A marathon endeavour

Friday 7 October 2016

This week has seen the completion of one of the more extraordinary endurance challenges after Ben Smith ran his 401st marathon in 401 days.

Ben Smith running

The Bristol runner has racked up 10,506.2 miles, going through 23 pairs of trainers, and in the process raised awareness and over £250,000 for anti-bullying charities Stonewall and Kidscape.

Since the start of the project, Ben has used his story of overcoming bullying to inspire others, delivering more than 100 educational talks to schools, colleges and universities up and down the country.

He’s participated in some of the most popular official marathons in the UK, including London, Bournemouth (twice), Brighton, Bristol to Bath.

Inspiring others

But it’s been the unofficial marathons, mostly organised by local running clubs, where the project has really come to life as he's inspired thousands of runners to join him and notch their own personal bests, whether it’s running a few miles or a first marathon.

I met him when he came to Ripon, the home of timeoutdoors, back in May. It was supposed to be just an interview before the start, but his infectious enthusiasm soon persuaded me that running with the group was the best way to really ‘get’ what it was all about. And 26.2 miles later I’d become yet another person he’d encouraged and inspired to run their first marathon.

Ben himself came to running relatively late in life, following a mini stroke at 29 after his weight had gone up to 16 stones.

“I spent about a year saying I should get fit but did nothing about it as is often the way,” he told me. “But then a mate dragged me to a running club, and it all went from there.

"I was so nervous at first, but I started off by running a mile and walking a mile, then moved that on to my first 5K which I hated as it was all too fast. Then my first 10K, then a half marathon. All in fairly quick succession.

“Running was the first thing in 15 years of my life that I was doing for me so I grabbed hold of it. I found a genuine passion in it. It helped me mentally, it helped me clear my mind and allowed me to breathe and organise myself.”

And Ben's remarkable 401 Challenge has seen him galvanise all ages and abilities to get out and run. "It’s been about getting people involved, trying to inspire them and challenge them to run that bit further - but it’s also about celebrating their successes and making it fun."

Emotional journey

Ben smilingLooking back on the last year and a bit, he added: “It’s been an emotional journey. A lot has changed in my life including coming to terms with who I really am and what I am on this earth to do. Having gone from not being able to run for a bus to running 401 marathons, I am truly grateful to everyone that has been involved. 

“I have grown in confidence, and belief in my ability and have been overwhelmed by the support everyone has shown both me and the project. Bullying touches everyone; this project has been an opportunity to bring the issues of bullying to the forefront of people’s minds and has for many been a source of inspiration and change. 

“I’m proud of what both myself and the team have accomplished, and I am looking forward to the future and the positive change we can bring with The 401 Foundation."

But Ben can't put his feet up just yet as medical advice means he's got to let his body gradually adapt so he'll have a month of half marathons, followed by a month of 10km runs and then a December featuring daily 5km runs.

Visit Ben's 401 Challenge page

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