Lots of people ask me ‘What are the biggest obstacles you face planning the ‘Running The World 196’ expedition?’
So how do you plan an around the world trip successfully?
My answer is always: I have no idea. Not a clue. But… I want it enough, so with a little faith and commitment, a lot of help from some of the most amazing people I will get there. It’s only 36 days away now.
Shameless plug before we get into this post
Remember, this trip is to raise £250,000 for Prostate Cancer UK. If you can spare some cash, all the money raised will go through Just Giving, and you can give by texting ‘NRTW89 £10 to 70070’.
When you set out to plan anything, be it a weekend break, building a house, or just what you’re doing on a particular day, most people have a general idea of what it will take to reach their goal. And, like most great plans, everyone (or most) thinks they know 90% of what will be required, and in this case, I thought I had a basic grasp… I was probably 90% wrong. Looking back, I had close to 10% understanding.
I had the idea to run a marathon in every country in the world nearly two years ago. My initial thoughts were, ‘It’s going to cost a fortune’ and ‘Is it even possible?’… and then my mind quickly turned to giving myself enough time to get everything in place. I couldn’t allow myself to get too excited and try to start the trip too soon.
Fast forward nearly 680 days – and I’m just 36 days away from setting out. My aim is understood… to run a marathon in every country on the planet, and in the process, raise £250,000 for Prostate Cancer UK, in support of my mate Kev. You can read more about Kev here… https://www.nickbutter.com/kevla
The one thing I now understand about planning, which I didn’t fully appreciate when I worked as a project manager, is that no matter how much money, how much time and how much effort, it is rare to be in a position where everything fits together nicely, where estimates are correct, and the time available is just right.
In very simple terms, it turns out that I had no idea what it would take to organise a trip like this. And the harsh truth is, I still don’t. Ask me again in a year or so and I’ll be able to tell you how far off the mark I was.
So what has been the biggest challenge so far?
There are four main areas to the trip: funding, logistics, media, and performance. Funding is funding… all things sponsors, bankrupting myself and just how little per day I’ll be spending. Under the logistics banner, I have travel, accommodation, visas, safety, communication, insurance and kit. Media-wise, I have production, social media content, school appearances and speaking gigs, sponsors and conventional media like written articles and TV. Performance is more focused on health, injury, contingency, nutrition, medicals and psychology.
All of these things are important, but some depend on others, and the main problem I found was balance. On the one hand, I needed to find sponsorship while continuing to fish around down the back of my sofa for spare cash, but I couldn’t spend all my time doing that because I’d have no idea where the money would be spent or how long the trip would take. About a year into planning this trip a friend of mine, Jeff Smith (from the legendary non-profit organisation bigmoose) persuaded me that maybe I couldn’t do this on my own and that I needed help. So then I started to formally build a team, a team I couldn’t afford to pay or to explain everything too. I had no choice. And in hindsight this was the best decision I have made in the last two years. Thanks Jeff. You may think it’s crazy to not even think about forming a team after a year into the planning; the reality is, though, that I wouldn’t have been able to give them any direction. It felt a bit like trying to piece together a puzzle, in the dark, without any idea of what the final picture would look like, with the added frustration of every now and then someone coming along and knocking the puzzle off the table and adding another 1,000 pieces.
I had no idea just how complex this would be. But I’ve loved it, and these last two years have taught me so much. I may even miss this planning stage…
Here are some of the ‘highlights’ of the past two years’ planning.
Problem 1: Can I actually visit every country in the world?
Answer: Yes, but as most of you will know, there are a few politically conflicting countries, so what happens if I have a stamp in my passport and then an opposing country doesn’t like it, and refuses me entry? Thanks to the fantastic work of visa company Universal Visas we managed to find a work-around involving multiple passports, a detailed route, a few trips back to the UK to swap passports, and lots of letters to embassies and the Foreign Office.
Problem 2: Can I afford it?
Answer: No. Simple. In total the trip will cost about £200,000, all in. Which is approximately £199,999 too much. The way I’ve found funding has been piecemeal to say the least – lots of small bits of support from lots of very helpful and kind people and companies. I’ve sent about 20,000 emails, and Ali (my PA) has probably sent even more. Invariably the answer is often ‘Thanks, great challenge, but no.’ So thank you to all those who believe in this project and want to make a difference to Prostate Cancer UK, and indeed, hopefully inspire thousands of kids around the world to get outside and be active. My final thoughts on this – anyone else who is attempting anything, with funding or otherwise, the best asset is your mouth. Speak to people, speak to lots of people, make time, always say thank you, and never forget the bigger picture. I am beyond privileged, and chances are, so are you.
