Mental Health Week 2020 – Ben Smith

Recently I met an inspirational man called Ben Smith at a PE conference, he was one of the guest speakers on the day and i felt during this week it would be a good time to share his story. 

Running a single marathon is an absolutely remarkable achievement. However, Ben took his love of running to new heights when he decided to run 401 marathons consecutively for a project that would transform his life forever.

So how does an individual go from enjoying running as a therapeutic activity to taking on the challenge of a lifetime and inspiring the world in the process? What may sound like a huge leap was actually a gradual transition for Ben Smith, a 36-year-old from Portishead, Bristol. When ex-Retford schoolboy Ben Smith was running a marathon every day for 401 days, many people may not have known what was his motivation.

After being bullied at school, hiding that he was gay, dark times around the age of 18 and an obsession with chasing a lifestyle that did not fit in with who he was, Ben suffered an incomplete stroke at the age of just 29.

And that was the kick start he needed to accept who he is – and has helped him fight back!

How did the Problems start? 

Ben decided to hide his feelings and started pretending to be something he wasn’t. And he cites this as the start of his mental health issues.

“At the age of 18 it got to the point where the pressure cooker just blew up and I felt like I didn’t want to be here anymore. It was honestly one of the darkest times of my life,” he said.

He then shut down and pretended to be “normal”.

“I went for this whole view on what a successful life was; that list of things that a lot of people conjure up – the nice house, the nice car, the great job, the family – all those things that we seem to deem as being successful but actually may not be right for everyone. I started to tick off that list,” he said.

Ben got his high-powered job, a hefty salary and a lovely house – he even went as far as getting married to a woman.

But again the pressure he was putting on himself to hide who he really was culminated in a life-changing event.

After suffering a mini stroke at the age of  29 Ben was in complete shock! – how could that happen? But it did.

Ben recovered, separated from his wife, came out to his parents and began to live life how he wanted to.

What happened next? 

Once fully recovered a friend of his introduced him to running, Ben realised he had found an outlet that could help him cope with his mental health issues. Once bitten by the bug, he took it to a completely new level.

Ben’s amazing running challenge

He began his 401 charity attempt on September 1, 2015 and ran 284 consecutive marathons in 284 days, joined by thousands of other runners along the way.

His challenge had to be stopped for 10 days while he recovered from a hernia and back injury, and then continued onto his 401 target.

Ben’s amazing achievements were recognised with the Helen Rollason award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year ceremony and the Daily Mirror Pride of Britain awards as well. The Helen Rollason Award honours achievement in the face of adversity.

Ben’s story is truly remarkable and the strength he showed was tremendous. Sometimes we don’t acknowledge how tough life can be at times. Ben summed up his speech to PE leaders around Hertfordshire by saying, “Everybody suffers from a mental health issue however some people are better at coping with it than others.”

I was definitely inspired by his story and I hope through our teaching of Physical Education and how we aim to nurture and inspire our children’s young minds, we may have the desired impact on their physical and mental wellbeing.

Mr Wanless