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The first person to run a marathon in every country – here’s his message

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 6 days ago Shanna McGoldrick life@scmp.com
a person riding a skate board at a beach: Nick Butter in Torquay, the United Kingdom, in 2019, during his record-breaking adventure that saw him run a marathon in every country in the world. Photo: Courtesy of Nick Butter Nick Butter in Torquay, the United Kingdom, in 2019, during his record-breaking adventure that saw him run a marathon in every country in the world. Photo: Courtesy of Nick Butter

What do you do once you've run your way around the world? For Nick Butter, there's only one answer: you keep on running.

In November 2019, Butter, 31, a former banker from the UK, became the first person to run a marathon in every single country on the planet after a physically and mentally punishing 674-day expedition that involved running 8,256km (5,130 miles).

The story begins in 2016 in Morocco, where Butter, already an accomplished runner with more than 400 marathons under his belt, was competing in the notoriously gruelling Marathon des Sables, a 251km race through the Sahara Desert.

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By chance he was sharing a tent with Kevin Webber, a fellow Briton working in finance. But while Butter was healthy, Webber was 18 months into a terminal prostate cancer diagnosis, and doctors had given him two years to live. He was running in the Sahara Desert to raise funds for the charity Prostate Cancer UK.

"Nick was saying to me, 'In five years I'll do this amazing thing, in 10 years that amazing thing,'" Webber, now 55, recalls. "I looked at him and I said: 'What are you waiting for? Don't wait for a rubbish prognosis before you realise that you've just got to go and do these things.'"

Kevin Webber et al. posing for the camera: Butter (centre left) and Kevin Webber (centre right) at the Athens Marathon in November 2019, the final marathon on Butter's worldwide tour. Photo: Courtesy of Nick Butter © Provided by South China Morning Post Butter (centre left) and Kevin Webber (centre right) at the Athens Marathon in November 2019, the final marathon on Butter's worldwide tour. Photo: Courtesy of Nick Butter

The conversation abruptly changed the course of Butter's life. He decided to quit his job, sell his possessions and run a marathon in every single country, raising money for Prostate Cancer UK in honour of Webber.

"At that time I had no idea how many countries there were, or how difficult it would be," Butter says. "Let's just say I dramatically underestimated how difficult it was."

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In January 2018, Butter set off on an epic journey that would see him run through war zones, deserts and multiple bouts of food poisoning. He was mugged in Lagos in Nigeria, attacked by dogs in Tunisia, and suffered a mini heart attack in Samoa. His hardest race was in Bangladesh where, fresh from several consecutive bouts of food poisoning, he developed a kidney infection and vomited every mile of the route.

The schedule was punishingly tight, but it made for some memorable moments, such as running up Hong Kong's hills during a dramatic lightning storm. "There was nobody out - the streets were completely empty because it was so stormy," he says. "It was just constant lightning. It's a video I actually show quite a lot when I do my talks with school kids because it's amazing."

There were awe-inspiring highlights, including running past whales breaching off the South African coast and sprinting around an erupting volcano in Guatemala. He often found himself jogging alongside curious children and local supporters. "There were so many incredible moments," he says. "The best moments always came with the best people."

a man riding a skateboard up the side of a road: Butter runs in Lesotho, a landlocked country within the border of South Africa, in July 2018. Photo: Courtesy of Nick Butter © Provided by South China Morning Post Butter runs in Lesotho, a landlocked country within the border of South Africa, in July 2018. Photo: Courtesy of Nick Butter

The twists, turns, mishaps and victories of Butter's odyssey are all documented in his new book, Running the World, published this month.

The book is an ode to the people he met along the way, and to the power of running. It also delves into his friendship with Webber, who has been on his own phenomenal journey in the six years since his diagnosis. Having defied doctors' predictions, he has completed ultra-marathons everywhere from Albania to the Arctic as part of his mission to raise funds for, and awareness of, prostate cancer. In October he was awarded a British Empire Medal for his feats.

Webber was also present for Butter's final, record-breaking race of the trip - the Athens Marathon in Greece. In November last year they crossed the finish line together. It was, Butter says, a "euphoric feeling", followed by something of a comedown.

"There was an element of sadness because I was travelling around the world for two years doing three marathons in three different countries every week - and then all of a sudden it stopped," he says. "Hence, I suppose, why I'm still running now, to try and fill that void."

a man walking on a beach: Butter runs in Lesotho in July 2018. Photo: Courtesy of Nick Butter © Provided by South China Morning Post Butter runs in Lesotho in July 2018. Photo: Courtesy of Nick Butter a man doing a trick on a skateboard: Butter runs in Torquay in 2019. Photo: Courtesy of Nick Butter © Provided by South China Morning Post Butter runs in Torquay in 2019. Photo: Courtesy of Nick Butter

Yes, Butter is still going. He is currently traversing the length of Italy on foot, completing 100 marathons in 100 days in a challenge he has dubbed "The Italian Grand Tour". He continues to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK.

"It's my life's effort really, to keep spreading the word about prostate cancer and get men talking about it a bit more and stop being ashamed of talking about it," he says.

Gratitude for his health and his lifestyle helps to motivate him. "I think of Kev, and I think of people who are less fortunate than me, and I generally don't feel like I have to try to be motivated," he says. "I'm just so pleased and grateful to have the opportunity to do what I'm doing."

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A big advocate for getting outdoors, Butter loves surfing, rowing, sailing, diving and paragliding. But, he admits, he will probably never stop running.

"I think it's the peace," he says about why he loves it so much. "The peace and the ability to cleanse your mood without actually realising you're doing it. I can become calm very easily by running."

Butter lives in a van with his girlfriend and his dog and they travel around exploring different places. He doesn't miss the excess of life in the finance world. He doesn't drink alcohol or coffee, opting for green tea instead, and tries to be in bed at 7pm, rising at 6am to run. He covers about 300km a week and goes through a pair of shoes per month. "Running a marathon is almost like my switch-off time," he says.

Kevin Webber et al. posing for the camera: Butter and Webber at the Athens Marathon in November 2019. Photo: Courtesy of Nick Butter © Provided by South China Morning Post Butter and Webber at the Athens Marathon in November 2019. Photo: Courtesy of Nick Butter

His book, he hopes, will inspire others to begin living the way they want to, right away.

"I hope that people realise they have the opportunity to change their life and follow their dreams now."

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

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