10 things I learned running 401 marathons in 401 days

"People can achieve the unexpected," says Ben Smith, who inspired thousands of people to change their lives in a positive way not just for themselves but for others

Having endured years of bullying as a child, Ben Smith tried to take his own life. As an adult, he struggled to find happiness in the life that was planned for him. But after finding a passion for running he sold his possessions, left his life behind and set off on The 401 challenge – running 401 marathons in 401 days.

He raised in excess of £330,000 for two anti bullying charities Stonewall and Kidscape. The project raised much needed awareness of the issues of bullying and mental health and inspired thousands of people to change their lives in a positive way not just for themselves but for others.

Now, launching his book 401, he shares the 10 things he learned along the way:

  1. Trying to get people to connect with your cause is tough! – Nowadays, so many people do challenges and ask for donations that it is incredibly difficult to get people on board with yours; getting people to connect with The 401 Challenge was hard to begin with. In time (with perseverance!), people got involved and shared our story on social media and it spread like wild fire.
  2. Don’t worry about the running myths – There is so much information (and misinformation!) out there, but I think that the fact I wasn’t focused on time and tried not to worry about a lot of the running myths I had heard helped me. I took each day as it came and think my feet and body thanked me for that.
  3. Carb loading isn’t always the right thing to do – Trying to eat 6500 calories in carbs each day was impossible and I lost 17kg in the first 50 days, once I turned to a high fat / protein diet everything changed for the better including my mindset.
  4. People are amazing – The generosity of people throughout my challenge was inspiring, strangers would come forward and support with meals, nights in their homes and even therapy. Nothing ever seems like too much of a problem and it really restores your faith in humanity.
  5. Your body adapts to what you are asking it to do – Although we don’t remember how we learnt to walk, your body adapts and takes you through the progression step by step from crawling to walking. Your body gradually gets used to what you are asking it to do and it is just the same with running. With more practise and a positive mindset, I found my body conquered the challenge and it moved from physical into a more mental challenge.
  6. Lots of people felt like me – The amazing stories I heard whilst doing the challenge from complete strangers made me feel like I hadn’t been alone. The challenge gave people a chance to say something when they had never had the chance to speak up before. I like to think of it as running therapy.
  7. We live in a beautiful country – Having run the length and breadth of the UK, (I ran within 8 miles of everywhere on the UK mainland) I can vouch for the unexplored beauty of our stunning country. I feel very lucky to have been able to see it in all its glory.
  8. Things don’t seem to phase me anymore – Its strange when you complete something so all-encompassing as The 401 Challenge, the small things in life that got me down or worried me before just don’t anymore. I still have stressful days but everything is put into context now.
  9. People can achieve the unexpected – Each day we had runners and non-runners join me on my challenge, people turned up having never ran more than 2 miles before and then were still there at the end of the day completing their first marathon distance.
  10. Mindset is key – If your mind goes then everything else will follow. I still say to this day that having a strong mindset was key to the success of The 401 Challenge. Finding small things to motivate me throughout the day such as coffee, food (and the occasional cider of course!) meant that the days were broken down into more manageable chunks and I had things to look forward to. The people that joined me added to the atmosphere, I’m a sociable runner, so surrounding myself with people (whether friends or strangers) all the time meant my mindset stayed focused on what I was trying to achieve and why.

The 401 Challenge changed my life along with the lives of hundreds of thousands of other people around the world. I feel very privileged to have been able to complete this, most of us dream about doing something that will have an impact, something that seems so impossible that it couldn’t possibly be achievable. I just said yes and gave it everything I had and now we have a legacy that will live on forever in the form of The 401 Foundation: A mental health foundation supporting local community projects and individuals throughout the UK to build confidence, self-esteem and mental health and self-development.