealand so we'll be trying to beat eachother for bragging rights I think."

Payne hopes he'll have the upper hand in the hot and humid conditions in Qatar's capital, which resulted in the slowest ever women's marathon at a world championships.

"I've done a lot of running in Thailand and the women's race was the most brutal conditions I've ever seen. It just looked miserable.

"I think for our race it's going to be a little bit cooler and a little bit less humid. The women had a real feel temperature of about 45 (degrees), ours will feel about 38 or 39, so still ridiculous."

He expects the conditions will mean the winner will finish in around 2hrs,17mins, roughly a quarter of an hour outside the winning time at the world's top marathons, and he's hopeful of finishing around 10 minutes further back.

"When you're running a marathon your body temperature goes up in the heat and it's all about trying to keep it under control. And the way you do that is to run slower.

"It's all about running at a realistic pace, because if you go out too hard, the engine gets too hot and you die."