Bullying victim takes on inspirational test

Ben Smith, who is taking on the 401 Challenge.
Ben Smith, who is taking on the 401 Challenge.

A 33-year-old man has set off on an incredibly gruelling running challenge around the UK, which will bring him to north Northumberland next year.

Ben Smith, from near Bristol, is taking on the 401 Challenge, which will see him run 401 marathons in 401 consecutive days in 309 different locations, breaking a world record in the process.

The challenge, which started last month, aims to raise both awareness of the issues of bullying along with £250,000 for two charities dedicated to tackling bullying – Stonewall and Kidscape – both of which work tirelessly to support award-winning initiatives which really get to the heart of bullying in schools and society in all its forms.

Ben will arrive in Northumberland for the first time next spring, when he takes on a marathon in Cramlington on Saturday, March 5.

This will be followed by 26 miles in Blyth the next day, then Morpeth, Alnwick, Belford and Berwick. The latter three will be his 190th, 191st and 192nd marathons of the challenge.

He then returns to the county in May, running again in Alnwick (number 262) on Thursday, May 19, and Wooler (number 263) on Friday, May 20.

The challenge is inspired by Ben’s own experiences.

On his website – www.the401challenge.co.uk – he explains how he went to boarding school at the age of 10 as his father was in the Forces and was based in Germany.

He says: ‘Over the following eight years, I became more and more reclusive and unsure of myself. I turned from an outgoing and excitable child into a very shy and under-confident individual.

‘The daily physical and emotional abuse broke me and unfortunately at the age of 18 I tried to take my own life after suffering a nervous breakdown.

‘Growing up as a teenager is hard enough without having to through mental and physical abuse at the hands of your peers’.

After leaving school, Ben went straight on to university ‘where it was clear that the bullying had left its mark on me’ and he suffered from depression which led him to try to take his own life again.

He continues: ‘The turning point for me came when I was 31, after years of doing what others wanted me to do, acting in a way others told me to act, I took charge of my life and finally came out as gay.

‘It suddenly felt like my life made sense, no longer did I pretend to be happy or act in a certain way to successfully fool people.

‘I was finally 100 per cent congruent with myself, which brought about feelings of complete inner peace and strength.

‘The bullying I had faced at school had stripped me of my ability to accept who I was but this was no more’.

Search for The 401 Challenge on Facebook or follow @the401challenge on Twitter.