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Q&A: Ben Smith

Runner and campaigner Ben Smith on running 401 marathons in 401 days for LGBT and anti-bullying charities

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401 Challenge - Ben Smith completes his final marathon in Bristol Photographer: Michael Lloyd/Freelance
401 Challenge - Ben Smith completes his final marathon in Bristol
Image: Michael Lloyd/Freelance

Why did you choose to take up running?

Running for me was a form of stress relief. A friend of mine introduced me to running when I was 30 and I fell in love with it on the first day. It was the first thing I had truly done for me in my life and gave me so much satisfaction. I have a genuine passion for it, it calms me down, helps me deal with the mental health issues such as the depression I faced throughout my 20s and gives me the opportunity to express the true me.

What sparked the idea for the 401 challenge?

Having found a passion for running and wanting to support two charities that are very personal to me I came up with the idea of doing a large-scale challenge to raise £250,000. I knew this needed to be big so we looked at the most amount of consecutive marathons ever run which stood at 365, we rounded this up and added one for a victory lap.

Why are the charities Stonewall and Kidscape so important to you?

Both these charities are personal to me. I was bullied for being gay at school and both these charities work directly with supporting schools and businesses to help highlight and actually deal with the issues of bullying.

What were some of the highlights of the challenge?

The scenery, the people I have met, the experiences I have had with people achieving things they never thought were possible and the places I have been. It truly has been an incredible experience. Highlights were the Virgin London Marathon and the Official Bournemouth Marathon in 2016; the atmosphere was incredible. And of course the final marathon, especially when a group of primary school kids joined us for the last mile - this really encompassed what the project was all about, a perfect end to a brilliant life-changing challenge.

What was the most difficult thing about the challenge?

The relentlessness of the whole experience to be perfectly honest. Getting up every day and feeling like I needed to be motivated to run a marathon every day even if I didn't want to. I suffered from injury throughout the project including a fractured back which put me out for 10 days. Having to pick myself up after this and run ultra-marathons to make up the 262 miles I missed out on was difficult. The weather was a battle at times too, especially during the winter period and the storms and floods.

How did the support you received from the campaign make you feel?

It was overwhelming at times, the British public really got behind what it was we had created and this I will forever be grateful for. The fact that we had over 9,500 people come out and run with the project - we had people achieve things they never had achieved before in their life. This really drove the support for the challenge along with the fact that almost everyone in the UK and the world has been touched by issues of bullying in some way or another.

If you could tell your younger self anything, what would you say?

Be confident with who you are, find someone your trust to confide in and don't suffer in silence. One thing I have learned from this challenge is that I am no different to anyone else. People are kind and really do want to support you - letting those people do that is one of the most difficult things, but if you do, things can turn out amazing.

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