Pupils invited to join virtual USA challenge with Ben Smith

Backwell School, Year 7 students working on a running and mental health programme meeting 401 runner Ben Smith in 2018.

Backwell School, Year 7 students working on a running and mental health programme meeting 401 runner Ben Smith in 2018. - Credit: Archant

Ultra-endurance athlete Ben Smith, of Portishead, has launched The 401 Virtual Schools Mission to help support children’s physical and mental wellbeing. 

Ben, who completed 401 marathons in 401 days for charity in 2016, is preparing for his next epic feat, to run and cycle 14,000 miles across 50 American States in 104 days in 2022. 

More: Marathon runner Ben Smith announces USA challenge plans.

The ultra-endurance runner is now inviting children across the area to join him, virtually. Primary and secondary schools are able to register, with 401 school spaces available on the programme, which is run by The 401 Foundation, a charity set-up as a legacy to Ben’s mammoth achievement five years ago.  

Ben Smith completed his 401 Challenge in 2016
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Ben Smith completed his 401 Challenge in 2016 . - Credit: Michael Lloyd

The 401 Virtual Schools Mission is centred around the virtual USA Challenge route, where pupils can choose from more than 100 activities from running and walking, to washing the car or even baking, and they are invited to count their steps and convert them into miles to complete the challenge.  

Competing in year groups, the programme will start in September 2021 and will run across the 2021-22 school year, so children can virtually cross the finish line when Ben is in the USA completing the mission. 


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Ben said: “At a time when mental health is so incredibly poignant, we wanted to create something that could not only support children returning to school but also teachers, parents and all those in the school community. 

Ben Smith in training at Portishead Marina last year.

Ben Smith in training at Portishead Marina last year. - Credit: Tracey Fowler

“This mission isn’t about being the best, it’s about finding that unique song we all have inside of us and figuring out a way of singing it.” 

More: Ben Smith wins BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award for 401 marathons.

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The programme is designed to be run at school, at a distance or within smaller school bubbles as and when necessary. It can also be flexibly linked with key-curriculum subjects including English, maths, science, design and technology, history, geography, art and design, PE, computing and PSHE. 

Participating schools will also gain access to resources, including USA Challenge route maps, reward and route trackers, challenge passports, badges, bib numbers for each participating year group, postcards as well as a host of classroom resources. 

401 Marathon runner Ben Smith organising a running festival for his 401 Foundation at Woodhill near

401 Marathon runner Ben Smith organising a running festival for his 401 Foundation at Woodhill near Portishead Lake Grounds. - Credit: Archant

The virtual USA Challenge is facilitated through MyVirtualMission, an online app-based platform that takes participants around the official USA Challenge route. The online map is interactive so children, teachers and parents can explore the USA through Google Street view as they travel along the route through each state. 

For more information about the 401 Virtual Schools Mission and to register, log on to https://www.the401foundation.co.uk/theusachallenge 

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