Running the World by Nick Butter – Review
By Karl Hornsey
It’s often the case that when reading of remarkable feats, the numbers involved can blind one to the sheer scale of what has been achieved. That’s certainly the case with extreme athlete and motivational speaker Nick Butter and his astonishing quest to run a marathon in every country in the world, all in less than two years.
While the numbers merely offer a snapshot, they bear mentioning here as an introduction. 196 marathons in 674 days, requiring 455 flights, 10 passports and 120 visas. That’s the logistics. Throw in the fact that several of the countries Butter had to run in are actual war zones, that bribery was required to grease the wheels from time to time, and all manner of other crosses to bear – kidney infections, dog bites, gun-toting police, a mild heart attack and food poisoning to name but a few – and we’re still only scratching the surface of what he has achieved.
Running one marathon is an outstanding human feat, so to run 196 of them blows one’s mind. But this isn’t a book about running. Far from it. If anything, the running aspect often takes a back seat and is something that simply needs to be done, especially later in the book, as time becomes tight and each country needs to be ticked off the list before moving quickly on. This is a story of hope, of pushing the mind and body to see what is possible, and of generosity, both of spirit and in the literal sense given the financial cost of such a journey.
Butter’s inspiration came from a chance meeting with a man called Kevin during the extreme event, the Marathon des Sables. Kevin had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and told that he had maybe two years to live, but his outlook on life and determination to make the most of every day inspired Butter enough to plough his life savings and pretty much everything he owned into a quest that had never been done before.
“All of the emotions imaginable”
That inspiration is never far away in the pages of the book, with constant reminders as to the importance of the message, especially as Butter becomes almost overwhelmed by the number of people, many complete strangers, who put themselves out, either financially or time-wise, to become tiny cogs in this remarkable machine. While Butter downplays his own ability to just keep on running, he is quick to acknowledge the enormous team effort involved behind the scenes to leave him with the ‘easy’ bit. Turn up in another country, and run.
Lovers of travel and travelogues will find plenty to enjoy in this book, even though some countries are, understandably, only mentioned in passing. There is such an incredible contrast between Butter’s experiences in remote, seldom-visited islands and countries such as Tuvalu and Nauru, as compared to utterly dangerous and borderline ludicrous experiences in the likes of Syria and Yemen.
This quest didn’t just require the physical and mental strength to run, but the strength of mind to trust your instincts and some distinctly shady people just to even get into some of these countries, let alone then find somewhere to run 26 miles. In fact this is a book of contrasts. Between developed and developing countries, between hot (running in 59 degree heat anyone?) and cold, between sleeping in luxury hotels and disused buildings, between a smooth marathon course and having to find any old patch of land to run on, and the contrast of experiencing all of the emotions imaginable between hope and despair.
It’s easy to see why Butter is a sought-after motivational speaker, as I doubt anyone could read this book and not be inspired to be a better person or to put one’s mind to something ‘useful’ and out of the ordinary. It will be fascinating to see where he goes next and what he can do to top the achievements of raising so much money for a fantastic cause, not to mention the feat of those 196 marathons.
‘Running the World’ by Nick Butter is published by Bantam Press, £14.99 paperback