Tag Archives: 401 Challenge

The 401 Challenge marathon #392

You know how the water in a sink will swirl one way down the plug hole in the northern hemisphere and the opposite way in the southern hemisphere, but it doesn’t really matter which way the water travels; gravity always wins. That’s how it is running with Ben Smith from the 401 Challenge. When you run with Ben on one of his 401 marathons, wherever you run in the pack, you just want to swish yourself this way or that, so you can be near him. Ben draws people to him. His force is strong. You want a little bit of him to rub off on you, which is selfish as running hundreds of marathons back to back has got to be quite tiring. I mean, how many people have you met who have run (just about) 401 marathons in consecutive days?

Running alongside Porchester Castle

Running alongside Porchester Castle

Ben – in picking running as his massive challenge – made a canny choice. He’s a clever man. Every village, town and city in the country has a running group of some sort, and have you noticed how a lot of people in these groups are, mmmmmmm… how do you say it, slightly *different* (…crazy/bonkers/sometimes out of the ordinarily, unbelievably mad…) in that once you draw them in then you’ve got them for life. I mean, have you seen this group of mad people in the winter? Are we at home getting our Christmas presents wrapped early just before we brush a wet cloth over the blinds/radiators/skirting boards so that we can go on to clearing out the garage, raking away the winter leaves and checking we have enough loo rolls/packets of pasta and tinned rice pudding in case of a national emergency? Before we hoover the car.

Love Laura's face, whatever...

Love Laura’s face, whatever…

No, we’re up at the crack of dawn driving with droopy eyelids to some wood or forest or other place in the middle of God knows where to run around a muddy, frozen track for about five miles and then after, after we stand in a large space (usually quite chilly and definitely not toasty) and talk about how wonderful the whole experience was as our fingers slowly defrost at the same time as the mud on our legs claggily dries so that we know even after the first shower when we get home it won’t come off. These are not average human beings. It’s a tribe; all shapes and sizes, backgrounds, ages, but with a strange and steely obsession about getting from one line to another and low and behold anything or anyone who prevents them from doing so (and don’t muck with our GPS signals either as there’s this really crucially unbelievably important element of time from one line to the other that can lead people to do crazed things). We are family. We look after each other.

We are DIFFERENT. Be proud as being normal is over-rated. Then one rises above the rest. He’s got a REALLY big beard. He looks kinda cool in a bandana. He’s obviously not only been born with the ACT1 gene (no, that doesn’t mean he’s good at drama, it’s what makes you an endurance king), he was also delivered in to our world with an extra something tucked away in his soul. He wouldn’t have known it was there. I’m sure his mum and dad had no idea (or maybe they did). Life gave him a few knocks – and he had choices, some very tough. He made them and this shaped who he became. Then a flicker of an idea must have grown, as these things do, probably silently at first, just thoughts starting to stick together like the ends of sellotape do, when you don’t want them. They created their own glue that held the thoughts together so they could become something greater, and a challenge was born. Did Ben create the 401 Challenge, or did it create him? His life was probably hurtling to the moment, in about one week’s time, when he finishes his 401th marathon, right from the first breath, whether he wanted it to or not.

Some of the Gosport Road Runners contingent

Some of the lovely Gosport Road Runners ladies

When you’re a runner a marathon is a BIG challenge, whoever you are, however fast, thin, fat, tall, short… there is no easy marathon. Who would ever think of running 401 on 401 consecutive days? No one of course. Because it’s madness. What a ridiculously large challenge to ask of one body, its 700-odd muscles and 206 bones. Your Neanderthal grandmother and grandpa had already genetically evolved to run about 10K (that’s six miles) a day to fetch food. Why would they have added an extra 20 miles on top when they had Stone Age chores to do like sweeping the cave and hanging out the newly laundered bear skins?

Taking instruction from the BBC on how to run round a corner. It was very useful

Taking instruction from the BBC on how to run round a corner. It was very useful

We’re not meant to do these miles every day. It’s not just worrying about dodgy knees and a tight ITB band, either. How do you get the brain and heart, the physical and emotional engines, to keep driving those muscles and bodies day-in, day-out, over and over and over and over? You don’t. I don’t. Ben does.

The Fareham Crusaders

The Fareham Crusaders

He can’t say ‘I just can’t do this today. I’m ill. I’m tired. I’m lonely. I’m just fed up. I don’t want to run any more. What was I thinking when I thought I could do this? I want to go and sit on the beach all day long with my mates. I want to pull on my compression tights, pour a massive glass of wine and just spend all afternoon cosied up with Mr or Mrs Netflix. I just can’t be bothered today.’

The gorgeous Anna and Sarah

The gorgeous Anna and Sarah

Ben has to turn up and smile at a big bunch of people who just gaze at him with a slightly dumb look on their face when they say ‘Wow, you’re really amaaaaaazing,’ like silly love-struck teenagers with their first girl/boy crush. He’s got so much better at dealing with that since I ran with him a year ago.

