A real-life Forrest Gump will tomorrow (Weds) complete the epic challenge of running 401 marathons in 401 days.
British adventurer Ben Smith will complete his final run in Bristol, taking his total number of miles to 10,506.2 – the equivalent distance of London to Sydney.
Since setting off on September 1st last year, he has worn through 22 pairs of trainers, lost 19kg in weight and battled injuries including a fractured vertebrae in his spine.
He has completed the extraordinary journey around the UK to increase awareness of bullying, and aims to raise £250,000 for the anti-bullying charity Kidscape and the LGBT-rights charity Stonewall.
Ben, 34, mercilessly bullied at school for being gay, resulting in him suffering depression throughout his 20s and trying to take his own life on two occasions.
But a turning point came when he was 31. “After years of doing what others wanted me to, I took charge of my life and finally came out as gay,” he said.
“The bullying I had faced at school had stripped me of the ability to accept who I was but this was no more.”
Ben began running after suffering a stroke at the age of 29, when he weighed 16-and-a-half stone.
A friend encouraged him to join a running club during his recovery and he found it helped him regain mental and physical health.
“I was hooked,” he said. “The feeling I got from running was a sense of accomplishment I had never felt before.”
After initially running a few miles at a time, Ben completed his first two marathons in 2013 and set about planning the 401 Challenge with the help of his father Pete, an ex-RAF logistics manager.
Over the past 13 months Ben has travelled around the country in a campervan called Florence, running marathons in 309 different locations. He has regularly stopped off at local schools to give talks about the dangers of bullying.
He was forced to halt his challenge for 10 days in June – on his 284th marathon – due to spinal injuries which caused crippling pain. But he made up the lost mileage over the following months.
Hundreds of runners have been inspired to jog alongside Ben during the challenge – many of whom have never run a marathon before.
Well-wishers along the route have offered him accommodation or food to help replace the 6,500 calories he burns every day.
Over 300 runners are expected to join him on Wednesday as he completes his final marathon in his home city of Bristol.
However, Ben won’t be putting his feet up when he crosses the finishing line – his body is so used to high levels of exercise and endorphins, he has to enter a ‘cool-down’ period and continue running daily for three months.
THE 401 CHALLENGE IN NUMBERS
*10506.2 miles run
*6,500 calories eaten a day
*22 pairs of trainers worn
*2,528,500 calories burned
*309 different marathon locations
*101 school visits