It takes a special kind of dedication to take on 196 marathons in 196 countries, in 692 days. Nick Butter is doing just that for his friend Kevin Webber, who has terminal prostate cancer, the most common cancer among men, killing 1,000 a month in the United Kingdom alone. Butter has just completed marathon 103, in Dubai on January 11. "This is among my top 10 of favourite runs," he says.
The Dubai run
Butter waxed lyrical about his adventures in the city on his Instagram account soon after the marathon, saying it surpassed his expectations. “Today I ran past the tallest building in the world, along one of the cleanest beaches I’ve ever seen, ate a burger from the famous Salt restaurant, and spent all morning slowly roasting in the sun. It’s amazing how a bunch of strangers can instantly be so kind and welcoming to me. Thank you all.”
During the Dubai run, Butter was accompanied by a group of nine people, which included Matt and Hannah Stuart and their 6-year-old son, Bertie, who is autistic.
"Dubai is sometimes seen as big, brash, rich and controlled, and, while I understand I've not experienced everything, I can't help but fall in love with the place for the immense calm and peacefulness it exudes," Butter says. "I feel safer here than I do at home. The morning prayer at sunrise, the relaxed and friendly vibe, and the wider understanding that 50 years ago this place was just a desert."
The making of a marathon runner
Butter left his job as a project manager in the UK to begin the Running The World expedition in January last year, after two years of preparation. He hopes to smash eight world records and raise at least £250,000 (Dh1.25 million) for the charity Prostate Cancer UK, as well as raising awareness that all men should get checked regularly.
“In total the trip will cost about £200,000 [Dh1m], which is approximately £199,999 too much,” says Butter. “The way I’ve found funding has been piecemeal to say the least – lots of small bits of support from lots of very helpful and kind people and companies. I’ve sent about 20,000 emails. Invariably the answer is often: ‘Thanks, great challenge, but no.’”
The athlete, whose average marathon time is 2 hours and 55 minutes, has a team of about 20 people, including a psychologist, nutritionist, performance manager, security and a visa handler. “I have to rely on so many people as well as my body and mind. I am constantly exhausted,” he admits. “I often don’t know where I am, what currency I should use, or what language the locals speak. I also get grumpy with airports.”
There have been many cherished moments, of course, as well as unexpected experiences and threats to his safety, including running with an entourage of 1,000 supporters in El Salvador, with police escorts in Africa, and past erupting volcanoes.
"I was approached by a number of people in Haiti who were looking to mug me – it was lucky they saw my security and backed off," he says. "I ran though the kidnap capital of the world, Caracas in Venezuela, without any security and my tech to keep me safe not working properly. The dangers are often quite benign, but can turn serious very quickly. Running for hours in the heat, and I'm talking very hot, you need a lot of water, so finding water at the right time is also scary."
Butter was also bitten by a dog in South America, which was serious enough that he had to travel home for treatment, although he has completed all of his marathons so far.
'I feel like the world is a puzzle'
He has had time for contemplation and self-reflection during the trip, and says the life lessons that come from such an expedition are unparalleled. "Something that struck me pretty hard is the poverty levels around the world, he says. "I feel ashamed of being so material – even though I'm not compared to many – but I also understand so much more.
"I feel like the world is a puzzle and I have now completed 25 per cent of it. I am so lucky; most of the people I've met have very little, but are willing to give everything. I find them inspirational."
Above all, the challenge has taught him that people can achieve whatever they want.
"You can either decide to follow the person in front of you or go off on your own and find new things, help the world to be a better place, adventure into the unknown and come out stronger," he says. "I don't want to get a normal job, and pay my mortgage and die. When I'm grey and old, I want to be able to tell my grandkids of all the great things I tried out, succeeded in, failed at and learnt from."
For more information or to run with Nick Butter, visit www.runningtheworld196.com or follow his journey on Instagram @nickbutterrun