The Boss... this man bravely guided us along new trails

The Boss… Tony from Portsmouth Joggers bravely guided us along the trails

We know that when our excuses create our daily boundaries, we’re not really living, we’re existing. If you stand at the end of any race and you see…feel…taste that life doesn’t happen in our comfort zone. Force yourself out of it and, like an explosion of magic dust before our eyes we see sharply how beautiful life can be (and painful, but it’s always a good pain, right?). Then we realize we can share this beauty. We can do something that somehow helps someone else see it, and their lives are then changed forever. This is what Ben has done for us all. He shares this life-love. Surely we should all be giving him money just for this as we say: ‘Thanks. You made me realise there is so much more than just me in my life.’

Sarah representing Run City! Portsmouth

The gorgeous Sarah representing Run City! Portsmouth

All of us can bring that brightness into other’s lives; we can sharpen the focus so that new paths become clearer, and other choices can be made. We live in the age of empathy, and the only way through is to respond. Each of us may be but a grain of sand on the beach. Ben – and pioneers like him – they are the moon that can help us turn the tide. People… if we let these challenges sweep us together, between us we can be deeply powerful. Raising massive amounts of money together, by donating just a few precious pounds individually, can help build a beautiful palace, free for all to live in.

I cant even run two marathons in a row so I’ve no idea what it can feel like to run more, again, again. Again. Ben has though. He doesn’t complain. He listens. In fact, no one could have been more inclusive and supportive for those who were struggling to carry on yesterday. No jaded looks shine from his eyes. Coach/mentor/motivator/life shaper/life changer.

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Just a quick note for Ben’s support crew. I’ve figured out a way Ben can double his quarter million to a half. It’s easy! Do the 401 Challenge all over again, and make people pay a fine (£5, £10?) for being privileged enough to join in one of the runs. It’s got to be a winner.

The school run and normality called us back… but we escaped for a whole five hours

Come on, you’ve done 401 marathons Ben, you can’t tell me this isn’t possible…And I’ve also figured out a way I can do this with you, without feeling let down by my inferior, slightly smaller very less hairy body. Yes, I’ll not have a bath for 401 days. It will be tough, but it’s the least I can do to support you.

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He’s nearly there! You can help Ben in his final push to raise the last thousands he needs to make his £250K total by taking part in the 401’s virtual challenge, either 10K, half marathon or marathon, which you can run on your own, any time, any place. The closing date is 8th October. Enter here

Support Ben by donating here

Buy a 401 sweatshirt/tee shirt here (I quite like the blue…)

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The 401 Challenge

On Friday I met someone who is special. In fact I ran with him for a while. I was really feeling under the weather (a cold has been circulating in the house) and my kidneys were throbbing all last week, but I dragged myself out. I managed about six miles at a slow and steady pace and felt exhausted after. I couldn’t run this weekend either as I still felt rough, missing the first cross-country of the season. What a bummer. I think I moaned and groaned about this all weekend to anyone who would listen.

Ben doing an interview with David Castle from Men's Running

Ben doing an interview with David Castle from Men’s Running

It wasn’t easy to make it to the run on Friday, either. I work at home. Squeezing in a leisurely stroll out mid-morning meant my schedule was upside down. I normally hold a running group straight after the school run on Friday mornings, so I can get back and churn out as much work as I can until the clock hands whizz round and it’s school pick-up time again. Those six hours, between 9am and 3pm evaporate quicker than a family-sized bar of chocolate in our household of four women (OK maybe 1 and 3 young women) plus one male chocoholic.

Runners getting ready

Runners getting ready

As I said, on Friday I met someone who is special. In the couple of hours I spent with him he didn’t moan. He didn’t complain about any aches, pains or tiredness, or the fact he had run 39 marathons in a row. In fact I’m pretty sure he spent most of his day listening to everyone else telling him about themselves, their lives, their injuries and niggles. This man has put his life on hold for over a year so he can run a marathon every day for 401 days to raise money for others.

So far we are the biggest group of runners who have turned out to support Ben :)

So far we are the biggest group of runners who have turned out to support Ben :)

He didn’t complain when the big group of runners who met up to run with him slowly peeled off to get on with their busy lives, me included. He was so thankful for all and any support he got. When we were running we chatted about the whole challenge and I said ‘You’ll not only get exhausted from this huge physical challenge, eventually you’ll get exhausted from telling your story and having to talk to strangers every day when you run.’ ‘I haven’t yet – I don’t think I ever will,’ was the humble reply I got. He insisted every one of us take our photo with him, including everyone who came to support him and wasn’t running with him. Then he even gave us a present for coming to run with him. At this stage it was embarrassing….had I been moaning about my cold? How busy I was – too busy to make time for this very special person?

