Updated: Feb 8
I am originally from Northern Ireland and started life as a commercial mechanic and then Post Office Telephone Engineer, (later British Telecom) I did a little running back then after seeing my big sister run the first ever Belfast marathon but didn’t do very well. When we moved to Bristol it took a few years to start running here as I didn’t know any other runners.
I can’t actually remember when I started running regularly, I did try to run Bath Half Marathon a couple of years and after failing miserably to get a decent time I realised I just couldn’t walk out the door and run 13 miles without some structured training.
So I decided to start properly and train regularly and eventually finished Bath in around 2 hrs 30 mins or so, I did do some walking and struggled with pains but finished. I then decided 10 K would be a good idea as it wouldn’t take as much training, this I did and my times managed to get quicker and the running easier. I then thought of marathons but realised I didn’t have the knowledge to train for that distance so I joined Southville Running Club on the advice of a good friend David Braithwaite. Soon I found out that nobody was doing my distance and pace so started taking groups and very quickly had a rather large group with me. I will say it wasn’t really my animal magnetism that did it but more the fact my pace and distance suited a lot of people!!!!!
During that time Ben Smith joined the club and he actually joined my group for I think about 1 night and then quicky moved up to a faster paced group. I also remember one night after running we sat down together and he told me of his idea for this challenge to do 400 consecutive marathons, my comment was ‘don’t you think you had better try one first’!!!!! The rest was history, I do believe the reason for the 401 was that someone he had run with in the states ask him why he didn’t do an encore after the final one and make it up to 401 marathons, well something along those lines, which obviously he did.
Ben and I have been friends since first meeting, he was such a nice guy and I could see he had a burning ambition but had no idea at that time about his past. I just saw a really nice guy who seemed to take to running like a duck to water. On his first challenge I had been plagued with injury and although I really wanted to support him I realised physically I didn’t think I could keep up. Not one to let a mate down I decided I would be there to support him on the first day of the 401 challenge and had already decided to just run the first mile with him and considering I hadn’t done any running prior to that I thought a mile out and then back to the start would be more than enough. He did try to persuade me to do more on that day but I just didn’t have the confidence to go any further and didn’t fancy the thought of getting stuck miles from my car. Reluctantly he let me leave but not before what became the obligatory ‘Ben Selfie’ and I headed back home feeling very guilty.
During the challenge I tried to help Ben all I could, posting encouraging remarks and being very jealous of others running with him. I did manage to run 10K with him when he came back to Bristol and I believe that was when I first met Suzie Mills for the first time. Little did I know how much Ben would influence her as time went by. I had wanted to financially support Ben directly but mostly with logistics like running shoes or fuel but I couldn’t figure out how to, even after making enquiries, I am sure it was just my inability to sort the problem but I really felt bad I had not contributed more. Obviously I did contribute to the total amount raised but that was easy, even for me!!!!!
It was during the challenge that I found out about Ben’s past and was intrigued to find out more so when he started doing his talks I was more than happy to get my ass along and listen to his story. He was so eloquent and everyone in the hall was rivetted to his every word, a few times I bit of dust must have got in my eyes but I did manage to clear it!!!!
I found out from 401 supporter Teresa Whatty that I could donate a regular amount, so I made some enquiries and set it up easily and now pay for myself and my wife. It is a guaranteed income for the Foundation and I don’t really notice it each month. Obviously if I won millions on the Lottery the Foundation would have a massive pay day!!!!! As I am doing the USA Challenge I have promised to make a donation at the end of the Challenge, I would love to try to raise money but most of my friends are runners and are also trying to raise money or they are just too tight and there are only so many times you can milk some people!!!!! ☺
I do try to purchase things from the shop but as I can’t run much at the moment they don’t wear out and we have limited storage space. I also have linked my Amazon account to the 401 Foundation so anything I buy they benefit from it.
It has been a bad year for the Foundation and Ben as an athlete with a loss of income and having to postpone the Challenge but hopefully it will happen and the fundraising can begin again.