Ben Smith wasn’t born a runner, in fact, he wasn’t much of a sporty person at all, and yet he can now be introduced as an extreme marathon runner and inspirational athlete.
He suffered at the hands of bullies for being gay throughout his time at school, which knocked his confidence and self-esteem, leading him to attempt to take his own life at the ages of 18 and 21. When he was 29, and 17 stone, Ben suffered a Transient Ischemic Attack, otherwise known as an incomplete stroke, which gave him the push he needed to change the way he lived his life.
Ben uses his own story of a tormented childhood to engage audiences in the topic of bullying and offer strategies for change. The awareness Ben brings to such areas as healing through sport, LGBTQ+ rights, mental health, physical wellness and resilience is essential.
Ben Smith was born into a military family and sent to boarding school at a young age. It was here he first started being bullied for his sexuality which caused his low levels of confidence. This had a massive effect on his mental health and he felt he couldn’t cope with what his life was at the time. As scary as it had seemed at the time, the TIA Ben suffered in his late 20’s made him change his life around. He put on his trainers and joined a local running club, which, in turn, motivated him to help others.
In 2015/16, Ben set out to run one marathon every day for 401 days across the UK. Covering 10,506 miles, he raised over £330,000 for two anti-bullying charities, Stonewall and Kidscape. The challenge gained national and global coverage, increasing the awareness of how harmful bullying can be at any age.
Thanks to the 401 challenge, Ben founded the 401 Foundation which offers easily accessible grants of between £100 and £3,000 to help local communities and individuals build their confidence, self-esteem and positively contribute to people’s mental wellbeing.
Ben’s story is one of triumph over adversity and it inspires and motivates all audiences. Ben brings to life the importance of respecting and accepting others no matter who they are. Understanding that resilience is the key to overcoming difficult times in your life, and ultimately believing that the limitations we think we have, have only been put there by ourselves are impactful lessons to learn.
Ben delivers a story that is both captivating and inspirational. Covering the practical aspects of logistical planning and professional planning, his talks incorporate triumph over adversity, mental toughness and mindfulness.
As part of our ‘Chat With…’ Series, Ben spoke to our Great British Speakers’ director Jane Farnham about mental resilience – his experience with depression, attempted suicide, sexuality and finding happiness. Watch the interview here.
You will find Ben travelling extensively to inspire all sorts of people at all kinds of events both indoors and outdoors, and now virtually, including schools, higher education establishments and corporate clients.
His unique, honest and humorous style of presenting his story is sure to inspire and relate to any audience. His talk resonates with people on so many different levels and can be easily adapted to any occasion. It’s a real-life story about finding what makes you happy.
Ben put all his experiences with mental health and bullying into a book, 401: The Extraordinary Story of the Man Who Ran 401 Marathons in 401 Days and Changed His Life Forever in 2019. It became a critical hit, inspiring readers with his commendable journey of a previously lost and broken man who discovered that anything is possible, if only you choose to search for what makes you truly happy.
Ben has delivered over 400 talks, reaching over 90,000 people since completing his 401 challenge. His teaching includes healing through support, achieving goals and above all, proving that with happiness and a strong foundation, anything is possible. Other areas include LGBTQ+ and mental health. In 2016, Ben shared a TEDx Youth talk titled ‘Happiness’ which addressed how he changed his life through an improved mindset. Equally relevant for corporate audiences, Ben instils the skills required to triumph through difficult times and establish strong mental resilience. Ben has worked with a number of businesses including Cintra, Elite Travel and the Insurance Institute of Ipswich.
The 401 Challenge has won Ben Smith a number of awards and accolades including: the Helen Rollason Award at the 2016 BBC Sports Personality of the Year, the Pride of Britain National and Regional Fundraiser of the year 2016, the Power of Light Award from the Cabinet Office and commendations from Her Majesty The Queen, HRH The Duke of Cambridge and Prime Ministers David Cameron and Theresa May.
Whilst Ben is very grateful for these accolades, what motivates him most is the positive effect the 401 Challenge has had and continues to have on hundreds of thousands of people around the world. But he’s not done yet.
Between June and September 2022, Ben Smith will run and cycle over 10,000 miles across all 50 US states, in just 86 days with the aim of raising over £100,000 for mental health charities. He aims to help support people who, like him, have had problems with depression and suicide, struggles with their sexuality, and above all, want to find true happiness.
As part of our ‘Chat with…’ podcast series at Great British Speakers, our director Jane Farnham sat down with Ben to talk about his experience of bullying, confidence and self-esteem, physical and mental health and wellbeing, and LGBTQ+. Find out more HERE.
Ben’s difficult life experiences have led him to where he is today. He has had to change his mindset and open himself up to new and exciting, and sometimes scary, opportunities.
As a speaker, Ben Smith is extremely open and honest, genuinely telling audiences about the good, the bad and the ugly of his life, and explaining how courage and determination can help the lives of many, not just your own.
‘I recognised in Ben somebody who saw that his life wasn’t going the way he wanted it to and he was brave enough and strong enough to alter its direction. On the first day I met Ben, I watched him tell his story to a roomful of teenage kids, it came straight from the heart. It sounds like a simple message, but his story has so many layers to it, which is why Ben inspires so many people for so many different reasons.”
Steve Cram CBE – Former Olympic Athlete
‘So many people end up on a path they don’t really want to be on, but they haven’t got the strength and courage to turn back and try another way instead. Ben has taught people that it’s never too late to completely change your life around and be the person you really want to be. He’s motivated so many kids and adults who have been bullied to re-build their self confidence, and therefore their lives.
His story has helped so many people, but he doesn’t think he is special, which is what is so special about him. I love that I got to meet him. I admire him so much.’
Paula Radcliffe MBE – Olympian and Marathon World Record Holder
‘Ben’s delivery of his personal story and journey was done in an authentic way. The audience could really relate to Ben and found his talk very moving. It really did start a conversation within the Company to talk more openly about mental health.’
‘Your talk set an important tone for the rest of the day. The day was attended by 150 members of the paediatric multi-professional teams mainly from the Great North Children’s Hospital, but also colleagues’ working across the North East and it was a great success.’
The Great North Children’s Hospital