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Meet Nick Butter, the man who ran a marathon in every country

He has more than 800 marathons under his belt, but Nick Butter is nowhere close to the end of his running career

Photo by: Nick Butter

Just a few years ago, Nick Butter was living comfortably working as a banker in the U.K. For most people, his life would have been a dream. Financial security, an established career and the promise of a bright future. For Butter, though, something was missing, so he left that life behind to pursue one of adventure that literally took him around the world. In November 2019, he completed a 674-day trip that started in Canada and ended in Greece, hitting every other country in the world in between and running a marathon in each one. This challenge, which saw him run 196 marathons (some at official races, others on his own), was just the start of Butter’s adventurous lifestyle, and he has a lot more planned for the years to come. 

Butter runs on a quiet road in the African nation of Lesotho. Photo: Nick Butter

Finding inspiration 

Butter’s life changed in 2016, when he was in Morocco racing the Marathon des Sables, a gruelling six-day ultramarathon through the Sahara Desert. It was during this race that he met Kevin Webber, a fellow Brit. The two got to know each other, and Butter soon learned that Webber was living with terminal prostate cancer. When diagnosed in 2014, Webber’s doctors had told him that he likely had two years left to live, yet there he was, running 250K in the Moroccan desert. At first, Butter couldn’t understand how someone in Webber’s situation could be so full of life and seem so content, but then he realized that it was because Webber was truly living rather than wasting time doing things he didn’t enjoy. 

Meeting Webber and hearing about his life made Butter want to change his own. “Kevin told me not to wait for something horrendous to happen before making a change,” Butter says. With Webber’s words echoing in his head, Butter quit his job and decided he would do something to help Webber and other people living with prostate cancer, which kills more than 11,000 men each year in the U.K. alone. While he had decided on a cause to support, Butter had no idea how he could raise money. What he did know, he says, was that whatever he chose had to be a big, noteworthy undertaking in order to garner enough media attention to have a shot at hitting his fundraising goal of £250,000 (C$433,000) for Prostate Cancer UK. 

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“The idea to run in every country really came out of a simple Google search,” he says. “It was long enough, hard enough and no one had ever done it. Plus, it was big enough to get press for the charity.” He spent the next two years planning for the trip — finding support, booking travel arrangements, figuring out where and when he would go. Finally, after years of preparation, he started his challenge, aptly dubbed Running the World, on a characteristically cold January day in Toronto in 2018. 

Butter runs with children in Naime, Niger. Photo: Nick Butter

Running the World 

Running a marathon in every country sounds exhausting, and Butter agrees that it was, but not because of the runs themselves. In fact, he says the running was the easiest part of the trip thanks to his background in ultrarunning and literally hundreds of marathons under his belt (as of early 2021 he has completed 828). “I had no intention of doing the marathons quickly,” he says. “I just love to run and love to do it at my own pace.”

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With no time constraints or self-imposed pressure for the marathons, Butter felt free when running. The marathons gave him an escape from the many challenges he faced throughout his 196-country journey, from visa and passport issues, difficulties crossing over certain borders (he had to bribe many border officers to get into their countries), planning his flights and, of course, worrying about his finite and ever-dwindling cashflow.

Butter celebrates at the finish line of the Athens Marathon alongside Webber (right). Photo: Nick Butter

While the marathons were opportunities for Butter to destress ahead of the next leg of his trip, they weren’t all hiccup-free. “I had 22 different bouts of food poisoning,” he says. “I was bitten by a dog. I had a tooth infection. I was mugged at knifepoint.” The list goes on, and now, more than a year later, Butter recalls these incidents nonchalantly, sounding more like he’s describing a cramp that bugged him at Mile 20 of a marathon rather than severely uncomfortable and dangerous situations.

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But like all runners chasing personal goals, Butter remained determined to complete what he set out to do. After he overcame an obstacle, he would forge ahead, focus on catching his flight to the next country and be ready to toe the start line of his next marathon. 

After 674 days of travel and 195 marathons, Butter crossed the finish line of his final race, the Athens Marathon in Greece, with Webber — who is still alive today, seven years after being told he only had two years left — by his side. Butter is the only person to have completed a marathon in every country, and his feat was ratified as a Guinness World Record shortly after he completed the project. His fundraiser for Prostate Cancer UK is still open for donations, and he has raised more than C$250,000 so far.

Butter finishes his marathon in Nepal. Photo: Nick Butter

Pursuing adventure 

What’s next for Butter? He may have completed his Running the World challenge, but he has no plans to return to the world of finance or any other “traditional” lifestyle. He and his partner live in a van, travelling around Europe, and he recently completed another running project he called the Italian Grand Tour. This challenge took him from the north of Italy to the south, zig-zagging across the country and running 100 marathons in 100 days. He had plans to run a similar project running north to south in Malawi in Africa, but that was cancelled due to the pandemic. 

Next on his list (assuming he’s permitted to travel to each country, which is dependent on COVID-19 restrictions) are runs from the top to the bottom of New Zealand, a circumnavigation of Iceland, the Malawi challenge and a circumnavigation of Bali. These are all set for the first half of 2021, and in the final few months of the year, he has a speaking tour planned (which could bring him to Canada). Finally, he has a new book out, titled Running the World, that details his journey running 196 marathons in 196 countries. 

To learn more about Butter, visit his website and to check out his book. Anyone interested in supporting Prostate Cancer UK can view Butter’s fundraiser here.