239 marathons in 2013. That’s the current Guinness World Record for the most marathons completed in a year: 6,266 miles. In 2023 Ben Pobjoy set out to walk 240 marathons all over the world, and every mile will be tracked in the ASICS Runkeeper app.
How did Ben find himself undertaking this massive challenge? The catalyst was starting a new job in a new city with a team of younger people that had a completely different outlook on health. “I experienced a generational collision. They were going to spin and pilates, and I just wanted to get a drink.” Ben began to notice how his own lifestyle was negatively affecting his health and weight, realizing he had to turn his life around. “I befriended a young woman who was very nice. I asked, ‘How do you do all this stuff?’ She replied: ‘Apps!’ She recommended an app to track my food and the Runkeeper app.”
But this is the Runkeeper app? Why walk?
Just like running, walking has been shown to enhance cardiovascular fitness and strengthen bones and muscles. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight and improve overall mental well-being. It’s a lower-impact alternative to running and just as easy to track on the app.
Growing up in Canada, Ben was fairly active, playing hockey and soccer. But as an adult, he found himself too embarrassed to go to the gym. The mirrors, the mysterious machines, and his body image were all detractors. Ben found that by walking, he could blend into the normalcy of a big city while exercising. “I was so out of shape that simple, easy movement was all I could do,” he remembers. “This was a last-ditch effort. I’m gonna go slow to really commit, and then slow became longer, faster, further.”
He started by setting a challenging, long-term goal for himself. “My new year’s resolution in 2015 was to walk the year in kilometers, 2015 km by the end of the year.” Logging each kilometer in the app. “It was instrumental in helping me lose 100 lbs in 8 months. The Runkeeper app is an incredibly powerful tool.”
As time went on, Ben started finding motivation in the app. “The app gamified exercise. This week was 10 km at this pace. Next week can I do 12? Can I go longer? It’s an external measure of ‘Can I go further?’. Before I saw the results in the mirror, I could see the invisible results in the app. That was the ‘carrot on a stick’ that helped me sustain my journey.” And 2015 km was just the beginning for him. “I just never stopped. I’ve used [the app] since 2015 to track more than 70,000 km around the world, over six continents. It’s the one app I’d never delete from my phone.”
Personal goals to world records
In 2020, he set a lofty goal of walking 10,000 km by the end of the year. He failed, coming up short by 259 km, but that didn’t stop him. Reflecting on his journey, he wrote: “While my previous attempt was an objective failure, it wasn’t all for naught. A journey can be as significant as the destination. Really, the journey (regardless of how bumpy or turbulent it may be) can actually be a welcome escape from one’s point of departure; which can be anything from a place like Toronto to a bad state of mind or a diminished state of being.”
So, he tried again. In 2021, Ben successfully walked 10,000 km, completing 174 marathons in that time and tracking it all in the Runkeeper app.
“As a joke,” he says, “I submitted my stats to the Guinness Book of World Records as the most marathons tracked on an app.” They wrote him back and communicated that his provincial classification was too niche but encouraged him to go for the world record. So he went “global” on his Marathon Earth Challenge; 240 marathons walked all over the world in 2023.
Since starting his journey in Canada, Ben has completed marathons in 37 countries. Already halfway done, Ben has walked throughout the Americas, Western Europe, and Northern Africa. Ben still has marathons left in Southwest Asia as well as Northern and Eastern Europe.
Walking for mind and body
Through his journey, Ben has crafted his own definition for the ASICS mantra: A Sound Mind In A Sound Body. “It’s unencumbered movement through the physical world…done free of worry, and full of inspiring sights and scenes.”
More than just physical activity, Ben has found walking has impacted his state of mind. “Walking allows me to move through the world with my cameras, where I can discover a lot of magical moments that I couldn’t experience any other way. I find a lot of inspiration in the world. It takes you off the internet. There’s a lot of magic out there: big towns, small towns, everywhere. I’ve seen incredible acts of kindness, these really human moments of charity…When you see that, it inspires you.”
“There’s an empathy for the human condition that grows out of spending that much time experiencing.” While living in Toronto, Ben has started using his daily walks as an opportunity to hand out sandwiches along his route. “I wasn’t fixing a systemic issue, but there were people relying on me for a meal.”
How can you start your own fitness journey? “You have to find something that works, that you find fun,” he says. “Exercise is like a bad word, too. People don’t associate it with fun. They equate it with suffering. So find something fun. I always feel better when I come back from my walk.”
Ben recognizes that almost daily marathons walked across the world are not for everyone, but he still encourages everyone to get out there and find their own routine. “I don’t have regrets, but I wish I had started sooner. If you are already down and out, what do you have to lose? It’s just taking that first step. You have to be ready to do it as well. You gotta start when you wanna start. And when you do, go slowly, to go far.”
Ben has more than earned his unicorn emoji in the app, which he’s quite proud of.
Follow Ben on his journey
You can follow Ben’s journey in the app (click this link from your mobile device or search his name in the app) and through social media, where he posts his progress and photos. Sign up for his weekly Marathon Earth Challenge newsletter, which he publishes every Saturday morning. Or you can take Ben’s advice and set a Runkeeper Goal for yourself; who knows how far you’ll go?