Footnote N°07

Being consequent is often perceived as a bit crazy - this insight surfaced during a recent, somewhat nebulous bar conversation. 'Crazy' is likely a term that has been used to describe Ben Pobjoy. He just completed 242 marathons in 70 countries within a single year. Ben is an explorer, adventurer, and wanderer who has travelled the globe for his passion.

Photography by Ben Pobjoy

Amman, Jordan

NEAR EARTH — Hi Ben, could you provide a brief explanation of your project and share the hard facts?

BEN POBJOY — In 2023, I self-organized and self-funded the Marathon Earth Challenge. This solo, unsupported, DIY, and road crew-less project was done on a lark — with no corporate sponsorship money whatsoever — to playfully surpass the Guinness World Record for most marathons in most countries in a calendar year. I ended up visiting nearly 70 countries and doing 242 freestyle marathons (through streets, back alleys, trails, and whatever else). Essentially, I did 11,465 kilometres by foot in total, with an elevation climb of nearly 132,000 metres…which is akin to scaling Mount Everest nearly 15 times. Breaking it down further, I averaged 4.66 marathons a week and/or 220 kilometres by foot each week. Logistically, the Marathon Earth Challenge was quite complex; 75 flights, nearly 140,000 kilometres flown, 5 boats taken to countries, and almost 300 nights abroad staying in very modest accommodations. It was an expensive project, but very threadbare and frugal in the day-to-day.

Ben in Tokyo

"[…] The world is my muse, I’m genuinely excited to trek it each and every day."

NE — A marathon is a huge accomplishment, congratulations are certainly in order - in your case x242, holy cow! Running distance is wild for your mind. People deal with it in many different ways, some seek distraction by listening to something, some want to conserve mental energy and some prefer to take it all in. How do you mentally approach a marathon, and has this mindset evolved over the course of the project?

BP — Prior to this project — like, from 2015 to 2022 — I had already done 600 freestyle marathons / 63,000 kilometres by foot across six continents... so all the physical and mental stuff was dialled in. Oddly, I'm not a course racer or a runner or an athlete, and I don’t care about speed or pace. Rather, I’m an explorer and adventurer and wanderer… and the freestyle marathon just happens to be the best creative medium for plodding along and documenting the human condition. Runners see me as a walker, walkers maybe see me as a jogger, and the world probably sees me as someone striding hurriedly like they need a toilet ASAP. Basically, my interest resides in covering as much ground as possible by foot — with a pen and camera in tow — to make myself available to magic or serendipity or interesting interactions with humans. As such, my approach to marathons is to go slow to go far, and operate like a vacuum… not go fast, whizz by things, and risk blowing-out my body. Because the world is my muse, I’m genuinely excited to trek it each and every day… so it provides the motivation. The mind is unreliable, so I pay no mind to mindset. The world? It provides… thus it is offers the ‘calling’ to go out there and trek; whether I feel good or bad in mind, body or spirit. I don’t know anything about mindset, I just operate on vibes and curiosity.

"I don't know anything about mindset, I just operate on vibes and curiosity."

NE - Digesting such a big project is a task of its own. Have you already returned to everyday life?

BP - My project was contained within a calendar year so it had a hard stop. Furthermore, it was both a massive privilege to be able to do – done by quitting my job, selling my things, spending my savings, and ditching my rental apartment – and it was obviously the adventure of a lifetime overall. As such, it’ll be something I’ll always savour… rather than mourn. Do I wish I could be a full-time adventurer? Of course! However, I lack the entrepreneurial savvy that people like Craig Mod and Rickey Gates possess. Basically, I’m a regular person, I got to do an extraordinary thing, and now it’s back to regular life. Like, my most pressing issue now is getting a job — LOL — so I can’t act like I have the time for some type of transitional come-down. All that said - in 2023 - it was as though I traveled through space and time and all of human civilization… and I am still processing things seen, and things felt. That? It’ll definitely take some time to unpack.

Thousands of Kilometers later, a pair of The Distance Running Socks, taped to a wall with two oranges inside them.

NE — The Near Earth brand story is inspired by the Egyptian tale of Apophis, recounting his ceaseless conflict with the sun god Ra and symbolizing the cosmic struggle between order and chaos. As runners, we certainly know the feeling of trying to be consistent and then all of a sudden getting attacked by the god of chaos. Do you have a good story from last year where you found yourself battling chaos?

BP — Chaos is subjective. For me, chaos would be finding myself in the middle of a natural disaster or a full-blown war…and I’ve experienced neither. However, I was robbed, jumped, insulted, harassed, and had things hurled at me on the Marathon Earth Challenge, and that’s just how things go; if you sign-up for adventure, you must surrender to the full spectrum of what adventure is, and can be. Others may have found my project chaotic - from the schedule to the fuckery on the streets- but it didn’t register with me as that. Simply, some days had problems, and the onus was on me to quickly and decisively solve those problems.

"[…] Leisurely taking a walk, hike, jog or run - for pleasure - is a very real privilege that few people around the world have."

NE — This could be an evening-long conversation. Do you have any recommendations for people eager to learn more, perhaps a podcast you'd like to share or your own channels?

BP — I chronicled the Marathon Earth Challenge each and every week last year by way of a newsletter… where I wrote nearly 230,000 words about my experience and shared nearly 770 photographs of things seen. The newsletter archive is online and can be found here, free to peruse. Ha ha, I’m hesitant to recommend podcasts I’ve done… because I’m a rambling mess… but the recent conversation I had with the Toronto Star newspaper in Canada — where I was interviewed by a real journalist — is probably the most cogent.

Asunción, Paraguay

NEAR EARTH — With all the miles you covered in 2023, what do you take from that, how does it shape your approach to running moving forward?

BP — The Marathon Earth Challenge demonstrated to me that we can do hard things. And I’m not inspired by what I did per se, but by what I know resides in the human spirit. That said, I also moved through many places around the world that are defined by absolute hardship… and it was a continual reminder that leisurely taking a walk, hike, jog or run — like, for pleasure — is a very real privilege that few people around the world have. So if you have the means - and live somewhere where you can safely advance this bipedal pursuit - be grateful and cherish this wonderful pastime! Oh, and all of us in the endurance sports space need to do a better job of converting our physical movement into social movement - because exercise is largely self-serving. My one big regret is lacking the courage to have used my project to fundraise for a charitable organization… because I was unsure if I could actually complete my project… and thus didn’t want to bail on an organization. As such, I’m looking forward to doing future marathon projects where I do a way better job at fundraising… because I’d selfishly love to marathon every country on the planet before I die, and make the world a tiny bit better when doing so.