Father and Son Take on ‘Toughest Footrace on Earth’ for Yorkshire Cancer Research

19 December 2016

Gary and Matthew Cust will take part in the Marathon des Sables, known as the ‘toughest footrace on Earth’, in April 2017. 

The pair will be required to run seven marathons – in excess of 170 miles - over six days across the Sahara Desert through sweltering 50 degrees Celsius heat, carrying on their backs everything they need to survive for the week. 

Gary, a retired lawyer who lived and worked in Bradford in the 1980s, said: “Everybody wants to complete an extreme challenge once. Running is something I’ve done all my life. When I was in my 40s I was a marathon runner, completing the New York and London marathons.

“The older you get, the harder marathons become, so I gave those up. But the Marathon des Sables is the ultimate extreme event for runners, and it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. When I found out we could run the Marathon des Sables for Yorkshire Cancer Research, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do two awesome things at once.”

Gary’s son Matthew, 27, is a research scientist. He featured on the first series of Channel 4’s reality show ‘SAS: Who Dares Wins’, which followed a group of volunteers as they were put through a recreation of the SAS selection process by ex-Special Forces soldiers.


Matthew’s partner Adele was diagnosed with cancer as a teenager and recently received the ‘all-clear’. Matthew is particularly passionate about raising money for a cancer research charity.

Gary said: “As soon as I said we could get places through Yorkshire Cancer Research, Matthew was very keen to do it. It’s shocking how many people you know whose lives have been devastated by cancer. I probably know a dozen people because of my age. Wonderfully, fewer are dying because of research.

“While the money we raise will go directly towards helping people in Yorkshire survive cancer, the charity’s ground-breaking work is impacting the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer throughout the UK, so we are keen to raise as much money as possible for this brilliant cause. We’ve already received some very generous donations towards our £20,000 fundraising target.”

Gary and Matthew have been building up their weekly mileage during the last six months and now run a marathon every weekend carrying a 6kg backpack. This will rise to 12kg when they take part in the Marathon des Sables. 

In November they competed in the Beacons Ultra, a 48 mile race in the Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales. Gary came 77th out of 299 runners, completing the event in 10.5 hours.  

Gary and Matthew will spend two days over Christmas running a double marathon in the famous sand dunes of Merthyr Mawr, in Bridgend, Wales, and they have booked an acclimatisation holiday in Cuba, where they will practice long runs in tropical weather. 

On Saturday, January 14, they will run a marathon on a treadmill in their local shopping centre, Broad Street Mall, while collecting donations towards their fundraising. 

Gary said: “I know we can complete the Marathon des Sables. It’s just one foot in front of the other, and I can always find one more step. No matter what, we will be at the finish line. It will be horribly brutal, but when we get our medals I’ll know that it was all worth it. It will be the best thing I’ve ever done.

“When your children grow up, it can be difficult to find things to share together. The Marathon des Sables shouldn’t kill us, but it will demand everything we have, and at the end of it I know Matt and me will be bonded by an extreme common experience.”




Nikki Brady, Senior PR Officer, Yorkshire Cancer Research. Tel: 01423 877228. Email: nikki@ycr.org.uk

Notes to Editors

  • Harrogate-based Yorkshire Cancer Research was founded in 1925 and is the largest independent regional cancer charity in England (Registered Charity 516898). We are not part of a national charity.
  • We are committed to reducing the devastating impact of cancer on the lives of people living in Yorkshire.
  • Our mission is to work in partnership, fund research and support initiatives that will help people in Yorkshire avoid, survive and cope with cancer.
  • Current statistics show that 575 people are diagnosed with cancer in Yorkshire every week. Incidence and mortality rates are higher than the England average due to social deprivation, post-industrialisation and lifestyle choices but also availability of healthcare services and difficulties accessing early diagnostics, clinical trials and the latest treatments.
  • We aim to:
    • Be the leading authority on cancer in Yorkshire, understanding the problems and priorities in the region and sharing knowledge with partners.
    • Raise awareness of cancer and how to prevent it by working in local communities, schools and colleges, sports clubs and with other health-related organisations.
    • Promote screening programmes and fund research that can improve the diagnosis of cancer so we can detect and treat it at the earliest opportunity.
    • Invest in innovative research projects at every stage of a cancer patient's journey.
    • Campaign for fair and equal access to the very best healthcare services and a greater share of the money spent nationally on research.
  • For further information, please visit www.yorkshirecancerresearch.org.uk or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

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