Nick Butter: About Those 196 Marathons

With locals in Libya. Photo: Nick Butter

In January 2018, Nick Butter set out to run a marathon in all 196 countries. He finally completed his 674-day experiment in endurance last month in, appropriately, Greece, where marathons began. Now back home in his native UK, he admits that the sedentary life feels “a bit odd for him”. He spoke with ExplorersWeb about some of the highlights and low points.

His most difficult marathon

In Bangladesh, he suffered a horrifying case of food poisoning and a subsequent kidney infection. This wasn’t the only time he ran 42km while feeling ill — “I had 22 marathons with food poisoning overall and I got through them,” he said — but this “very painful, very hot and smelly” run was the worst of them. “I think I threw up 20 times,” he recalled.

Bangladesh made him battle-hardened and mentally stronger for the rest of the expedition. He also became more aware of his weakness — being impatient and losing his temper when things didn’t go well. 

The worst of the rest

The extreme heat of Djibouti, Kuwait and Iran — where he ran in 60°C with minimal water —  pushed him to new limits, as did the -25°C cold snap in winter Toronto, during his Canadian leg. Back-to-back marathons and injuries like dog bites and leg infections also discouraged him at times. For 354 days — roughly one in two — he needed painkillers to keep going.

Danger

Strife-torn areas in the Middle East and Africa added a different challenge: danger. In Somalia, Syria and Lebanon, there were attacks, protests and “deaths on the same road I was on just the day before”.

His scariest moment? Crossing into Yemen at night flanked by buildings riddled with bullet holes. He was less afraid of individual attacks than he was about government threats and simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Puckered feet in Micronesia. Photo: Nick Butter

Logistical endurance

But the most challenging part was the expedition itself. Imagine the logistics of getting to 196 countries, each with its distinctive red tape. Even linking flights together and acquiring visas was an adventure. The expedition cost £1 million in total: a combination of personal savings, loans, donations and sponsorships. This covered 10 passports, 455 flights (55 of which were cancelled), 120 visas, 15 pairs of shoes, security, insurance and accommodation. 

In Tonga. Photo: Nick Butter

In most places, hoards of well-wishers gathered to support him however they could, despite not having much themselves.

Currently, he is compiling these experiences into a book and planned speaking tour, which includes, believe it or not, running a marathon once a week. In 2021, after a comparatively low-key year, he will launch another expedition, but Butter is keeping the details to himself for now.

About the Author

Kristine De Abreu

Kristine De Abreu

Kristine is a travel writer and editorial assistant from Trinidad and Tobago.

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