In November 2019, Nick Butter became the first and only person to run a full marathon in all 196 countries recognised by the United Nations. Setting a world record, Butter covered 5130 miles across seven continents, battling the elements and overcoming incredible obstacles to complete his goal. Words: Rob Kemp
What was your motivation for this challenge?
In 2016 I met Kevin Webber, a fellow endurance runner during the Marathon Des Sables in Morocco. Kevin had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014. He was told he only had two years to live so he took up running marathons across the world to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK. He inspired me and became the focus for my run.
How did you go about running the world?
It was two years in the planning and it came very close to not happening at all because of the struggle to get funding, but in January 2018 I quit my job in banking and set off. I’d planned to meet and stay with fellow runners from every country, spending my life in three-day cycles; run, rest, travel repeat until the job was done. But these things don’t always go to plan.
What went wrong with the planning?
So much went wrong it’s hard to list it all but one example is with the flights. We’d worked out that I’d need to take 220 flights in all to complete the task. But once we were underway we were getting to some countries, especially around central Africa, where I’d need to take four or five connecting hops just to get to a neighbouring country. In all, I took 455 flights in 674 days. And then there were the warzones.
How did wars affect a marathon runner?
Many of the countries I ran though including Syria, Afghanistan, Oman, Lebanon, Yemen and Libya are at war or in such a state of political unrest as to be on the verge of it. On route from Beirut to Syria the man who was meant to be driving me was killed on a road nicknamed ‘Death Valley’. In Somalia, where I was looked after wonderfully, one of the local support drivers was blown up the day after I left.
What were the most memorable moments?
I ran past an erupting volcano in Guatemala, and I raced with 1000s of kids in El Salvador. We didn’t have organised marathons to compete in as such, that would have been too difficult logistically. Mostly I’d just run a marathon distance (26.2 miles) in each country. But as momentum grew and my story got around there were some marathons laid on for me too. I also ran up huge hills in Nepal, experienced horrendous thunderstorms and tropical rain in Hong Kong, and hit crazy 60°C heat in Kuwait.
How did you deal with those conditions?
Not always very well! I ran through snow, ice, thunderstorms and intense heat. In Africa and the Middle East I started my runs at 2am, 3am and even midnight – running in permanent darkness just to avoid the heat. Because I never really got a chance to rest properly between marathons it was hard to shake off even minor illnesses.
What physical effect did that have upon your body?
It was exhausting and mentally disorientating. I was also mugged in Nigeria, bitten by a dog in Tunisia and had food poisoning a dozen times. I ran with a kidney infection and an infected tooth. The constant travel – on aircraft which were just a hub for germs – was gruelling and I often forgot what country I was in or which I had just departed from. That made for some interesting moments at immigration control!
Did you ever consider giving up?
There were times when the logistics were working against me, when I was being told I couldn’t enter a country, or when I was ill and just vomiting as I ran. That’s when the dark thoughts entered my head. But it was such a cause worth running for and once you’re down that rabbit hole having done 80 or 100 or so marathons that you’re committed and you know there’s possibly no second attempt at this record, you can’t quit.
How many pairs of running shoes did you get through?
In all, I got through 22 pairs of trainers – although I only actually wore out 15 of those. Some were ruined in transit and a few pairs were stolen before I got to wear them. Also, the dog bit through a pair too. I got through nine passports and 120 visas as well. Crossing the finish line of the Athens marathon on Sunday 10th November knowing I’d completed that 22-month mission made it all worth the while though.
Nick spoke to OFA on behalf of the @LaureusSport Awards Laureus.com