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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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…