He’s already run a marathon in the countries of North America, Central America, the Caribbean, South America and now half of Africa, but Nick Butter is only 176 days into an epic 550-day effort to set a new world first, while raising awareness of a worldwide killer of men – he exclusively reveals to RSNG why he set off in the first place…
RSNG What inspired you to take on this challenge for prostate cancer care?
NICK BUTTER, ULTRAMARATHONER ‘It all has to do with Kevin Webber who has terminal prostate cancer – he is a good friend who I met in the Sahara Desert running the Marathon des Sables. He and I were in the same tent and we really got on but I had no idea he was dying from cancer – he dropped that bombshell and through many hot days in the desert we bonded a bit further. Afterwards I decided I wanted to do something for prostate cancer.’
‘If you know a man over 40 who hasn’t been checked, then they could be dying of prostate cancer’
RSNG Is prostate cancer something you think men, and society in general, is not very willing to talk about?
NB ‘Yes, people don’t like to talk about it, they don’t get checked and therefore they die. But since meeting Kev and understanding more about prostate cancer I know that if you have somebody in your life, whether it’s the guy that serves you coffee in the morning, or your Dad, anybody that’s over 40, male and hasn’t been checked they could be dying of prostate cancer – they don’t have to be visibly sick or have symptoms.’
‘I’ve been shocked by the number of people who don’t know about it, or what the symptoms would be. But we can change the attitude and get people to talk about it, and go and get checked – if you catch it early the chances are very high that you will live.’
RSNG Why do Prostate Cancer UK and other prostate cancer charities need funding?
NB ‘If you take the UK as an example, then over 11,000 men die of prostate cancer every year – every 45 minutes someone dies in the UK from a cancer we could potentially cure with a bit more money. Cancer Research UK has an annual turnover of £300-400 million, but prostate cancer gets generally under £20 million. Historically it has been hugely underfunded so now more people are dying of prostate cancer than breast cancer. The research is years behind the research breast cancer has had, because the focus has been elsewhere, but now we want to bring the focus back.’
RSNG How did you come up with the idea to run a marathon in every country in the world?
NB ‘Everyone dreams of traveling the world to make a mark, and do something significant that nobody has done before. I came up with the idea myself years ago and it was discussed with friends and family as a “wouldn’t that be great to do?” thing. I also love travel, meeting new people, being out of my comfort zone and endurance.’
RSNG How determined did you have to be to get to the start-line?
NB ‘I think more determined than I am now, to be honest, haha! It was incredibly tough. The planning stage took just under two years, from thought to starting – we put all the costs together and we were wildly out – we still need to come up with another 100 grand to finish the trip. It’s an investment because not only do we raise money for charity, but raising awareness of prostate cancer is huge.’
RSNG What was the biggest lesson you learned from the planning stage?
NB ‘Everyone knows if they embark on something as crazy like this that it’s going to be hard and take a lot of money, sacrifice and effort, but the biggest thing is to not underestimate the time that you need as downtime. When I started on the first day of the challenge on January 6th I was exhausted, beyond belief. In the last four months of the planning stage I hadn’t even run, at all, even though I was about to go and run a marathon every 2-3 days for two years! On Day One I was: “Shit the longest run I’ve done in on the last five months is 13 miles!”
‘In Haiti it was 43°C, people were coming up to me to try to mug me and I drank about 8.5 litres of water’
RSNG You must have had a lot of logistics just to work out your path around the 196 countries of the globe?
NB ‘I spent about a week working out the best route around the world. Phase One was the America’s, Phase Two was the first part of Africa, which we have broken down into three chunks and now I’m on the second of those. I’ll get through about eight passports and will need 90 visas by the end.’
RSNG You’ve registered for eight Guinness World Records – what’s your main goal?
NB ‘I run with two watches so that there is dual data, I also have to get at least two witnesses per run for the Guinness World Record attempts. If I finish this in the time we expect I will actually be the fastest man to visit every country in the world, but the key record is the fastest time to run a marathon distance in all sovereign states.’
RSNG How many marathons have you done so far and which has been the hardest?
NB ‘I did number 55 yesterday – there have been loads but Haiti is the one that stands out. My first one in Toronto was -25°C, which was super cold, but at the same time I was fresh and had people to run with. But Haiti was number five so I was tired, stressing about the routine stuff and I had to run through the heat of the day – it was 43°C. I had a driver behind me and people were repeatedly coming up to me to try to mug me, but then saw the driver and backed off. I drank about 8.5 litres of water on that run and I was still incredibly dehydrated. It was a very lonely, slow slog of a run.’
RSNG What have been the low points of the challenge so far?
NB ‘In Nigeria I was mugged in a market – five physically and verbally very aggressive people tried to take my camera – luckily I was with some security people who helped and we ended up paying them off. I was bitten by a dog in Tunisia – I just ran straight into the territory of five dogs who came bounding over this sand dune. I had lots of dogs chasing me through South America but these dogs were really not happy – one of them jumped up and took a nice chunk out of my leg! I had to go home for treatment and to get my rabies shot. I’ve had twenty flights cancelled and on one 15-hour land journey we kept getting stopped and had to pay off 12 different officials – we did expect everything to go wrong like this, which is why we built in enough contingency time!’
‘I ran past an erupting volcano in Guatemala and at 16,000ft in Bolivia’
RSNG And what have been the highlights of the challenge?
NB ‘Ultimately the trip is all about the people – in El Salvador we had the Minister of Sport involved and I did a load of radio and TV shows, and I ran with about 1,000 people – one of their famous sculptors made me a trophy of glass – we had loads of school visits too.’
‘I ran past an erupting volcano in Guatemala, sat on the lip of another volcano in Nicaragua with my legs dangling over the hot, fiery lava bubbling below; I’ve seen the only freshwater sharks in the world. And I’ve stayed with families, which is brilliant because you get to see the real experience and taste the real food, like alpaca in South America [alpacas are related to lamas]. I’ve run in some pretty incredible places, including Bolivia, La Paz – running at 16,000ft was incredibly tough but one of my most memorable runs.’
RSNG How do you keep motivated to run marathon after marathon?
NB ‘I do have a psychologist to make sure I stay sane – it’s great having an impartial person I can have a cry down the phone to every now and then! The bit that gets me through the hard times is that the world is incredibly diverse but the majority of it is poor. We are in the top fraction of a percent of privileged people, and especially living in the UK, we are all so lucky and we have no idea. So when I am struggling, or when my legs hurt, or when I’ve been sick during a run because of the smells – all of this kind of stuff – the number of kids that I have seen who are literally dying on the streets and you just think: “You don’t need mindfulness, you don’t need motivation.”
‘I’m doing this for prostate cancer but just seeing the hundreds of people who can’t walk – it gives you enough motivation to think: “Come on, I can do this, if I can’t get through the next 26 miles how the hell have these people survived for all this time?”’
RSNG Has running through all of these different countries reminded you of what counts in life?
NB ‘The talks that I do in companies and schools are all about appreciating your time and living with intent. Most of us just fumble through – and I am guilty of it as well – but you just take for granted that tomorrow will exist. I have had friends who have died in car accidents and of cancer really young – you never know when your time is going to be up. So, whenever it is tough when I’m running, or a rainy day, or horribly hot I remember that, bloody hell, we’re all really lucky to be wherever we are, doing whatever we are doing.’
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