The beautiful setting of Sherwood Pines at Edwinstowe is all set to host an event inspired by a man who pulled off the amazing feat of running 401 marathons in 401 days.
Thousands are expected to descend on the forest park this coming Saturday and Sunday when the 401 Nottingham Festival of Running takes place there for the first time.
But all will have on their minds Ben Smith, a 36-year-old from Bristol, who transformed his life through running and then took his love for the sport to new, unprecedented heights.
As a child, Smith was bullied at school. As a young adult, he suffered badly from depression, and led a desperately unhealthy lifestyle. His diet was unwholesome, he smoked 40 cigarettes a day and his weight ballooned to 17-and-a-half stone.
Smith’s wake-up call came when he suffered a mini-stroke at the age of 29. But a year later, a friend took him to a running club, and he hasn’t looked back since.
“I remember there were more people that looked like me than proper runners,” he said. “I struggled at first, but it was as if a fire had been lit in my stomach.”
After six months, Smith took part in his first half-marathon. In 2013, came his first full marathon, at Brighton, and in 2014, he tackled 18 marathons all over the world.
However, he was hungry for more and, in 2015, he concocted the remarkable 401 challenge. He sold all his belongings and bought a camper van to complete his 401 marathons across the country.
He received such astonishing support en route that £330,000 was raised for anti-bullying charities. It was an inspirational project that had a profound impact on thousands, who ran alongside him or sent him letters of support.
But even such a monumental achievement wasn’t enough. Smith said: “I couldn’t leave it there. Too much had changed in both my life and those of everyone affected by the challenge.”
So, the 401 Foundation was formed. A organisation committed to supporting grasssroots community projects that help build self-esteem. And at the heart of the Foundation are 401 festivals of running at venues all over the UK, including Sherwood Pines where this weekend’s event is designed to cater for everyone, whether you are a beginner or a seasoned runner.
Adult races will include a half-marathon, 10K and 5K, plus the famous Festival Challenge over the marathon distance of 26.2 miles.
There will also be four races for children, as well as entertainment and refreshments for all the family.
An organiser summed up the event’s appeal by saying: “Whether you are first or last over the finish line, you’ll be greeted by a smile or even a hug. We want you to go away with your confidence boosted and feeling great about yourself because, after all, that’s what running is all about.”
No doubt Ben Smith is nodding his head in agreement.