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The Man Running In The World’s Best And Worst Places

Running a marathon in every country on Earth – 196 of them, to be exact – takes as much planning and perseverance as sheer pavement-pounding

For most men and women, completing a single marathon will be one of the most challenging moments of a lifetime, but for Nick Butter, it’s the easiest part of his day. Since January 6th 2018, Butter has been running marathons more days than not.

Rather than loop one country, though, or blaze a trail straight around the globe, he’s aiming to tackle the never-before-attempted feat of running a marathon in each of the world’s 196 officially-recognised countries. And while that means pounding pavements from England to Australia, it also means running in countries where there’s barely any infrastructure to support it, from Liberia to South Africa.

For Butter, this means that logistics are one of the hardest parts of the experience: crossing borders and finding routes are harder than simply putting one foot in front of another. The reward? Exploring some of the world’s least-appreciated destinations on foot, often with the support of local pedestrians...

In Haiti it was about 44°C and every mile felt like a week – it was one of the hardest runs I’ve ever done

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Q: You’re still mid-attempt. How’s it all going?
A:
‘The last couple of weeks have been more slow-paced than usual, which is good because the next phase of the journey is going to be manic. It’s Europe so it’ll be better because you feel more at home and at ease, but it’s going to be busy – a marathon every other day or every day. I’m interrailing through 30 out of the 44 countries in Europe.

Q: What’s been the most stressful marathon?
A:
‘I’ve had difficult moments and mentally tiring bits but the stressful bit is being in a country where you don’t have internet phones or signal, and all you have is a satellite phone. It’s when I walk out into a country and don’t know whether I can trust the driver in front of me, or whether I’m going to be out running and get hit by a motorbike. Every day in a new country is the same process: I need to find water, I need to make sure my route isn’t going to take me too far from where I need to be, I need to remember my hotel name, what’s the local dialect. It sounds silly to say I can’t remember the language, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve got to an immigration booth and couldn’t remember where I’d just come from.’

‘The running bit is the relaxing bit: that’s when I replenish my brain, my stress levels, everything. It’s everything else that’s tough.’

Q: And the best marathon so far?
A:
‘There are two standouts: Guatemala and El Salvador. But there are places that deserve a mention that I didn’t know what to expect from, like Liberia. It’s not particularly well off but I happened to be running in a lush part – it was just a tropical paradise. In Guinea I was physically sick from the smell of the roads. Liberia is just as impoverished in many ways, but it felt like paradise, even though it’s very poor and there are people screaming abuse at you.’

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‘My real favourite was Guatemala, where I ran past an erupting volcano – it was amazing to watch. And I met a great guy called Philip who runs the project that’s helping to offset the carbon cost of my trip, Natural Capital Partners. We saw this project called EcoFiltro who’d given 400,000 water filtration devices to projects in Guatemala.’

‘El Salvador was incredible in that I had about 1,000 people running with me, I had school kids and elite athletes all together, and all the kids were waving union jacks.’

Q: What’s been your worst moment?
A:
‘I was mugged in Nigeria. Five guys came up to me and tried to take my stuff: fortunately I had some people with me who are now my friends. One of them was a national runner whose name is Peter Pan. We paid them off for about five pounds which is obviously a win, but I was pushed around, pushed on the floor, which obviously wasn’t nice.’

‘I was bitten by a dog in Tunisia – we ran over a beach and straight into the territory of five very angry dogs. I’ve still got the shredded shorts which I’ll later frame for the 196 museum. I had to go home for rabies shots – I was going to countries where it wouldn’t have been possible. It made for a good Insta story, though, so there’s always a positive!’

‘The worst marathon of the trip was probably the fifth, in Haiti. I’d already been to Toronto, the Bahamas, Cuba, which are very much Westernised places, whereas poverty is dire in Haiti. I hadn’t learned not to run at Midday, so it was about 44°C. Every mile felt like a week, it was one of the hardest runs I’ve ever done – Haiti’s dangerous, I was being bumped out of the way by cars because the roads are so busy. It was a long, long five hours. That was my first: “What am I doing?” moment.’

Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from pounding the pavements?
A:
‘I have this overall sense of a wider picture of the world. Anyone that’s travelled extensively will have the same thing, but I’m starting to put the puzzle together, how the religions work. The amount of plane journeys I went on in Africa, everyone was from different cultures, and most people hadn’t ever been on a plane before, so I was helping them with their seatbelts and trays. It was little things; the wider context of the world made me feel reborn.’

Find out more about Nick’s attempt at www.nickbutter.com

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