Charity ambassador, athlete and all-round super human Gavin Sandford tells us why he’s ‘binned’ his home in Dickens Heath in favour of a draughty caravan and how he sets his alarm for 3am to fit in his training
The term ultra-runner is bandied about a lot nowadays and tends to refer to completing multiple marathons or running particularly tough terrain/conditions. But for the extraordinary challenges that Gavin Sandford puts himself through, it doesn’t quite cut the mustard. For instance he’s the first person in history to have completed back-to-back Marathons des Sables in the harsh climate of the Sahara desert – once is far too much for most – and he took on 1,200 miles in 45 days pushing a 50kg barrel and succeeded. The barrel got steadily heavier as generous passers-by donated money!
He’s moved out of his house in Dickens Heath and is living in a caravan on an airfield to lower his outgoings, allowing him to work less and challenge himself more. It’s all in the name of charity, but what drives him to such extreme lengths? Gavin’s upbringing was slightly unconventional. He was born in Harare, Zimbabwe and learned to swim when his ex-special forces father chucked him into a river that may or may not have had the odd crocodile lurking in it. He told the young Gavin to just swim! He also spent lots of time running around the bush waving a gun around. It all sounds very macho.
I CAN I WILL
A move to Manchester must have been a shock to the system and when Gavin turned 16, he followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the army. He’d always been pretty fit but here he got into athletics and boxing among other things and became supremely fit.
When Gavin left the army and started working as a physician’s assistant in various hospitals he began fund-raising through increasingly tough challenges. It was while working at Birmingham Children’s Hospital that he met a young girl suffering from cancer that inspired him to do more and also spawned his mantra I Can I Will.
Gavin had seen Molly at the hospital repeatedly for various treatments and procedures. On one occasion when Gavin explained what the next course of treatment would be, which they both knew would be painful, Molly said: “Sure, I can, I will.” Sadly Molly died which moved Gavin tremendously and in 2014 he launched I Can I Will (ICIW) and rather than spreading his fund-raising across numerous causes he began focusing specifically on those that encourage life-saving peripheral stem cell donation and bone marrow donation. As well as raising money, a large part of ICIW is getting supporters to register as donors with organisations like Anthony Nolan and the British Bone Marrow registry.
Gavin pushes himself to the extreme and completing the double Marathons des Sables nearly killed him. He found himself 16miles off course in 45-degree heat, horribly dehydrated with a failed satellite phone and foaming at the mouth. Thankfully he had a great team that he credits with rescuing him. Getting through such challenges is tough mentally as well as physically, but Gavin copes by breaking them down into chunks and focusing on his fund-raising goals.
Training while working is intense and often means a 3am alarm call five-times-a-week to fit it all in. A 10-mile trot to work is a regular occurrence. Gavin’s showing no sign of putting the brakes on with some of his toughest challenges yet on the cards for 2017.
One of which will see him climbing the equivalent distance from sea to space. Think about that! In another he’ll be running 66 miles over 42 summits in just 24 hours in the Lake District and that’s the tip of the iceberg. I tentatively asked Gavin how he relaxes. Well, it turns out he doesn’t and thankfully doesn’t need much sleep either.