In March, passionate ultramarathoner Joe Benbow was training for his next big race when COVID-19 changed everything. Following his last pre-lockdown run with friends, he decided he wouldn’t let lockdown keep him – and fellow Kiwis – down.

With major running events cancelled, he took inspiration from fundraising distance runners like Mal Law and set his own challenge: the Door2Door Ultra 2020 marathon. 

He committed to raise $1,000 for the Mental Health Foundation by running 85km, or about two marathon distances, from his home in Karori to the family bach in Te Horo Beach.

The Wellington-based family man and actuarial contractor used the quiet lockdown period to train for the run – without ever leaving his bubble or his neighbourhood!

Once New Zealanders could move more freely in Alert Level 2, Joe dug deep and completed the race with support from friends, family and even passers-by.

Running for strong mental health

Running is Joe’s passion. It helps him release stress.

“It’s a good way to get out and sort problems in your head.” 

Joe could see that lockdown would change daily life – and that would be challenging for some people.

“I realised that a lot of people would be struggling during lockdown because they can’t leave their homes to do things that give them strong mental health, like exercising, socialising and working.

“I could see that mental health support needs would rise in the near future and I was keen to support the cause.”

Fundraising for the Mental Health Foundation was a natural choice, because throughout his life he’s seen family and friends struggle with mental wellbeing..

“I’ve always known how important strong mental health really is. Everyone needs a lot of outside support to get through – you can’t do it alone.”

Hitting the trail and digging deep

On 30 May, Joe set out to complete the 85km route – a solo off-road run on quiet trails and backroads including Karori’s Skyline trail and Paekākāriki Escarpment Track, with a final run along the beach to the finish line.

Joe describes himself as “bloody minded, determined and goal-oriented”, traits that helped him through the most challenging parts of the run.

“There are something like 1200 steps on the Escarpment Track. It’s tough. But there was no way I was going to quit or give up once I started the run.” 

Support from others made the day more enjoyable. Friends ran parts of the route with him, family members met him along the way with supplies and passers-by called out encouraging comments.

“Never take your community for granted – whether it’s your immediate ‘bubble’, friends, neighbours or passers-by.”

“Thanks to my family that supported me along the way with supplies, the runners that came along for parts of the run and everybody who donated. It was a solo run but a real team effort – I couldn’t have achieved it alone.”

To help pass the time, he listened to music and made Facebook Live videos along lonelier stretches of the route. The videos spurred another wave of donations that brought his fundraising total to $1,700, well above his $1,000 goal.

“I was stunned by the amount raised. And blown away by how generous everyone was, in what is currently a very uncertain time.”

Is a bigger challenge ahead?

Joe enjoyed the race and may set himself an even larger challenge in the future. 

“Never say never. I’ve been so inspired by other runners like Mal that I may do something even bigger in the future – and would definitely do it for charity.” 

“The run was a really rewarding experience for me, but more importantly it raised funds that will do so much to help others.”

If you’re looking to set your own challenge, you can become a fundraiser for the Mental Health Foundation and help us achieve our goals. Check out our website and learn more