In a marathon like no other, a group of more than 25 serving RAF personnel have set out on a new kind of mission during their overseas deployment in West Africa. Facing the extreme elements of the Sahara Desert, the team have completed a giant marathon of 3,910 miles, the equivalent of running from Mali back to the UK and then some, to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, the RAF's leading welfare charity.
In the first ever 'Chinook Mali Wild Dog Challenge', the team accomplished the gruelling mission by running, biking and rowing a total of 3,910 miles back to RAF Odiham from the Gao Airfield in Mali. A further 10 personnel also challenged themselves by running 202 miles, the equivalent of travelling from Gao to Timbuktu.
The personnel, all part of 1310 Flt from 18 Squadron, began the challenge when they were deployed to Mali with the RAF Chinook Force in January. Troops have endured temperatures in excess of 40C and had to limit their exercise to the early morning before temperatures increased.
Marathon organiser Flight Lieutenant Matt Williams said: "This was by far one of the most difficult challenges I have ever done. The intensity of the heat, and the dust that swept up from high winds and storms reduced the visibility down to 'near zero'. Never have I wished so much for pavement and British soil.
"Nevertheless, supporting the RAF Benevolent Fund was an incredibly worthy cause. It allowed us to aid a charity that directly looks after the welfare of all members of the RAF. Along with our existing relationship with Princess Marina House, a welfare centre providing holiday breaks for RAF personnel their families, the RAF Benevolent Fund is a charity we are most honoured to support."
Personnel from 18 Squadron often travel to the Fund's care and respite centre on the Sussex coast to help with maintenance.
Heather Kemp, Southern Regional Fundraiser at RAF Benevolent Fund, said: "After getting in touch with me about doing the run to support the RAF Benevolent Fund, I couldn't believe the distance they were willing to run! It’s unbelievable to see the lengths that these brave personnel have gone to, to support the Fund.
"This year we celebrate our big centenary, and what a better way to kick it off than with this epic fundraiser. From all of us at the Fund, we thank these incredible servicemen for their commitment in supporting us; we wouldn't be able to do the work that we do without them."
To sponsor the RAF Fundraisers in the Mali Chinook Wild Dog Challenge, visit their JustGiving page.