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parkrunning with Ben Smith of The 401 Challenge

Yesterday was a real running highlight for me. Still buzzing about it now!

I've been following Ben's progress on and off since I heard about his 401 marathons in 401 days challenge in aid of anti-bullying on the coverage of the London Marathon. At age 18, Ben tried to take his own life after having a nervous breakdown due to bullying at school, of which he had been a target for 8 years. At university, he suffered from depression, and, again, tried to take his life. Thankfully, both of those attempts failed. He describes his life over the next years as "a routine, normal existence. I focused on accomplishing things others wanted me to do never really having the strength or motivation to make my own decisions, I suppose you could say I became a bit of a professional at this." He was also overweight and suffered something called "an incomplete stroke".

Then, at age 29, three years ago, Ben found running, as so many of us have. He started doing marathons and eventually the idea of the 401 challenge was born. Since 1st Sept 2015, he has been running marathons on consecutive days, the only break earlier this year when he was forced to stop for a few days due to breaking his back (which is still broken, by the way!)

Yesterday was Day 397 and I found out Ben would be starting his day's running at my local parkrun, so I knew I had to be there (I had lost my running bug in the last few weeks, but this gave me a much-needed kick up the a**e). I saw him before the start but was too shy to introduce myself as others were. But when we set off, I realised I was only slightly in front of him so decided to hang back slightly so I could run with him and listen to him speak to others as he ran. He was so eloquent, answering a bombardment of questions from kids and their grown-ups alike, and hardly stopped talking the whole way round (how does he have any energy left for this on Day 397?!) about why he was doing what he was doing, and how he was finding the experience. He mentioned his back was still broken and hurting, and later on I found out he felt what he described as grumpy yesterday; you'd never have known! I think his "grumpy" is me on a good day.

So I stayed with him til the finish, although I didn't say anything really, just happy to be in his general company! We were parallel at the finish funnel. The photos attached (photo credit: Andy Robbins; excuse the "drowned rat" look I'm sporting, please, the rain was torrential) show the moment after I had gestured "You first!" and he said "No! You go!" We laughed and I did go ahead. Sidenote: I was also chuffed that I managed to run the whole way around, was expecting to need at least one walking interval as I am rusty at the moment! I think Ben gave me the required motivation, and distraction!

After finishing, I drummed up the courage to shake his hand and say "Pleasure running with you" (so formal, haha) and we exchanged a few words. I'm so very glad I went, it was one of those moments that will stay with me for a long time. I'm in awe of his kindness, his humility, his amazing commitment and, of course, his massive achievement. A force for good in this rather crazy world right now.

You can donate to Ben's amazing cause here the401challenge.co.uk/conte... The challenge finishes on Wednesday and anything to help him reach his target would be wonderful.

Sarah x

12 Replies

Oh Sarah, this is so amazing, great photo !

I bet this will stay with you for a lifetime, what an incredible guy he is , the world is a better place with him in it, for sure !

How on earth does he manage to run with a broken back ?? He just defies all logic doesn't he ?

Brilliant post , loved it ! :-) xxx


Thanks! I know, and that injury was 100 marathons ago...! He did say something about continuing to run not damaging it further, so, that's good, at least. I hope he's right! Can't imagine it's helping much...


Okay.. so I am choked up here.. what a man, what a challenge, and what a photograph!

A moment to put into your Treasure Box...very well done and thank you for posting! xx


It was awesome. Sorry to have choked you up! What a man indeed. X

1 like

Brilliant picture and post !




Great photos Sarah! He is a very impressive guy, all those miles! We saw him at the iow marathon last year I think it was around no 40 of his challenge! Very inspiring!

Well done to you too on your parkrun return and positive run!😊


Brilliant post and brilliant photo Sarah! He really is a very special person I think and such an inspiration to others. Great that he has almost completed the challenge now and how lovely to have met him. Thanks for posting this.☺


What a lovely experience, thank you for writing about it. It is always good to hear about positive events and more importantly the positive people making those events happen. Ben is one of those people.


Lovely write up, you look so happy! I wanted to run with him last year, he did 3 Marathons in Cambridge last year, I couldn't run that far, but I wanted to go a little way with him. Unfortunately I was in bed with a manky lurgy - gutted!


He gets everywhere that bloke! 😊 I think he was running with supporters of my local footy team recently. All power to him, what a guy! He is very handsome under all that fuzz 😆

Well done Sarah for enjoying that run with him 😊


Great Sarah! Good for you! It's Jesus in running kit! Doe's make me wonder! He was around my way and ran through the park enroute, but I missed him...great inspiration!😊


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