Ben Smith, the Pied Piper of marathon running

September 30 2016

If I were to mention the name Ben Smith to most people they would say ‘Who?’ but for myself and many others in the running community, his name is synonymous with grit, determination, fortitude, purpose and resolve. He is an inspirational man with a heartbreaking story to tell.

running

If I were to mention the name Ben Smith to most people they would say ‘Who?’ but for myself and many others in the running community, his name is synonymous with grit, determination, fortitude, purpose and resolve.  He is an inspirational man with a heartbreaking story to tell.

As a youngster, Bristol-born Ben was mercilessly bullied physically and mentally at school, crippling his self esteem and taking him to a dark place that prompted him to try to take his life twice.  The ramifications of this meant that he suffered from low confidence levels and a general lack of self worth in most of his adult life.  In his late twenties, Ben was (by his own admission) overweight, in a stressful job, depressed and living what he felt was a lie.  However, just a few years later he is fit and healthy, has quit his job and is now open about his sexuality.  What transformed him you may ask?  Running.  Running has helped him do all this and now he wants to tell others about the benefits.

When Ben first took up running he started with a few 5 and 10ks, followed by a half marathon and then a year later a full marathon.  After setting himself challenges (like running seven marathons in seven consecutive days) he decided to embark on the biggest challenge of them all – 401 marathons in 401 days.  By running all over the UK and promoting his challenge, Ben’s aim is to raise £250,000 for the Stonewall  charity whose aim is to support and empower young lesbian, gay, bi and trans people to live their lives free from discrimination and fulfil their potential.  He is also raising the money for Kidscape – a charity which works tirelessly to help prevent child abuse and bullying.

Ben sold his house (to help with funding) and started his challenge on September 1, 2015. He ran 284 consecutive marathons, which was a world record.  The 34-year-old had to halt the challenge briefly due to crippling pain caused by a bulging lumbar disc which affects the spinal cord. After a brief rest, he was back on the road, visiting schools around the country to talk about bullying and completing more marathons organised by running groups.

And so it was, on Sunday September 18, 2016 that Ben turned up to run a marathon in South Gloucestershire organised by Andy Barton from the Frampton Cotterell Harriers.  For 26 miles he was accompanied  and spurred on by over 180 members of Frampton Harriers, Stanbridge Fliers, Staple Hill Runners, Southville  and  Emersons Green to name but a few.  Ben, akin to the Pied Piper, weaved his way from Frampton to Mangotsfield and into Downend, Bradley Stoke and Winterbourne.  The support was phenomenal.

Along the route I managed to ask Ben a few pertinent questions that children from Stanbridge Primary School wanted to ask him.  The first was whether or not you feel more pain mentally from bullying or physically through running.  Philosophical as ever, Ben answered, “Being bullied affects you more because of all the issues that happen afterwards.  Imagine a piece of paper being scrunched up and then unravelled again.  That’s a bit like bullying in that everything might look like it’s returned to normal when the paper is straightened out but the wrinkles will always be there and never go away.  The pain of running is only temporary and wears off over time.”  When asked if sport can help people recover from the mental abuse of bullying, Ben replied, “Sport isn’t necessarily a remedy to help people recover from bullying, but it helped me.  Before I started running my confidence and self esteem were rock bottom.  Running and all its challenges empowered me.  I’m going further and achieving more than I ever thought I could do and I now realise things are possible that I never thought were possible before.  Sport is only one avenue to build self esteem and confidence – music and the arts are equally important.”

Ben has visited 92 schools so far on his epic journey, talking to pupils and teachers about bullying issues.  When questioned about his bitter experiences he lamented, ‘At school I didn’t talk about being bullied.  I felt like I was suffering in silence and had an overwhelming sense of shame.  It’s important to find the right people to talk to and somebody you trust.  Sadly my school didn’t focus on dealing with bullying unlike schools nowadays.  I was bullied by a number of people – two in particular, a boy and a girl.  The girl, more so.  Then there were the people that followed suit and wanted to fit in with the crowd by continuing the bullying.’

I got the impression Ben Smith could have talked to me for hours about his past and how it has impacted on his life, but, everybody running with him wanted to shake his hand, ask their own questions or chat generally about marathon running. I felt privileged to have spent the little time I did have with him.

Ben Smith has so far run over 10,000 miles, burnt over 2,500,000 calories in the process and run with over 8,500 runners in 21 different pairs of trainers - all for charity.  

Ben Smith – remember his name.

James Baker

*If you would like to donate to Ben’s charities here is a link http://www.the401challenge.co.uk/content/donate