This man ran 401 marathons in 401 days. His next challenge is even more audacious

Jacob Moreton
·3-min read

The man who ran 401 marathons in 401 days is getting ready for his next challenge – and this one is even more audacious.

Ben Smith, who attracted international headlines for his mammoth marathon feat in 2016, will run and cycle 14,000 miles across the United States in just 104 days. Beginning on 10 May 2022 in Augusta, Maine, he will complete a marathon in each US state capital before cycling to the next location.

Originally due to take place in 2020, Smith was forced to delay the challenge twice due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, he will be undertaking the challenge without a support team on location.

Smith hopes the challenge, which involves 12,690 miles of cycling and 1,310 miles of running, will raise £500,000 for his 401 Foundation, a national charity that provides grants to groups aiming to build self-esteem, improve confidence and promote mental wellbeing.

Alongside the challenge, he has launched the Virtual Schools Mission, which will see pupils aged five to 18 complete 14,000 miles themselves, in a range of activities, throughout the school year beginning in September.

Runner’s World spoke to the marathon man himself about how he’s preparing for the epic challenge.

RW: The 401 challenge was absolutely massive and it must have taken so much out of you. You’d probably be forgiven for never wanting to run again. What was it that motivated you to want to get out there again and do the challenge?

That was exactly the feeling I had about three weeks after the last one ended, and I had it for quite a long time afterwards. I suppose what really motivates me to keep going is the love of what I do. I absolutely love to run, love to cycle, love to push myself, love the sense of adventure.

But also there’s this really emotive part of me. I want to make sure people can live the lives that they’re supposed to live. For me, I spent 20 years of my life pretending to be something that I wasn’t [Smith was married to a woman before coming out as gay] and my whole life was dictated to me by other people. And I chose to get myself out of it. It was tough, but I vowed once I’d dealt with everything from my past, once I’d found this love of running, that I was never going to look back.

Are you slightly intimidated by your prior success? The 401 Challenge is a hard act to follow...

I would be lying if I said no there wasn’t, but actually, there’s a lot less than what I anticipated. I know even if I don’t achieve it, it’ll be a success in my eyes because I’ve built something from an idea into something that is now funded. Yes it’s unaided, and we didn’t have it as we wanted it, but hey that’s life! Now my job is to make sure that I get there safely, I get around it and we raise the money.

Is there any one piece of advice you would give to people looking to take on a big running challenge?

Don't procrastinate. Just try it. It sounds really simple and easy to say, but I think that's where a lot of us fall down, we put excuses or barriers in the way and we say we can't do that. And actually, if you’ve thought about this really exciting idea, and it's making you smile, and you can't stop thinking about it, then that just shows that actually it's what makes you happy. Doing the things in your life that make you happy means you're a better person.

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