The master of selfies

The master of selfies

The man I met on Friday was Ben Smith. He’s running 401 marathons in 401 days in an attempt to raise money, and awareness, for two anti-bullying charities, Stonewall and Kidscape. How much is he hoping to raise? £250,000. It’s a big target. He’s not going to raise this unless people all around the country help him. He’s doing the miles every day, but – truth bomb – it’s us who have to put our hands in our pockets and help with a little donation, or, just as importantly, help him with the logistics of being able to live for 401 days on the run, and to get up each day with legs that work, a belly full of food and clean kit (401 days without a washing machine is not worth thinking about, even if, like me you *sparkle* rather than sweat).

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I know if I was a bloke I would be writing about how epic and crazy Ben’s adventure is. But I’m a mum of three and I’m kind of worried about whether he’s going to have enough to eat, where his next hot meal is coming from and is he getting enough sleep on a proper mattress that’s good for his back? What if he’s snacking on junk food as he’s too tired to eat properly? Yuk – imagine… what’s for breakfast? I’ll just have a protein bar. Ummm, what’s for lunch, I’ll just have a protein bar. Right, what’s for tea…I’ll just have a protein bar. And is he stretching every day? I’ve never met a man who does! I know Ben doesn’t need me to worry about him – he has a brilliant team behind him. I still am though.

Just before we were off!

Just before we were off!

He’s got 10,506.2 miles to run, as well as the whole of mainland UK to travel (Wales, Scotland and England). I reckon about 21.1 pairs of trainers if he’s lucky, plus all the other bits of kit needed to tackle the UK weather all year round. Not only does he run a marathon every day, he has to travel to his next location. That’s a lot of petrol as well as time at the wheel with achy legs. If it was me it would have to be powered off about 401 full English breakfasts and at least 1600 other meals. Plus approximately £2,000 worth of sweets, chocolate and cake just to keep me happy in the evening. More if I’m having a bad day or week.

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Hang on a minute, what about hot baths – you know, that divine moment after a long run or a  marathon when you finally ease your legs into the water and the smug smile can settle into your face? Ben needs at least 401 of these. Otherwise he’s not going to have any friends, 401 Challenge or no 401 Challenge. And what about a decent bed to sleep in? Come on, you can’t expect him to do 401 marathons in a row sleeping in Florence the Motor Home he’s travelling in, can you? And using the shower it has which is probably as powerful as a watering can?  So that’s the basics – kit, food, a hot bath, use of a washing machine, a good bed – if we can all help him out with these he’s got an even better chance of completing his challenge, and raising his total.

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If you take five minutes to read about Ben on his website you learn that running helped him deal with stress and life’s many challenges, especially through dark and difficult periods. It does exactly the same for me and you. I think people like Ben Smith change the way we think – about the world and ourselves. They give us a good shake-up. He makes me think why am I always racing around doing 36 hours worth of life in every 24? Why am I always so busy I can’t say let’s just forget everything we have to do and just spend the day doing what we want to do. He is also pushing his body to its limits in order to make other people’s lives better. He’s doing this to help other people. It felt like I shared a few hours with a running (tall, bearded) version of Ghandi. A guru who comes into your life for a few hours, and sprinkles some inspirational running fairy dust on all who run with him, leaving everyone who may have lost their way in running (life) a reason to run again (regardless of your own bag full of issues slung over your shoulder) and just a little perspective about those who face greater and harder challenges than ourselves.

Ben stops for everyone he meets

Ben stops for everyone he meets

Ben isn’t chasing times, he wants to engage with everyone who is joining him on his journey and give something back to them as much as asking them to help him, with logistics and financial support. Like other amazing human beings who have taken on great challenges, he is a pioneer, pushing the boundaries of his body to raise a massive, life-changing sum of money. When you step back from the challenge you can only admire his determination, even though you’re not really sure where such drive comes from in such pioneers. They are such rare, uncanny creatures.

Ben's 1000th mile!

Ben’s 1000th mile!

If you go to his website click on the Get Involved menu and all you have to do is find a marathon near you, select it and send an email about how you can help him. Logistically, even though he has a Florence the Motor Home to sleep in, wouldn’t it be great if he knew he had a place to stay in each new location, a hot meal to return to, and even some massage therapy to iron out the knots in his legs. WiFi also helps; he’s got to keep in touch with his family, friends and the challenge organisers as well. Just as important, I think he needs lots of TLC at the end of each day. I told you, I’m a mum, so I think this is just as important!

Time to say goodbye, good luck Ben!

Time to say goodbye, good luck Ben!

If you’re a member of a running club you can even organise his route for the day (this is what my running club did), and just as important run with him. He told me he much prefers to run with company, as it helps the miles pass much quicker. We can all relate to this.

You can buy a 401 wristband for just £1.50 in the 401 online shop. (And T-shirts are coming soon!)

Will you help Ben? Will you run with him when he’s doing a marathon near you? The pace is slow and steady, about 11-12min/miling, with plenty of stops for pics, chats and refreshments (cake). He would be so grateful for your support…

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