Endurance athlete Nick Butter is attempting to become the first person to run a marathon in each of the world’s 196 official countries. He tells BBT what’s involved in his epic challenge
The trip will take 550 days to be exact. On average I’ll spend just 60 hours per country. I’ll cross borders into war zones, venture into extreme climates, such as Antarctica, and no doubt have some ups and downs along the way.
There are a dozen countries my security company has marked as “very high risk”. I can’t say too much about my safety measures, for obvious reasons, but I have multiple communication devices, detailed check-in protocols and scenario-based plans. No matter the dangers, I want this trip to transcend political barriers and hopefully bring the world, and the running community, together.
I have 30 team members contributing to the success of this journey. I couldn’t do this without them: some would argue the logistical challenges far outweigh the physical. If a flight is cancelled while I’m at the airport it has major impact on the next country, hotels, transfers and marathon running. It’s amazing how one cancellation can affect everything. We’ve already had at least 15 changes to the trip.
I use a company called Universal Visa Services. They sort and secure all 90 visas. I just need to remember which passports are used when and where! In the Dominican Republic I woke up early one morning in a panic – I’d left my tourist visa for Cuba at home (the only visa I needed for the first three months). After an emergency call to Universal Visas, they emailed me a copy. It was a copy, but a visa nonetheless.
Jetlag? What jetlag?
The expedition is so full on I need to make sure that I’m strict at running, resting and then doing all the administration for the expedition any time I am not. This includes when I’m travelling, on planes and sitting on airport floors. My body is used to travelling so much I don’t think jetlag has time to set in!
My bag consists of 54 items. The only way around changing climates that doesn’t result in me returning home every week is to use courier companies. I’ve split the trip into four different kit types: Kit A is standard temperature (15-25°C) and rainfall; kit B is hot/humid (over 25°C), C is cold (under 5°C) and D is wet (areas with the top 5 per cent rainfall). There will be around 40 kit drops throughout the trip, ferrying my nutrition, new trainers and hard drive swaps; it’s a “pass the parcel” affair.
Bumps in the road
Vatican City is the smallest country in the world. A few people have run a marathon around the perimeter, but this is technically not in the country. The world record guidelines are strict so it was make or break. My route was to be 80 laps of St Peter’s Square. Eight miles in, two police called me over and informed me I must have permission to run. If I continued, they had the authority to detain me for up to 12 hours. We agreed the only way forward was for me to walk the entire marathon – 18 miles in circles in 30°C heat. Finally the Italian police agreed to overrule the usual protocol and let me run. It was a result, to say the least. After 60 more laps I was done and Vatican City was completed.