Ben is preparing to run 14,000 miles in 104 days and inspire pupils

Ben Smith, 401 Challenge, prepares for his latest challenge, BristolPictures Paul Box

Ben Smith. - Credit: Paul Box

Portishead resident and ultra-endurance athlete Ben Smith, who received the Helen Rollason Sports Personality of the Year in 2016 after running 401 marathons in 401 days; all in aid of two anti-bullying charities, is keeping himself very busy right now.

He is currently preparing for another, even more extraordinary and enduring challenge. Next year he will run and cycle a total of 14,000 miles in just 104 days, this includes a marathon in each of the 50 US state capitals and then cycling between each one.

As if this weren’t breath-taking enough, he is also preparing to inspire the nation’s young people, as they take part in The Virtual School Mission programme developed by national mental health charity, The 401 Foundation.

Encompassing activities as diverse as walking upstairs, baking and washing the car through to more traditional sports and physical activities, he has over 35,000 young people from 127 UK schools countrywide signed up to complete their own miles alongside him in their own targets as he pounds the roads across America.

As we all know only too well from living through the challenges brought by the past 18 months, sometimes life throws curve balls which require us to reprioritise and refocus, and that is precisely what Ben is doing right now.

Ben Smith with pupils

More than 35,000 young people from 127 UK schools have signed up to take part in The Virtual School Mission. - Credit: 401 Foundation

After rescheduling the USA Challenge from last year to 2022 as a direct result of Covid restrictions, he is currently preparing to send the 127 participating UK schools a range of fun resources to help inspire young people to take part in activities and help them record their collective miles, whilst at the same time, build confidence, self-esteem and support their mental wellbeing.

Ben’s motivation for The Virtual School Mission programme is ensuring it has the maximum impact on the nation’s youngsters.

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After a year which has seen them sacrifice their time at school along with friends and family, forgoing many of their usual team sports and physical activities, the estimated impact of the Virtual School Mission is not just in schools, with an expected 150,000 additional people impacted by the programme, mental health and wellbeing will be at the forefront of people's minds, now and for years to come.

The mission ties back into Ben’s original inspiration and the whole reason he donned his trainers to run the unfathomable 401 marathons in 401 days; supporting improved confidence, self-esteem and mental wellbeing through being more active.

Ben credits physical activity with his life, physical and mental outlook and with helping him cope day to day when he feels overwhelmed.

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