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This Chinese New Year, we wanted to talk to you about a unique, inspiring and challenging event, and one very special family who set out to complete it.
The World’s Original Adventure Marathon, featuring some 5164 punishing steps, and held on what is indisputably one of the world’s most iconic landmarks, The Great Wall Marathon has made it onto the bucket list for many runners since its inception in 1999. Often billed as one of the most impressive architectural feats in history, construction on The Great Wall commenced as far back as the 7th Century BCE. Many of the most famous sections were built under the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 CE).
At one time one of the world’s most impressive and expansive defensive structures, the Great Wall now hosts in excess of 10 million visitors every year, making it one of the planet’s most popular attractions. We think that perhaps the most memorable and rewarding way to experience this marvel of human endeavor is by running the iconic Great Wall Marathon. To find out more about how you can experience this great race for yourself, see our tour page HERE.
Sonya and Robert Hughes from West-Kilbride, Scotland, wanted to demonstrate to their four foster children that ‘anything is possible if you put your mind to it’. So, they embarked on the challenge of a lifetime, and committed to run the Great Wall Marathon in China with Sports Tours International.
The Great Wall Marathon is a test of both mental toughness and physical determination. The route features a continuous climb, up 5,164 steps, in temperatures that can rise well over 25 C.
Sonya and Robert began their adoption and foster journey more than 18 years ago. They decided to adopt after suffering pre-eclampsia during the birth of their eldest child. Nicole, that child, is now a 30-year-old nurse with two children herself.
When they adopted their second child, Spencer – they instantly fell in love.
“He has an aura about him that just encapsulates you,” Sonya says.
The couple have been fostering for 18 years. Their aim is to give children the opportunity to achieve, and move onto a better life with more prospects through nurture and care.
Now parents to another four children, two girls aged 17 and 13 and two boys aged 14 and 10, Sonya and Robert wanted to prove to their children that they had unlimited potential.
Running her first marathon in 2015 in Edinburgh, Sonya was already a keen runner. Her husband Robert, however, had very little experience in the world of running.
The couple then began their training routine. It became a whole family pastime, with their children helping along the way by tracking the routes and cheering them on. They initially signed up for the half-marathon,as Sonya didn’t believe they would have time to train for the full marathon, but this all changed when they landed in China.
“We got talking to some other folks and it turned out they were all doing the full marathon.
With the fear of being outdone, my husband turned to me and said, ‘let’s do it for the kids’, so we upped our distance at registration time!”
Sonya says her children were ‘flabbergasted’, but ‘so proud’ to hear of them taking their challenge that extra step further
Throughout their journey in China, Sonya and Robert were welcomed with some incredible, authentic historical sights. One that they both enjoyed immensely was the Forbidden City and Imperial Palace, which Sonya describes as ‘magical’.
However, it was not only the sightseeing that took Sonya and Robert’s breath away. The route of the Great Wall Marathon itself is well known to be absolutely awe-inspiring.
But this marathon is not one to be taken lightly. The steep start of the race is only the beginning of one of the toughest incline runs on the marathon calendar.
“Around mile 13.6 the incline is like nothing you will ever experience! My husband ended up pulling his groin but managed to keep going until we returned to the wall around 4 miles from the finish. The doctor insisted on pulling him from the race – because his knee had gone as well!”
Although hope of finishing their challenge seemed to be fading away for the couple, doctors were able to apply a medicinal spray to Robert allowing him to soldier on and finish the run.
Sonya says she has ‘never been prouder of anyone’ after watching her ‘non-runner’ husband complete the marathon despite injury.
Turning the corner and seeing friends and family waving and shouting her name at the last mile was the highlight of the experience for Sonya. She says her children are beyond proud of their achievement.
“The children love telling all their friends and teachers that mum and dad have done the Great Wall. The little one even took the medal into school to show his friends!”
Sonya says her children have faced adversity themselves through disabilities. One of her daughters was told she’d never be able to ride a bike, and now she rides horses. Another one of her children has become the first person in their birth family to ever go into further education, despite having Meares-Irlen Syndrome and dyslexia.
Both Sonya and Robert turn 49 this year, but that doesn’t stop them from having different plans to keep them active.
“I would love to do the Big Five Marathon, whereas Robert is concentrating on the gym and cycling.”
Both believe that, with Sports Tours International, they were able to enjoy their tour to the fullest.
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