The 401 Challenge returns to Kingston upon Hull
Back in January this year East Hull Harriers hosted a chap called Ben Smith for two days. Ben was undertaking a challenge to run 401 marathons over as many consecutive days around the UK. At this stage he was at days 139/140 and his story was still growing. I’d only discovered it a few weeks earlier and joined some of the route on the first day visit going round the Boxing Day 10K loop after he’d run the East Hull 20 first. He repeated the same the following day, both primarily with a crowd from EHH and a few extras. I had the pleasure of hosting Ben for diner the night before the first of these visits and learning more of his background story and why he’d chosen to run for Stonewall and Kidscape.
From there I had offered to help sort Ben’s return trip for marathons 343 and 344 in early August. Whilst not a member of EHH I had enjoyed the effort they’d made to welcome Ben and support him and the interested they’d shown in coming along again on his return. I also had found a new running partner, Kris Hopkins (and a few others) for training being an East Hull resident (although a member of Beverley AC). This helped fuel the fire for Ben’s return visit. In the interim time Ben had had to miss ten days due to a spinal injury and change the objectives of the challenge to run the equivalent of 401 marathons in mileage over the 401 days (in other words make up the missing 10 marathons with extra miles most days before the final day). That’s still 10,506.2 miles!
I wanted to show Ben the city and beyond but take him to the other areas not seen on his January trip. As his visit didn’t clash with the RB Hull Marathon (on 18 September) I discussed with the Delivery Group the idea of us hosting him and taking him round the marathon course in full on a normal working day. To make it different to marathon day we started at Sirius Academy, who kindly enabled us to run around the school grounds and through the building as the official course does (usually at mile 21-22) and the City’s Mayor, Sean Chaytor, came and greeted Ben on behalf of the city as well as the Town Crier, Michael Wood. We also had the BBC filming for the local news and Ben had been on BBC Humberside that morning. With well over 70 people sending Ben off from the start, a dozen joined him for the full distance that day with around 40 dipping in at other points of the course.
Ben did live Facebook updates on route as we got several first for him, even 343 days into this epic challenge. His first time running through a school building, first time a mayor and town crier had seen him off together, the first run through a working port, as ABP allowed Ben and I to run the mile leg through the docks – escorted by their patrol vehicle who was impressed by Ben’s story and we were very grateful to ABP for their help. Later in the day Ben had a first time running through a toll booth, which shut for him to do so on the Humber Bridge thanks to the Humber Bridge Board for their assistance. . At the Bridge Phil Haskins (Race Director for the Marathon)led the group for the 5 mile section to the southbank and along far Ings Road and back – I popped in the tourist info in the interim and acquired a complimentary bug as a memento for Ben! Ben’s marathons are run at the pace of the slowest runners on the day so usually take 5-6 hours and include a lunch stop. Our day was no different, being interspersed with a lunch stop in West Park which Kelly Hopkins, wife of EHH Kris, had kindly laid on with the help of their two girlsThis was very much a sociable run, with stops for people to catch up again. Ben also liked to ensure everyone was included and gets a selfie with everyone who comes along. That, in itself, is a challenge but one he clearly enjoys. Just as he’s become adept at radio interviews as he runs – KCFM interviewing him as we ran down James Reckitt Avenue! And the coverage had worked as people tooted and cheered as we made our way round the city.
Day one concluded as we returned to Sirius Academy late afternoon, where cakes greeted us. As well as those who’d run the full route, a number of others had run further than they ever had before, which is one of Ben’s aims every day, and included two ladies who’d driven over from Queenbury for the day and both ran their first marathon. But more was to follow.
Tuesday morning and Ben’s day 344. After the fantastic turnout 24 hours earlier, how many would arrive in East Park? Ben and I headed to Sewell on the Go Wyton first as they kindly donated a tank of fuel to help Ben’s travelling costs. On arrival in the Park, I needn’t have worried – there were plenty of runners again and another 40+ to see Ben off on his way (most of him also ran off with him!) EHH were not alone as nearly every local club had members out one of the two days to support Ben. Day 2’s route was a one off marathon distance I’d devised for the occasion. It took Ben through the North of the City, Dunswell, Woodmansey to Beverley and then back via Bransholme. Not designed for being scenic so much as for taking Ben’s story to areas of a city that get tarred with a stigma that reflects some of Ben’s whole back story of being against bullying.
Starting at the Parkrun start line, with another sunny day, we headed out onto James Reckitts and then through to Stoneferry and cut through from Clough Road to Beverley Road. By the time we’d reached the Dunswell roundabout we had a PB distance for a young lad who loved the experience. From here we followed the main road through Dunswell and then onto Long Lane to the back of Beverley and arrived at the Minster. Given the size of the group and country roads, we had acquired three cyclists to help out as “outriders” – thanks to John Breckon, Anne Nequest and John Baker.
At the Minster Ben was greeted by the Mayor of Beverley, Rob Begnett , who then ran the next mile through the town – another first for Ben as he’d had no mayor’s run with him before! Lucy Stamford of Beverley AC, then led Ben and supporters round the Beverley 10K route, just arriving back at Lempicka Cafe as the heaven’s opened. Lempicka kindly provided Ben lunch and hosted a crowd of runners as well. The sun came out again by the time we set off again and more runners joined as others departed and we left Beverley bound for Woodmansey and then back to Dunswell and Kingswood.
Whilst the pace slowed, there remained a good sized group for the remainder of the way as we turned down Holwell Road through Bransholm, with a drink stop at North Point, before the final few miles cut across the cycle tracks behind Sutton Fields and took us back to East Park for the last mile around the Park as one massive group to finish at the Parkrun finish line. 4 of those involved had run both days – 3 their first back to back marathons -Karen Scott of West Hull Ladies, Tina Brown of City of Hull and EHH own Kris Hopkins, alongside EHH, David Bull , who had done both back to back in January!
Ben’s story had been heard and it was brilliant to see such a great response from those across the City and beyond. Ben’s story has been inspirational and to date has now raised over £138,000 for Kidscape and Stonewall. With a month to go, I am sure Ben will reach his £250,000 target with the 401st marathon being a special event in his home city of Bristol on Wednesday 5th October. You can find out more about his story at www.the401challenge.co.uk where you can also link to his donation page and merchandise. To see more photo’s of his trip to the city go the The Hull Marathon Facebook page and a full gallery can be found by liking “lucaskeepsrunning” on Facebook too. (Thanks to David Gowans for many of the pictures)
My thanks to everyone for their support in making Ben’s visit such a success.
Lucas is a member of Beverley AC and Volunteer Co-ordinator with the RB Hull Marathon as well as runs his own fundraising website, Lucaskeepsrunning.