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Caz and Ali Take on the Great Wall of China!

There's not many challenges bigger than the Great Wall of China Marathon, so when Caz Barnes and Ali Fisher decided to take it on to raise money for our charity, we were delighted. The pair raised over £3,000 and had a brilliant experience, which Caz describes below:
 
"With a fair few miles already under our belts, or you could say well-worn trainers, Ali and I yearned for a fresh challenge. We needed something which would push our abilities, both mental and physical, to the very limits. Searching the net whilst on a long night shift at work, a little tired and with our thought processes perhaps a little irrational, we came across the following:
 
‘5,164 steps into history! The Great Wall Marathon is considered as one of the world's most challenging marathons. Run the most demanding marathon of your life along one of mankind's greatest monuments.’
 
Well that was it - as soon as registration was open, our flights and hotel were booked, visa applications were in and currency was ordered. We were off to experience one of the most awe-inspiring destinations in the world and run on the Great wall of China!
 
We spent the following months running up and down the steepest hills in Norfolk and Lincolnshire - which was no mean feat just trying to find some! 
 
Undertaking a challenge such as this, we thought, shouldn’t go unnoticed or unrewarded, so we decided that we needed to support a charity with our endeavours.
We wanted a local charity to benefit from our fundraising efforts and The Benjamin Foundation caught our eye. We got in touch and Event Coordinator Jessica kindly invited us to visit Butterfly House in Kings Lynn where we met Andy who manages the house. We were impressed with the facilities provided and were amazed at the outstanding work the team achieve in supporting the residents. We knew we had made the right choice and were motivated to raise as much money as possible!
 
Along with the fundraising and Sunday morning 5am starts for marathon training, life goes on and Ali had the unenvious task of moving furniture into a new house. A disagreement with a chest of drawers resulted in a broken toe only a couple of weeks before we were due to fly to China. Hopping around at work on one foot and unable to squeeze her poorly swollen toe into a trainer it wasn’t looking hopeful but Ali was adamant she would be ok on the day. With a week to go we had arranged a 27-mile trail race which we elected that perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea and we should just do the 15-mile route instead. Limping across the finishing line, a pained grimace was replaced with a jubilant grin and Ali was confident 5,164 steps weren’t going to be a problem!
 
The following week we were in China! We had booked through a sports tour agency and a week of sightseeing in and around Beijing had already been arranged for us. On the first day we met our guide for the week, Nancy, who was brilliant. By the end of the week we knew all about the Chinese culture, history, dynasties, politics and cuisine. She even taught us a few words of the Chinese language so we could say hello and thank you to all Chinese supporters who turned out to support us on race day. 
 
Our third day in China involved a trip to the Great Wall of China to see what we had let ourselves in for. The excitement mounted as we left the thick smog of Beijing and the mountains loomed in front of us. This was it, we were going to walk on the wall! On arrival we were given a race brief to let us know what to expect on the day and were given the chance to purchase race memorabilia. Equipped with new race T-shirts, caps and raincoats as the heavens opened, we were let loose on the wall. We were not disappointed as the rain cleared and the views emerged spectacularly in front of us as we climbed the steps up and up. Our achy legs were soon forgotten as we marvelled at the scenery and race day could not come soon enough.
 
Another day of sightseeing ensued with a trip to see the Ming tombs which involved a lot of walking to loosen off our stiff legs. That evening we had headed off to a Chinese restaurant where every dish we were given had chillies in it so required plenty of beer to wash it down. Perhaps not the best preparation for the worlds hardest marathon but another good night had with our fellow marathon runners.
 
The alarm sounded at 4am. It was race day and we were up at the crack of dawn so we could start in the cooler hours. Temperatures often climb well into the 30’s so it made sense to begin the race early. We arrived at the wall and were welcomed with music playing…what’s that tune, it sounds familiar? Jingle Bells? It can’t be? Who’d have thought it, Jingle Bells being played by a Chinese brass band in May! It certainly set a good atmosphere and we were then treated to a performance of the Hacker by the New Zealand marathon participants. As we lined up for the start another rendition of Jingle Bells blasted out of the speakers then 10,9,8…….3,2,1 and we were off to run the wall for the first time that day.
 
We had a 6-hour cut off time to complete 21 miles which would put us back on the wall for the second time. The plan was to walk the first wall section and then run once we dropped back down to pass through the Chinese countryside and several picturesque villages. This was ok until the temperatures soared into the low 30s and we slowed to a run/walk. The locals were fantastic and cheered us on with the children giving us hand-picked bouquets of flowers. This spurred us on to dig deep and we reached the cut off with 10 minutes to spare and were given a wristband to prove we had conquered the wall for a second time that day. A steep climb up what is known as the Goat Trail loomed ominously and we began the ascent, passing lots of weary people on the way.
 
At the top we seemed to get a second wind and with only 40 minutes and 5km still left to complete before the final 8-hour cut off, we knew we had to get a move on. 7 hours 57 minutes and 30 seconds later we were jubilantly clutching our medals and posing for the camera. Mission accomplished! We had done it, 5,164 steps into history, we had conquered the Great Wall of China Marathon.
 
We met some truly inspirational people on our travels including a lady who at the age of 72 completed the marathon in only 5 hours 23 minutes. We ran some of the way with a blind man and his guide and witnessed a lady running the wall on blades. Proof enough that you can achieve anything you put your mind too…. even with a broken toe. We just need to decide on the next amazing challenge..."
 
Thank you to Caz and Ali for sharing their story and for raising a fantastic amount of money to support our charity.
 
 

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