Your average ‘bucket list’ might include vague ideas such as ‘run a marathon’ or ‘visit as many countries as possible’. For British runner Nick Butter, there was little appeal in doing one without the other.
The 30-year-old is close to completing the monumental task of running a marathon in every single country across the globe. That’s 196 officially-recognised United Nations countries, with a 26.2-mile run in each.
By the time he finishes his last marathon, he will have covered an astonishing 5135.2 MILES!!
“I’ve been clocking about three countries a week - sometimes it’s two, sometimes it’s five,” Nick tells The Sportsman all of half-an-hour before heading out to run marathon number 186 in Zambia.
“To put it into context, I arrived in Zambia at about 3:00 this morning after running in Iran. I then took a plane to Dubai and then flew to Uganda, from there to Rwanda, and then finally ended up in Zambia. That’s four flights, about 40 hours of travel including connections. I’m going to run now, and then I’m going to leave tomorrow morning to go do a run in Malawi. It’s been virtually this way for two years.”
This whole expedition started on January 6, 2018 in Canada and by the time he finishes on November 10 in Athens, Greece he reckons he’ll have booked upwards of 420 flights, registered 110 visas, gone through 10 different passports, worn through 15 pairs of trainers and burnt over a million calories. Oh yes, and then there’s the eight world records he’ll have set.
Nick’s ultimate mission is to create awareness and raise money for Prostate Cancer UK, a cause that holds a special significance after meeting a fellow runner in the Sahara Desert.
“About four years ago I was participating in the week-long Marathon des Sables and met a very special man called Kevin Webber,” Nick explains.
“He was 49 years old at the time and so overly happy, overly bubbly almost to the point - and I’ve said it to his face - of being annoying.
“We eventually had a proper conversation and he dropped the bombshell that he had terminal prostate cancer and had been given as little as two years to live.
“Kev said a particular set of words to me that stuck in my head and I use it in all of the talks that I do: ‘Don’t wait for a diagnosis’.
“While I completely understand that you can’t just live for today and you must think about the future, there should still be the realisation that tomorrow may not happen. What Kev said to me obviously really resonated and so I decided to grab life.”
Nick went about researching prostate cancer and began to formulate a plan, though the idea of ‘Running The World 196’ had been somewhat existent in casual conversations many years prior.
He admits that he got the initial numbers and the budget for the project ‘incredibly wrong’ but the timescale has remained unaltered. Not that he could have done all the planning and admin alone, his team have grown from immediate family members to a 19-strong unit, with do.Sport.Live helping out with vital equipment.
Volunteers and family members help him to upload blogs, sort visas and passports, and negotiate what Nick calls the “almost impossible” travel bookings which are subject to cancellations and late alterations.
In total it took about two years of preparation until he got to the start line, with patience being tested throughout. “Those two years felt as long as these two years on the expedition,” says Nick.
Nick was originally in banking, spending much of his weekends training, before making the decision to quit his job and follow his passion for running and travelling.
Before he got into finance he was in the Under-19s snowsports England team as a slalom skier. Running has always been his staple sport though, from going out a few miles in the morning to visiting friends across his home county of Dorset, with running his ‘mode of transport’. It’s now a constant therapy, a way of achieving “peacefulness”. That is not always easily achieved though, as he explains:
“I was bitten by a dog in Tunisia. I ran around a car park 335 times a week ago because of aggressive dogs. In the Pacific Islands the dogs were so aggressive. I have never run a more stressful marathon than when I’ve been looking over my shoulder to find I’m surrounded by around 20 dogs that are hungry and aggressive.
“And it’s worse when they creep up on you and you don’t even know they’re there. The first thing that you hear is their teeth snapping shut behind you and you’re thinking
Sh*t these dogs aren’t scared of me, they just want a piece of me!
Running is now just complete muscle-memory for Nick, one foot in front of the other. By the end of this challenge he will have run 592 marathons in all in his lifetime. While many readers might rightly marvel about the physical endurance needed to complete 196 marathons, it is the potential for logistical problems which worries Nick more.
“The actual difficulty is a combination of flight-time and concerns about safety,” he explains.
“For example, if I arrive in an area like the Congo and I’ve only got 12 hours and it’s dark, can I just run anywhere? Is it safe? Are there dogs? Is the traffic bad? I am able to get food? Am I going to be up in time for breakfast at the hotel, or am I going to miss food and not be able to eat until after my next run?
“It’s the logistical nightmare of travelling and running in quick succession in countries that aren’t safe and don’t have readily available food.”
Fundamentally the whole trip has been completely carbon-neutral, which Nick and his team have achieved in collaboration with environmental consultancy Natural Capital Partners. But time, Nick asserts, remains of the essence with a real desperation to finish in his intended destination with Sudan, Syria and Yemen still to negotiate.
“If I can’t run for whatever reason, if something kicks off in a city I’m scheduled to visit, then there will be no way that that finish line in Athens is my actual finish line, which will be heartbreaking and almost an anticlimax. I’m excited to see everybody in Athens that I’ve met around the world. In these immediate two weeks the overriding feeling is the fear that something will go wrong.”
Nick concedes that he hasn’t had the time to take in exactly what he’s about to achieve, but he will certainly appreciate some of the more unscheduled experiences along the way.
“There’s running around an erupting volcano in Antigua, Guatemala with a group I had met just 20 minutes earlier,” he says. “There have been the times of 100 blisters from running in slush and snow in places like Ukraine.
“A special moment was in San Salvador running with 1000 people when I was expecting to run a really lonely marathon. The British ambassador in El Salvador got in touch with the Ministry of Sport, who not only contacted several elite running groups but commissioned a leading sculptor to create a trophy and medals with my face on the back. But that’s just one instance in a hundred.
“I try to impress on people that I meet now - particularly children - the privilege of English as a first language. If we speak to people our life is enriched, and for me that’s led to success in the project.
“If I could sum up this trip in one word it is: ‘People’. It’s the people I meet in the countries I travel to, like the taxi driver I talk to about prostate cancer who comes back to me to tell me he’s gone and got himself checked. He’s one of nine people who have informed me that they’ve been diagnosed with prostate cancer. And the reason I’m talking about that now is that people have been the building blocks of this journey.
I had expected landscapes and culture and food to define this trip but the people have been incredible.
Donations to Prostate Cancer UK are welcome through Nick’s JustGiving page, while he will soon be releasing a book, heading out on tour and announcing another major expedition for 2021.
You can find out more on Running The World 196 on Nick's official page.