Fundraiser close to finish line in 401 marathons in 401 days charity challenge
A charity fundraiser has set off on the final leg of his challenge to complete 401 marathons in 401 days.
Ben Smith, 34, will have covered 10,506.2 miles (16,908km) since September 1 2015, the equivalent of running from London to Sydney.
He is running to raise awareness of bullying of young people, with the money collected to be shared between charities Stonewall and Kidscape.
Throughout the challenge, he has battled injuries including a long-standing spinal problem and pain in his kneecaps, heels and shins.
His injuries prevented him from running a marathon for 401 consecutive days but he has kept to his schedule by making up the lost mileage.
Local running groups have supported him in creating each of his routes and more than 9,000 people have joined him.
Hundreds of runners joined Mr Smith in Bristol, while more than 1,000 took part in the final leg of his mammoth challenge virtually.
They set off from Millennium Square in Bristol and headed to Portishead. The marathon will finish in Millennium Square this afternoon.
"I'm a bit nervous, to be perfectly honest with you," Mr Smith told the Press Association as he prepared to set off.
"This has been 401 days in the making and today's the final day. I'm excited but I'm nervous too."
He gave a motivational speech to hundreds of runners - many wearing clothing with The 401 Challenge logo - before setting off.
"I've been trying to raise £250,000 for two anti-bullying charities - Stonewall and Kidscape," Mr Smith said.
"I was badly bullied for eight years of my life and it affected my self-esteem and confidence, so much so that the only way I felt I could get out of that was to try to take my own life when I was 18.
"The money we're trying to raise is going to support these charities to make sure that what happened to me doesn't happen to anyone else.
"The support has been overwhelming. I've had the privilege of running with more than 9,500 people all round the UK.
"It has been amazing - from areas where I've had two or three people out to where we've had 287 out.
"It has been the journey of a lifetime."
Mr Smith completed his 399th marathon on Sunday in Bournemouth, where he was given the honour of starting the race.
During the challenge, he has participated in marathons including the Isle of Wight, Bristol to Bath, Brighton, Greater Manchester, Milton Keynes, Edinburgh and the London Marathon.
He aims to raise £250,000 for the charities and has given 101 motivational talks to schools, colleges and universities to raise awareness of bullying.
Children as young as five have taken part in Mr Smith's challenge, while a Jack Russell dog called Eddie accompanied him for one marathon run.
Mr Smith twice tried to take his own life and suffered a mini-stroke at the age of 29 following years of bullying and physical abuse at boarding school.
A friend encouraged him to join a running club during his recovery and he found it helped him regain mental and physical health.
"My story really started when I was 29 and I suffered a TIA," Mr Smith said.
"I was about 16.5 stone, overweight, unhealthy, smoked, drank - I couldn't even run for a bus.
"If somebody had told me four years ago that I'd be doing this, I probably would have sunk my pint, lit my cigarette up and laughed at them.
"My life has changed dramatically after finding running, both physically and from a confidence point of view as well."
After coming out as gay, Mr Smith wanted to do something to raise awareness of the damage that bullying can do as well as raise money to support relevant charities.
To follow Mr Smith's challenge go to www.the401challenge.co.uk.