Problem 3: Climate and kit. Do I take hold luggage or just a small cabin bag? Sometimes the temperature is going to be –40°C, sometimes +50°C. I won’t be able to fit all my clothes in one bag, will I?
Answer: This took me a while to figure out. With over 220 flights to take, hold luggage is expensive, especially on planes that only have eight seats, like some of those I’ll be travelling into the smaller islands around the world. So it was decided – one bag, big enough, but small enough to be allowed on most planes. All items must be flight-friendly, and I couldn’t afford any ‘nice to haves’. My bag currently consists of 54 items (you’ll be able to read about this soon, on upcoming posts). As for the climate… this is a little more difficult. The only way around this that doesn’t result in me returning home every week is to use courier companies like DHL, Fed Ex and UPS. You can imagine how the spreadsheet looks. I’ve split the trip into four different kit types. Kit A is standard temperature (around 15-25°C) and rainfall. Kit B is hot/humid (>25°C). Kit C cold (<5°C) and kit D is wet (areas with the top 5% rainfall in the world). There will be around 40 kit drops throughout the 18-month trip, which also involves ferrying my nutrition, new trainers, hard drive swaps and generally a ‘pass the parcel’ affair. I could talk about this for hours. The truth is, it’s still not 100% confirmed as to how this will actually work.
Problem 4: Route – how to get to every country in the world without doubling back, wasting money or missing a nation.
Answer: Who knows; I don’t. The optimist in me thought this would actually be straightforward. But it was hard, and made more difficult by airlines around the world changing their mind virtually every week. The final position we came to was to discount certain elements, climate being one of them. While I couldn’t avoid hot or cold climates, I could plan a route that meant I wasn’t hopping from the two extremes too often. So the final route takes me from the UK to North America, down into Central America, on to South America for the entire month of March, and then across to Africa, where I’ll spend four-and-a-half months. Well actually, Africa and Europe are like a sandwich, with Africa as the bread and Europe as the filling. I am splitting Africa into two phases – phase 1 will cover 80%, I’ll then jump over to Europe, complete that in around three months, and then back to Africa (to allow enough time for the remaining visas, which can’t all be on one passport or indeed, acquired in the right time frame). Once Africa and Europe is complete I’ll travel through Asia for another three months, then down into Oceania and Antarctica. Antarctica is a problem in itself – watch out for more details on this in later posts. Hopefully, with support from the British Antarctic Survey, I will have a way in to spend a few weeks on the continent in their summer time. Anyway, as you can see… the route isn’t easy. Sometimes I have to travel on five different planes and journey thousands of miles out of my way, just to pop across a border. Borders lead me on to my last ‘problem’.
Problem 5: Security and safety. Will I be welcome, what are the risks, what if I get kidnapped, and just how dangerous is the world?
Answer: No, the world isn’t safe. Most of it is, but there are about a dozen countries that my security company have marked as ‘very high risk’. Whether that be political unrest, westerners unwanted, kidnap value etc… There’s a free tool I’ve come across called ‘Risk Map’. Here’s the link… http://www.riskmap.com See for yourself all the areas in the world that have significant issues and dangers. I can’t say too much about my safety measures, for obvious reasons, but generally, I will be looked after. I have multiple communication devices, detailed check-in protocols, and scenario-based plans. Countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Venezuela, Syria and others are areas I’ve had to take a more detailed look at. Am I worried or scared? Yes, but also no. I think I’m not as scared as I should be because I haven’t yet experienced any real threat to my life. I am also not stupid (although some friends would say I most certainly am) – I know the world isn’t all flowers and smiles, but no matter the dangers, I want this trip to transcend any political barriers and hopefully bring the world, and the running community, together.
Keep an eye on my blog while I’m away. I’ll be writing an article per country, and you can read about my trials and tribulations in real time, along with lots of videos and photos. Please take a look at my Instagram and Vimeo accounts too. My Instagram and Twitter name is nickbutterrun. On Facebook my page is Running The World 196.
Remember, this trip is to raise £250,000 for Prostate Cancer UK. If you can spare some cash, all the money raised will go through Just Giving, and you can give by texting NRTW89 and the amount (£10) to 70070.
Also please follow me on Strava you’ll get all the latest up to date stats from the trip