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Words: Kate Chapman
Photography: Courtesy of 401 Challenge
Featured in the August 2016 issue

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Running a marathon is the challenge of a lifetime for many people – but not Ben Smith, who has pledged to complete 401 in as many days to raise awareness of bullying in the UK as well as £250,000 for anti-bullying charities.

The thirty-four-year-old, who began his nationwide challenge on 1st September, was part way through his 280th run when Lincolnshire Life caught up with him in Montrose, Scotland.

Ben, who will have completed a staggering 10,502 miles – the distance from London to Sydney – by the time he finishes his amazing feat in Bristol in October, came up with the idea after he started running and found it helped him come to terms with his own experiences of bullying.

He was bullied at boarding school and through the 401 Challenge he has already raised more than £100,000 for Stonewall and Kidscape anti-bullying charities.

“I experienced eight years of both mental and physical bullying at school with the effects of this staying with me well into my adult years,” he explains.

“The bullying got so bad that I tried to take my own life twice, as I saw no way out. Bullying is something that you feel you have no control over, you ask the questions all the time, why is this happening to me? What have I done to deserve this? You start to feel worthless, under-confident in who you are and as this happens throughout the years when you are growing up, it has an uncontrollable effect on your self-esteem and unconscious thought process.

“After therapy and the support of my amazing family and friends I have come to terms with the bullying I faced and am completely 100 per cent congruent with myself now. This has given me the power and energy to really try and make a difference in this area.”

By the age of twenty-nine Ben was, by his own admission, overweight and suffered a TIA (mini stroke). He fell in love with running after a friend took him along to a local club, and the idea of combining his passion for the sport while raising awareness about bullying began to form.

As part of the project, Ben has also visited more than seventy-five educational establishments to deliver motivational talks to young people about his experience of bullying and why he has embarked on this mammoth challenge, which in turn has earned him numerous awards and accolades.

“I chose the number 401 basically because the most marathons ever run on continuous days previously was 365 by a Spanish guy. I decided to round it up to 400 and then added one more for a victory lap,” says Ben.

“It’s undoubtedly the hardest thing I have ever done but I’m more than happy with the number of marathons and confident we will get there. We’re currently in no man’s land with regards to the number – we’re not up to the 300 milestone yet, which will happen in John O’ Groats in a couple of weeks’ time.

“I’m currently heading up the east coast and once we’ve done 300 there will be just 101 marathons to go and then it’s downhill all the way as I’ll be coming back down towards Bristol where I currently live. It’s a really great way to see this wonderful country.

“And take today, nine people have turned out to run with me in Montrose on a misty Monday morning – the support I’ve received has just been amazing.

“People have been offering me a bed in their houses for the night, while others have been offering to feed me.”

Ben’s marathon effort has been supported by thousands of people along the way at the 309 locations he is visiting throughout England, Scotland and Wales, but his journey so far has not been an easy one. He was forced to suspend his running and campaigning activities in June for a short time, due to a long-standing back injury but promised to be back running as soon as he could. To make up for the lost days he also pledged to complete additional miles each day to minimise the need to run extra marathons at the end.

By the time he finishes the challenge he will have competed in eight official events – including the London Marathon this April. So far he has been joined by more than 6,100 runners, aged from six up to 80, with more than 488 achieving personal best times. More than 250 were first time marathon runners when they took part, including Lincoln teenager Jordan William (16) who completed his first marathon alongside Ben in Sleaford, and his second in Lincoln on Christmas Day last year.

Every marathon – which starts at 9.30am – takes Ben between five and six hours to complete and has been put on and planned with the help of one of 250 local running clubs.

So far Ben has run through twelve pairs of Zoot trainers and suffered numerous injuries including stress fractures, loss of feeling and tendonitis, which makes the team of 200 therapists – including chiropractors, remedial massage therapists and complementary therapists – invaluable when it comes to supporting his health.

“Running has built my confidence and self-esteem, and helped me come to terms with who I am,” he explains.

“I am who I am and true to myself and this project is building confidence and self- esteem for people in so many different ways.

“Once it’s over I have a few plans, although I can’t stop running straight away. I have a three-month cool down which involves reducing from marathons, to half marathons, 10km and 5km distances before I re-adjust back to a normal training schedule.

“I’ve got some exciting projects in the pipeline but can’t say anymore just yet.

“I’ve had such amazing support from Lincolnshire and its people; my Dad was in the RAF based at Waddington and Cranwell and my parents have lived in the city for more than twenty years. It’s true what they say, home is where your family is.

“I’ve worked in Lincoln, have many friends here and it really is a lovely city – the people have been so supportive.

“I am so overwhelmed by all the support I have received from all over the world. I am proud to see that the challenge has become a source of passionate discussion and motivation for people, thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

* Ben will be in Lincoln on 11th–12th August, when runners are welcome to join him for a few miles or the whole distance.

You can sponsor him online through his Virgin Money Giving Page http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/the401challenge or by texting ‘BEN’ to 70660 to donate £5.

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