Ben Smith is an endurance athlete, a charity champion and a “pied piper” of runners but most of all he’s an inspiration. After arriving at Queen Elizabeth Country Park (QECP) in his 401 Challenge battle bus his pre run talk was full of “us, we and the goup” references, humour and honesty. After 390 marathons Ben suggested he’d be taking today easier and with the hilly route you could hardly blame him. About 80 or so fellow runners were ready to run.
Ben started his journey on September 1st 2015 raising money and awareness for Stonewall and Kidscape to combat bullying in school and society. He has raised over £124K, run over 10,000 miles and been joined by over 9,000 people. The support for Bens project was typified by the post on his twitter account this morning that thanked the owners of the Flying Bull at Rake for their complementary overnight stay and meals.
I’ve been following his progress on twitter for months now so it was exciting when the specific days arrangements came out on facebook. Victory AC were organising the route and David Lown had kindly displayed a map of the intended miles. I wouldn’t have time to run all the course but had worked out a half marathon strategy within David’s map.
The car park was full of various running clubs and as well as fellow Fareham Crusaders I saw Chris Hall and Mike Bell from Stubbington Green. I shook David’s hand and thanked him for organising before we set off. Our first task was to run up Butser Hill and without really planning it I was at the front next to our Pied Piper but this did give me the chance of a good photo !! Talking of photos Ben had tirelessly posed for selfies in the car park which he said would appear on the facebook page as well as encouraging people to ask questions, even if he’d heard them 600 times before 🙂
There was lots of good humoured chat and looping back so that everyone reached the trig point and summit together. We took a wider loop around the back of Butser, past the round house café and headed back down to the park. This loop provided a great opportunity for the runners who wouldn’t be venturing out further as they got to experience running the highest point on the South Downs with a very chatty Ben.
As we left QECP the sun was shinning and the more forested areas opened out onto the Staunton Way. My fellow Fareham Crusaders were aiming at ten miles today so I said my goodbyes and we pressed on across the fields.
As we dropped down towards Chalton on the springy grass I found myself at the back of the pack with Ben which meant I could ask a couple of questions. Q1 : Has one marathon stood out on the journey ? A : Impossible to pick one, everyday is a combination of different people, different locations and so a different experience, so it’s hard to match one against another. Q2 : Do you prefer road or trail marathons A : I just love running, I don’t mind where, I like running in the sun, I don’t like running in the rain. Q3 : Will you miss it ? A : Of course I will but I hope this is just the start for my foundations work.
We regrouped in Chalton village opposite the historic Red Lion pub, to many peoples interest, and then took a full 360 degree change in direction and outlook as we pass through the graveyard of the church opposite, so as to carry on along the Staunton Way.
The group had trimmed down by now as we headed out onto Chalton Downs with more great views of the countryside (the first photo) and Saint Huberts Church which dates back to the 12th Century. I chatted with various runners from different clubs and was invited to join Victory AC one Sunday morning to run with them. This kind of running community spirit is what days like today are all about. As we headed towards Finchdean I had to make a decision when to turn back as the second half of the route towards Rowlands Castle and beyond would add to the two and a half hours window I had.
I called it a day at the bottom of a ploughed hill knowing that this would be some good training on the way back up. All that remained was to shake Ben by the hand and thank everyone for a great run. As I retraced my steps back to the car park I contemplated what I could donate. My final miles total for the day were 13.6 so I’m rounding that to £14.00 and donating to Stonewall once I’ve published my blog.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to run with everyone that came along today and to meet Mr 401 himself. Ben I take my hat off to you. Thanks to Victory AC for organising and apologies if I have forgotten some of the names of the runners I chatted to, I hope to see you on the trails soon.
Finally, of the photos I took today this is my favourite, Ben just taking a moment to watch everyone that came today, happily running up a steep hill, just to be part of his 401 journey. Well done everyone involved 🙂