High Wych running mums bring 401 Challenge man Ben Smith to Sawbridgeworth
Claire Morris used to dislike running so much she would do her utmost to avoid it during school PE lessons. But "in a moment of madness" last year the mum-of-three turned to the sport she once hated to "take a break from being 'mum, wife, scientist' and to just take some time for me, something that hasn't really happened since becoming a parent."
Around this time, Ben Smith came to Claire's workplace to talk about his life and the 401 challenge during Mental Health Awareness Week. Ben was bullied at school for being gay, and at both the ages of 18 and 21 tried to take his own life. Suffering from depression and other mental health issues, at 29 he suffered an incomplete stroke. Like Claire, he turned to running.
He went from being unable to run for a bus in 2013 to completing 401 marathons in 401 days in 2016, raising in excess of £330,000 for charities Kidscape and Stonewall who are dedicated to tackling bullying.
"To say he is an inspiration is a compete understatement," said Claire, who now runs with Nicola Tilley's 'Moving Mums Sawbridgeworth' group. "His talk was amazing, I was in tears in a packed auditorium in front of people I work with. It really resonated with me when he talked about running giving him the time and space to 'file' what was going on with his life."
In March, Claire ran the Cambridge half marathon with another Sawbridgeworth mum, Keren Greenall, who in 2017 embark on her own 12 into 40 Challenge, completing 12 challenges before she tuned 40 including a skydive, a marathon and a go on Europe's longest and fastest zip wire. As well as being a friend from the High Wych School gate, Keren was also inspired by Ben - in particular how to cope with what to do with yourself after a mega challenge.
"It's a bit like planning a wedding, and I was left thinking 'what's next?' after this," she said.
Hearing that Ben was planning a talking tour for his latest challenge - running a marathon in each of the 50 US states and cycling between them - Keren looked to see if she could catch him anywhere nearby. The closest options were Milton Keynes or Norwich - but there was also an option to host your own event.
"I called Claire and said: 'I might have done something really crazy'," said Keren, having arranged for Ben to come and speak at the Memorial Hall in Sawbridgeworth.
Claire was immediately enthusiastic. "What I like about Ben's talks is he is very down to earth, very open. I come from a family where you don't talk about things, and I think that's why it took me a long time to accept that I wasn't OK."
Ben, who ran through Harlow as part of his 401 Challenge says, "coming back to see the local community and support them by showing that physical activity is great for your mental health will be a real honour."
"When we came up with the idea of putting together the USA 2020 Talk Tour, we instantly thought of all the amazing volunteers around the country that supported me during my 401 Challenge a couple of years ago," he said. "We reached out to all of the clubs and groups and people like Keren immediately said they wanted to support us. Her support has been quite overwhelming and means so much to me."
The June 29th talk is at 7 pm. Tickets are £12 for adults and £6 for children aged 13 and over, and can be booked online: https://etchrock.com/challenge/buy-ticket/the-usa-2020-talk-tour/event/sawbridgeworth