Ben Smith reveals mammoth 2020 challenge to raise £1million

PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 December 2018

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

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

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A Portishead runner who completed 401 marathons in as many days will take on a new challenge – run and cycle 18,510 miles across the United States.

Ben Smith with those that took part in the Marathon through Weston-super-Mare.Ben Smith with those that took part in the Marathon through Weston-super-Mare.

Ben Smith, aged 36, has announced his USA 2020 plans to raise at least £1million for his charity, The 401 Foundation, and Youth Sport Trust (YST).

He will run a 26.2-mile marathon in each state capital in America and then, if that was not hard enough, will cycle between each one.

It adds up to about 17,200 miles of cycling and 1,310 miles of runs – the equivalent of climbing up and down Everest 9.2 times.

The challenge will take 104 days and he will average between 14-15 hours of exercise a day.

Who is Ben Smith?

In September 2015, Ben embarked on a challenge to raise £250,000 for Stonewall and Kidscape as he sought to raise awareness of the issues children in the UK face when it comes to bullying.

He travelled up and down the country completing his run, finishing in Bristol in 2016.

Ben Smith after the London Marathon.Ben Smith after the London Marathon.

Ben was commended for raising £330,000 through the challenge for Kidscape and Stonewall and received the Helen Rollason Award at the 2016 BBC Sports Personality Of The Year Awards – for achievement in the face of adversity.

He has gone on to set up his own charity which aims to award grants between £3-5,000 to small community projects which build confidence and self-esteem, while tackling issues around mental health and self-development.

Why is he doing it?

Ben Smith (Credit - BBC)Ben Smith (Credit - BBC)

Ben said: “There was always going to be three challenges but we didn’t know what they were going to be. All we knew is they were going to be organic and something I was interested in doing for the right reasons. I came up with the idea of running a marathon in every state capital.

“I have always wanted to do an adventure like this in the States and we toyed with running across America but it didn’t excite or give me what I was looking for. I couldn’t get passionate about it.

“I had a love of cycling prior to The 401 Challenge, I used to cycle to work in Bristol from Portishead but had to give up to focus on my training for the marathons.

“I thought about it and came up with the idea of running in every state capital, starting in Augusta in Maine and then I would cycle between the capitals.

Ben Smith and his partner, Kyle, at the Pride of Britain awards. Credit: The401ChallengeBen Smith and his partner, Kyle, at the Pride of Britain awards. Credit: The401Challenge

“I started thinking about how it would work, the route I would take and I got really excited by it.”

What are the charities?

Ben and his team hope to raise £1million for his foundation and YST and inspire 500,000 people of all ages and backgrounds to get active through running, walking and cycling.

The route Ben Smith will take across the USA in 2020. Picture: The 401 FoundationThe route Ben Smith will take across the USA in 2020. Picture: The 401 Foundation

Ben said: “We have been working with Youth Sports Trust, which does a lot of work with schools and inspiring children through sport.”

Ben hopes to promote and demonstrate the positive effects physical activity can have on your confidence and self-esteem – something which both charities support.


How can I get involved?

Unlike The 401 Challenge which took place in Great Britain where, through publicity, people knew and understood Ben’s story, this time he will be away from home and without the same support.

Ben Smith chatting and taking selfies with supporters.Ben Smith chatting and taking selfies with supporters.

He will look to team up with schools from May to integrate his challenge into the curriculum.

Students will be able to work out the geography of his trip as well as calculating what he needs to do to remain healthy.

Schools can opt to have just a handful of pupils involved or the whole school but they will receive scarves, T-shirts and, once they have completed a challenge, they will get a medal of a state.

These can then be put together to create the USA and also break the world record for the largest medal – measuring at three by two feet.

Another way he hopes to get people involved is through a virtual challenge. In March, people will be able to sign up and fundraise for the project.

They will be challenged to try to walk or run the 1,310 miles Ben will be doing. Alternatively they can try to cycle the 17,200 miles he will be doing across the US.

People will have a year to complete the distances by March 2020 when Ben will start his venture.

He said: “It is going to cost around £200,000 to fund so we hope we can fundraise for this through the virtual challenge.

“People who complete it will get a T-shirt, a medal and their name will appear on the bike I will be using to cycle across the US.”

For updates on the USA 2020 challenge, visit The 401 Challenge website.

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