Top 10 Expeditions of 2019: #8: Nick Butter’s Marathons

Over the last 12 months, ExplorersWeb has documented incredible adventures in climbing, cycling, running, walking, skiing and anything involving force of will and dedication to a dream in the outdoors. As this year comes to a close, we present our countdown of the Top 10 Expeditions of 2019.

Let’s talk about resilience. For just under two years, Nick Butter has run a marathon every three and a half days. The physical toll of running 196 marathons in 674 days would break most of us. But Butter didn’t only run 196 marathons, he did so in 196 countries. That meant hundreds of flights, constantly shifting time zones and more hours in airports than most of us will spend in a lifetime. His feat is an interesting one; made possible by modern technology, heaps of money, a dedicated logistics team, and extreme physical and mental fortitude.

The adventure aspect of Butter’s achievement is minor – travel, even to the least visited countries on earth, is easier than ever before. His visits to each country were whistle stops, outside of holiday breaks in familiar stops like the United States, New Zealand and Australia. Butter sometimes spent less than 24 hours in a country. Sometimes, he would fly in, transfer to a hotel and then run 42km around their carpark before jumping back on a flight.

It wasn’t all carparks. Butter runs through Charyn Canyon in Kazakhstan. Photo: Nick Butter

This constant movement only adds to the struggle. Anyone who has spent time transferring through obscure airports on limited sleep can relate. You’re tired, sore, mentally out of it and you probably haven’t just finished a marathon. You almost certainly won’t be running another one as soon as you hop off the plane in Libya.

Somehow, Butter stayed sane and healthy following this regime for nearly two years. One significant injury could have derailed his record attempt for months, undoing complicated flight schedules, visa allowances and hotel bookings.

Butter’s achievement is extraordinary, but his logistics team should receive credit too. Butter worked his way through 10 passports and 120 visas during his journey. His support group solved bureaucratic hurdles for “problem” countries like Syria, Yemen and South Sudan. That it all came together so seamlessly (Butter finished right on schedule, in November 2019) is mind-bending.

Butter’s final run finished in the Panathenaic Stadium of Athens, the birthplace of the marathon. Photo: Nick Butter

Of all our top expeditions, Butter’s was the hardest to appropriately rank. It was extraordinary, but often mundane. It was unprecedented, but perhaps with good reason. It was a feat of endurance and logistical planning that recalls Nirmal Purja’s rapid assault on the world’s highest peaks. Like Purja’s record, it may divide opinion.