Yesterday saw the completion of a 10,506 mile run by Ben Smith, who was raising money for charities Stonewall and Kidscape. Ben, who is 34 and who was bullied at school has just completed 401 marathons in 401 days in an attempt to raise awareness of the damage caused by bullying. He completed his last marathon yesterday in Bristol, accompanied by hundreds of runners who joined him across the finish line at 4pm.
The distance that he ran equates to London to Sydney and over the last year he has raised more than a quarter of a million pounds for his chosen charities. As he crossed the finish line yesterday he said: "I think I'm in a bit of shock. I can't believe we have done this. Without every single person who has taken part we wouldn't be where we are now and I can't thank you enough. I am sure the charities will thank you."
I think so too Ben. In the last few days I have read a startling amount of stories of young men, of boys, who have been driven to taking their own lives after bullying at school, and after completing my first 10k on the weekend, I am only just beginning to understand quite what a massive challenge this must have been, but for SUCH an important cause.
Before he set off, he described his childhood and says “I was badly bullied for eight years of my life and it affected my self-esteem and confidence, so much so that the only way I felt I could get out of that was to try to take my own life when I was 18. The money we’re trying to raise is going to support these charities to make sure that what happened to me doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
Ben decided to start this challenge after he came out as gay, and credits his parents' and his partner's support for allowing him to do something so amazing. Due to injury Ben actually did have to take 10 days off running, but rather than accepting those as a write-off and seeing them as a good excuse to put your feet up, (as many of us would have done, or me at least!), he went on and added extra miles each day to make up those that he missed due to injury.
In addition to the bullying that he faced at school, of his own adult life, prior to his running he said: "my story really started when I was 29 and I suffered a TIA (ministroke), I was about 16.5 stone, overweight, unhealthy, smoked, drank - I couldn't even run for a bus. If somebody had told me four years ago that I'd be doing this, I probably would have sunk my pint, lit my cigarette up and laughed at them. My life has changed dramatically after finding running, both physically and from a confidence point of view as well."
So there you have it, another example of an incredible human doing an incredible thing. To compete in one marathon to most of us sounds like the most daunting and impossible thing in the whole world, but I for one feel inspired by Ben's story and hope that he inspires many others to follow in his footsteps (although perhaps not all of them!). I also hope that the light he has shone on these issues is bright enough to help those who are being bullied and have not yet turned the corner, or seen an end.
Well done Ben, you really are a total legend!