A few years ago, Ben Smith achieved the unimaginable and ran 401 marathons in 401 days, in turn raising hundreds of thousands of pounds for Stonewall and anti-bullying charity Kidscape.
Spurred on by his own mental health journey, Ben had tragically tried to take his own life when he was just 18, having suffered at the hands of bullies for many years while at boarding school.
While he thankfully survived, his 20s went on to become a blur of heavy smoking, drinking and depression – something that didn’t change until he got a stern wake-up call in the form of a stroke, which hit him at the age of just 29.
This prompted Ben to find solace in running, which he now uses not only as a means of self-preservation, but also to try and help others – as he did by running more than 10,000 miles.
And it turns out he’s not done yet – far from it, in fact, as now he’s got another extreme challenge in the pipeline.
The USA 2020 Challenge will see Ben and a small team fly out to America, where they will run a marathon in every one of the 50 states (excluding municipal states Washington DC and Puerto Rico). Oh, and they’ll also be CYCLING in between each.
Starting on 13 March next year, things will kick off in Maine before culminating in Hawaii on 24 June, giving the group just 104 days to complete the journey.
“Obviously there are lots of different types of terrain, lots of different weather conditions – from being 3 degrees when we start to 36 degrees when we finish.”
By taking his philanthropy Stateside, this time everything will be bigger. That includes the challenge, yes, but more importantly also the target.
Last time round, he surpassed his £250,000 ($310,000) goal by raising a very admirable £330,000 ($410,000), but for USA 2020 he’s stepping things up several gears to raise a whopping £1 million ($1.2m) for his charity, the 401 Foundation, and the Youth Sport Trust.
Ben told us there are three objectives behind the challenge – to run a marathon in every state capital and to cycle between them; to raise £1m; and to inspire children to get physically active to improve their mental wellbeing.
The third goal is of particular significance for Ben, who remains adamant that running was what helped pull him from the brink and ready to talk.
He said: “I sometimes get anxious when people go ‘Talk about it, talk about it, talk about it’, because it’s a good message if directed at the right person, but to talk about your innermost feelings with somebody can be the most terrifying thing in the world.
“For me, I needed running, I needed something to almost pre-determine me then being able to see a counsellor to open up and talk.
“I think talking about it is a good thing, but only when you’re ready, and if it isn’t something that you want to do just yet, you need to find something that’s your own outlet in a different way – sport, music, reading books, going out on walks with people.”
He continued: “There was a study that said one in four people suffer from mental health issues – well, my opinion is that everybody suffers from mental health issues, because we all have mental health and we all have good days and we have bad days.
“We all have it and it might affect us at different parts in our lives, it might not be constant, but the fact that we’re all different means we’ll need different treatment for it. It’s not just this one size fits all.”
Find out more about Ben’s USA 2020 challenge here and the 401 Foundation here.
MIND: 0300 123 3393.
Samaritans: 116 123.
CALM: Outside London 0808 802 5858, inside London 0800 58 58 58.