Running The World

My World Record Adventure to Run a Marathon in Every Country on Earth

by Nick Butter

464 pages, ★★★★☆
Finished on 30th of January, buy here.

I started following Nick from early on, because he soon appeared on my radar due to my similar 28 EU marathons project, which looked like a “5k Fun Run” in direct comparison. I contacted his team and offered to host him in Germany, but he wanted to do Berlin instead. I was asked a lot myself, if and when I would do the whole UN. For obvious reasons I never took that into consideration, having a business and a family, being afraid of the time investment and financial side of it, but was really keen to live through Nick on his journey. And what a trip it was! The book is well done, too. 

First off, why 196 countries? The UN only has 193 listed. He added The Holy See (known as Vatican City), Kosovo (not fully recognized by all other countries), and Taiwan (unclear status due to China’s position) to the list. Fun facts I didn’t know: during this journey through most of 2018 and 2019, two countries officially changed names. Would you know which? The answer: Swaziland changed to Eswatini (the name used by its people) and Macedonia changed to North Macedonia (because Macedonia is a larger region which is also located far into the North of Greece).

There were many things that got me riled up, frustrated or even angry at Nick, though. The big one is the charity he chose for which to collect money all over the world. It’s Prostate Cancer UK. Helping to collect money for charitable causes is great, no question, but this is in my opinion one of the worst possible options when you’re about to visit all countries in the world, of which about 80 percent are incredibly poor and most men don’t even make it to the age of being affected by prostate cancer. Let alone excluding half of the population here. And then, focussing on the UK only? Seriously, with that colonial history of the UK you’re trying to get money back from the poor former colonies who suffered so much by your British ancestors to make life for 60+ year olds back in the UK a bit better? Not to mention that prostate cancer itself is actually quite well researched already. It can be treated. The sad climax was a situation he mentioned in which he was going by bus through disaster-struck and very poor Haiti and talked to a female college student who was working three jobs in order to be the first one in her family to make it through college. In the end she gave him her 7 dollars for the prostate charity in the UK. How can you accept that money? It is just tone-deaf.

There are so many other charities which are so much more worthy. When the project involves traveling all over the world, how about Doctors Without Borders? Fighting climate change? Something against racism? Clean drinking water for everyone? 

Another thing was all the flying. 500 flights to get this done. Granted, he paid the full carbon offset, which is good. Still I wish he would have made environmentalism a much bigger part of the trip. Also, why the rush? Taking a few years instead of the fastest possible option would have still made the Guinness World Record, because no one has ever done it before at all. The rush resulted in him constantly complaining about being tired or in uncomfortable situations like airport immigration queues. This led me to believe he didn’t actually got to enjoy it, which is really sad given the humongous efforts it took.

Then he mentions he got bad food poisoning a total of 22 times but continues to eat the questionable undercooked meats in all the countries with sub-standard hygiene. He thinks that taking 12 different supplement pills per day would make his body stay healthy, oddly. Just one talk to a nutritional expert would have cleared that misjudgement up for him and lessened his suffering by a lot. How about not eating the weird meats but stick to rice and beans and other veggies which are basically available anywhere? Make that mistake a few times, okay, but 22 times?

The cost of it all got out of hand really quickly. He ran through his estimated and allotted budget of 100,000 pounds within the first third of the trip and was then forced to ask for money from friends and family and likely also banks. Granted, the experience, the book sales, and the speaking tours will likely make him able to pay it all back, and fair enough that travel cost estimates are usually wrong, but by that much? In the end it cost him more money than he was able to collect for the charity, and that just seems somehow wrong to me, although I can’t really put my finger on why I feel that way. I really hope he didn’t take any money meant for the charity to pay for the traveling. 

He did things like flying to NYC and Chicago for those official marathons in between the journey, even though he had already done the USA in Miami, just because he wanted to complete the six World Marathon Majors along the way, too. Seemed unnecessarily wasteful to me, and in the end it didn’t even work out because his ticket for the Tokyo marathon was somehow invalid. Oh well.

This sounds like a rant, and there’s even more to rant about. But now, the positives. I think despite all, this is a great effort and an awesome book. I would go as far as recommend it to non-runners as well. After about half of the book I got this sense of the world being such a vast and hugely diverse place that we always forget in our tiny little (quarantined) areas of living. Our world is incredible. It’s the one place we have and there is so much to discover. His journey made it possible to grasp that feeling. Think also of all the political connections and situations; just when you think you have a basic understanding of how things work, and look a bit further, it becomes clear you don’t. No one does. And that’s great, I think. The world is a place of wonder. 

I was particularly taken with his accounts of some of the Pacific Island states, especially Kiribati. Also, the kingdom of Bhutan seemed to have been very worth the trouble – it’s exceptionally difficult to travel there for tourism. In Africa, the country of Malawi stood out rather positively. And the last few countries were just a trip in its own right to read about, because he saved the hardest ones for last: Libya, Iran, Yemen, Syria. He made it to and out of all of them, which deserves lots of respect in itself. The run in the final country, Greece, birthplace of the marathon run, was just heartwarming to experience through him. The book ended right then, though. I was sad to discover there’s no reflections chapter, answering questions like “was it all worth it”, “what did I do wrong in retrospect”, “how have I changed”, “what’s my world view now”, et cetera. 

Still, this is a great book that broadens the mind and will make you feel lots of different emotions even though it’s completely non-fiction. I think the world is now a bit better because Nick Butter chose to go to every single country, run a marathon, and tell the story. 

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