Ben Smith, the amazing athlete (he still finds this amusing) tells us why he started running, about his awesome challenge and why you should run with us in The 401 Festival of Running.
5 years ago, running to me wasn’t even on my horizon. If you had have said that this would become my life, I probably would have laughed at you, sank my next pint and lite up a cigarette. However, I always had this idea that maybe I would do something that really meant something.
Growing up was tough, I battled a lot with my confidence and self esteem, constantly being told I was not good enough by people, it ate away at my soul everyday. Struggling with depression most of my life, I had become so accustomed to living what I thought was ‘normal’. You know, the type where you work loads, follow other people’s views, are influenced by other people’s motivations. I was happy, or at least that was what I told myself, I didn’t know any different to be honest. At 29, things changed for me when I suffered a TIA at work, at 16.5 stone, a 30 a day smoker and someone that basically just did everything to avoid life, I had got myself into such a state that I didn’t know what to do to get out of it. I had no confidence, no self esteem, no self belief, I didn’t know what made me happy or what I was meant to do. The TIA shuck me up and made me realise that something had to change.
About a year after my TIA, a friend of mine introduced me to running. I remember thinking, I can’t do this, I don’t even know whether or not this is something I would enjoy. I had this idea of what runners were like, you know, tall, skinny, fast, etc. I feared I would get left behind, laughed at, feel embarrassed that I wouldn’t be as good as them. I wasn’t too sure about it to be fair, why would I put myself in this situation? Something inside me though was pushing me to try something new. So I went with my friend to a running club in Bristol. Walking in, I found straight away that there were more people that looked like me! I ran, well walked about 3 miles that night, everything hurt, I was exhausted, sweat pouring off me, but inside I felt something, something that I hadn’t really felt before, I was proud of what I had achieved and I wanted more of it.
Progressively over the next 6 months I ran my first Half Marathon and then within a year I ran my first marathon. My confidence was growing, my self esteem was healing, I had started to believe in myself again, I had found something I really enjoyed. I felt like I was escaping each time I went out for a run, but not in the way I had been doing that before, a different, more holistic way. Cheesy I know, but it got to the point where with every step I felt I was becoming the person I always wanted to be.
Over the next 2 years, I ran marathons all over the world, 30 in total, travelling, exploring, meeting new and exciting like-minded people, growing as a person, achieving things I thought only 3 years previously were impossible. You can imagine, I was on a high, so in 2014 I hatched a plan, The 401 Challenge. Coming up with this challenge was sheer madness I know, who in their right mind would do anything like this, obviously I had a screw lose somewhere, but it excited me. Maybe this was my chance to do something no one else had done, my chance to make a difference. It meant something to me, it was the right time for me, I knew I wanted to take everything I had experienced from running, bottle it and give it to people so they could feel the things I felt. I wanted to raise awareness about the issues of bullying as these had destroyed and driven my life for so many years. I wanted to support two amazing charities close to my heart by raising £250,000 for them, a huge figure that was going to take something extra crazy!
In April 2015, The 401 Challenge was born and on 1st September that year, I started in Bristol. To be fair I had no idea whether I was able to do it but I was going to give it my best shot. Over the course of the next 401 days, I covered 309 different locations throughout the UK, ran with over 9,500 people and celebrated with over 1,600 people who ran further than they had ever done before. Battling through injury, sickness and moments of low confidence, the team behind me kept me grounded and supported. On 5th October 2016, I crossed the line having raised £330,000 and covered 10,506.2 miles. Life to be honest hasn’t been the same since, we have been overwhelmed by the support from complete strangers, messages from parents, kids etc about how the challenge inspired them and changed their lives.
With this in mind we couldn’t just leave it there, we had to create a legacy, something equally special but with the opportunity of making a difference in the future for some many more people. So, after 9 months of hard work we are almost there, The 401 Foundation is almost up and running (no pun intended of course!). This foundation is designed to award grants of between £3,000 to £5,000 to small grass root projects, organisations and individuals that build confidence and self esteem, whilst also tackling mental health and self development issues. Part of this foundation involves the creation of an events business that will put on multi day running events throughout the UK with the sole aim of generating funds for our grants.
Our first event is The 401 Festival of Running. We are proud to be supported by Virtual Runner UK, an organisation that shares the same values and aspirations that we do. We decided early on that not only would we offer live events, but virtual events were equally as important. Following the same values as The 401 Challenge, inclusivity was key, we understand that sometimes people don’t want to take part in live events, the crowds are too big, you may not be as confident to take part in a mass race. Logistically, you might not be able to come to the live event, you may have another race, something else on etc. Virtual running is growing because of these reasons, it’s such an inclusive and motivational environment and having this as an option for our foundation events was a no brainer for us.
So, be part of the 401 madness and join our virtual race, have a blast and know that with every step you are supporting The 401 foundation. And don’t forget about the medal – you’ll earn one and be able to share your achievements far and wide!
For more details about the 401 challenge and the virtual event please visit: https://www.virtualrunneruk.com/product/virtual-401-festival-running/