Rob Pope settled into life in Werribee to work as a vet. When he’s not saving animals, he’s burning up the bitumen as he prepares for his next marathon.
Pope, who hails from Liverpool, England, has been running marathons since 1997, although that has always been a secondary endeavour to his full-time work.
And never did the 37-year-old think he would become Australia’s newest marathon champion.
Pope entered the record books when he was the first Australian over the line at this month’s Sydney Marathon.
He finished 10th overall in a time of 2:29.59, more than three minutes ahead of the next best Aussie, Andrew McGowan, of the ACT.
“It was brilliant, very unexpected,” said Pope, who runs for local club Western Athletics.
“I’m really proud. It wasn’t something I anticipated when I moved out here.
“To finish in front of the Opera House, you can’t really get better than that, and then to be told I was the Australian champion is something I’ll never forget.”
Pope has run quicker times over a gruelling 42-kilometre course, but he rated the race as the best marathon of his career.
The toughness of the Sydney course and the way the race panned out made it difficult.
Pope had to run on his own for most of the race because a large group of runners formed a breakaway pack in front of him and the runners behind him couldn’t keep up.
“It wasn’t my fastest. I’ve gone two minutes quicker, but that was in London and that was a lot easier course,” Pope said.
“I was pretty much on my own for 22 miles (35km) in this race. If I’d caught up with [the lead pack], I don’t think I’d have stuck with them for long if I’m being honest.
“I was with them for the first kilometre and that was enough.”
Japanese runners Hisanori Kitajima and Hiroki Yamagishi produced a one-two finish, beating highly fancied Kenyan Nicholas Chelimo.
That international trio was a class above the rest of the field, with the winner crossing the line 17 minutes ahead of Pope.
But Pope, who is inspired by English distance runner Steve Way, is starting to reassess his future in marathon running.
He rated his preparation for the Sydney event only a “six or seven out of 10” and believes he can do more to prepare for big races in future.
“I love a pint,” he says with a laugh. “I’m not going to cut it out, but I could certainly cut down a bit because I need to lose a bit of weight.
“Training wasn’t great; I’ve certainly trained a lot better so I’m optimistic I can go a lot faster if I put my mind to it.
“It [the Australian title] made me think, let’s see what I can do. I think I can get under 2:25 quite easily and then it’s just marginal gains.
“I need to look after my diet a bit more and make sure I get proper rest.”