When Michael Roeger races the Houston marathon this Sunday, the Canberran will aim to set his third consecutive world record in the 42.2 km distance in as many attempts.
Roeger, who was born without the lower half of his right arm, holds the marathon world record for the T46 Paralympic classification, which includes athletes with an arm amputation or deficiency.
His current world record stands at 2 hours 22 minutes and 51 seconds (2:22:51). In Houston, Roeger doesn't just want to break that mark, he's planning to obliterate it, targeting a finishing time of around 2 hours and 16 minutes (2:16).
"It's a marathon, and it might not go my way," the 31-year-old admits. "But I've done everything I can to put myself in the best possible position to run a pretty quick time, one that I'll be happy with, and one that will put my competitors on notice for the rest of the year leading into the Tokyo Games."
Roeger has represented Australia on the international Paralympic stage for more than a decade and holds T46 world records on the track in the 1500 metre (3:46.51) and 5000 metre (14:06.56) events.
Following a 1500 metre bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, he decided to make the leap from the track to longer distance road-running, and quickly cemented himself as one of the best endurance runners in Australia, regardless of ability.
MORE CANBERRA SPORT
He captured the T46 marathon world record in his debut in Melbourne in October 2018, and then improved the mark in his second attempt in London in April 2019.
"I don't see myself as a disabled runner or as a Paralympic runner," Roeger says. "When I'm on the start line, we're all equals... I'm going to try to do my best to win, and I believe I can be mixed in with the best able-bodied runners in Australia."
His coach, Dr Philo Saunders, a senior physiologist from the Australian Institute of Sport, says Roeger is "just scratching the surface" of his marathon potential.
Saunders says Roeger has progressed to become the "best in the world in Paralympic sport" and a legitimate contender to make able-bodied national teams in the future.
But for now, the focus is on Houston: "If he's running at his best, if the conditions are good and if he can tuck-in with a pack of elites, then 2:16 or even faster could be on the cards," Saunders said.
Running a 2:16 marathon means holding an average pace of about 3 minutes and 13 seconds per kilometre (or 18.6 km per hour). It may seem like an audacious target, but Roeger has proven he can sustain even faster speeds.
In July 2019, he ran the Gold Coast half marathon (21.1 km) in 64:17, which was the 11th fastest time run by an Australian athlete last year. To hit that mark, Roeger maintained an average pace of 3 minutes and 3 seconds per kilometre.
"I even surprised myself a little," he laughs. "I still look back at that race and I know it was a huge run. It gives me confidence that I can go through halfway in Houston in about 68 minutes feeling very comfortable."
Brant Kotch, who has been the Houston marathon race director for 18 years, says the event has never seen a world record set on its course.
"We'd love to change that," he says.
In addition to Houston being a flat, typically fast course with optimal weather conditions, Kotch says Roeger could benefit from the event's fortuitous timing.
"With our race being held on the last day of qualifying for the US Olympic Trials, he will have a lot of company. The B-standard for men is 2:19, and we should have over 100 men in our athlete development program shooting for that standard. Some are bound to go out faster than that, so Michael has a great opportunity to set a record."
Roeger says the nervous energy of his three-week taper - the period when marathon runners begin to ease their training - has shifted to excitement.
"I'm looking forward to toeing the start line, enjoying the city of Houston and the crowds for the first 10 to 15 k, and then homing-in and focusing for the second half of the race."
Roeger knows from experience there will be "pain and hardship" down the back stretch, but he's got something special to keep him gritting his teeth and fighting until the bitter end: the presence of his twin brother, Chris, who has travelled to Houston to cheer him on.
"He means everything to me, but we don't see each other all the time because he's in South Australia," Roeger says.
"Definitely in the last 5 or 6 kilometers, I'll be drawing on him, knowing he's there at the finish line waiting for me, and I'll be trying to run as fast as I can to get to see him."
Click or touch here to watch the race on a live stream on Sunday night.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.