Talking SAS: Who Dares Wins, with James Gwinnett
James Gwinnett starred on Series 4 of the acclaimed Channel 4 show SAS: Who Dares Wins. The show puts civilians through a condensed version of Special Forces Selection and Series 4 saw the recruits battling intense physical and mental challenges at heights of up to 3,500m above sea level in the Chilean Andes. James progressed to the final stage of the course, the infamous Interrogation phase.
With an inspiring back story of having overcome a broken neck, sustained playing rugby, James is a great example of how positivity can motivate anyone to achieve their goals, and he continues to push his boundaries through a series of challenges, that have so far included a number of marathons and ultra-marathons. We were lucky enough to catch up with him a few weeks back to find out a little more.
James, you went to Uni with Meander co-founder Steve and played rugby together, though you were a little bit better and went on to play semi-professionally until you were forced to quit after a nasty injury? Can you tell us more about your rugby playing days?
I played rugby from a very early age and was lucky to enjoy some great experiences such as touring South Africa with my school and playing in New Zealand during a year abroad. I played for Durham University 1st XV and then for my University college, St John’s, which is where I played with Steve – we had a great time and a successful run, enjoying an unbeaten season in my final year. After Uni I played club rugby at National League level, which was a good challenge. Unfortunately, my ‘career’ ended with a bad neck injury, as you say, but I’m still involved with my local club, coaching the talented youngsters.
You were the recent series of SAS: Who Dares Wins, on Channel 4 – We absolutely loved watching you on this although we definitely weren’t envious! We watched in horror where you crashed into that rock and thought you’d broke your legs! How would you describe the experience and what was the most challenging aspect for you?
SAS: Who Dares Wins was undoubtedly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But also the most exhilarating and, with the right attitude, I guess it was hard not to enjoy the experience. We were 3,000m above sea level in the stunning setting of the Andes, flying around in helicopters and abseiling off bridges, and it really was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I trained hard for it, so although the physical side of things was brutal, it was more the intensity of the course that I struggled with. We were deprived of food and sleep throughout and constantly left guessing as to what was coming next, and that took its toll. And the stress positions during the Interrogation phase were also pretty awful for someone with a bad neck!
Now that you’ve gone through the whole experience, would you do it again? Or recommend it to anyone?
I think it’s a case of having ticked that particular box – and I certainly won’t be subjecting myself to stress positions again! But, I would recommend it to anyone else that wants to really test their limits. We were pushed to breaking point but learned how to come through with a little more left to spare. I found it fascinating how the human body can endure such extreme challenges and conditions and learned to better understand my own capabilities and limits – which I stretched further than I thought possible.
Where did your love of endurance come from?
That’s an interesting question as endurance never used to be my ‘thing’. In fact, it’s a completely different fitness discipline to rugby, which obviously requires power and strength. After I broke my neck I slipped into a bit of an exercise lull for a couple of years but found myself inspired watching the London Marathon one year. I resolved to complete a marathon myself and signed up to run it for charity the following year. The ‘love’ of endurance has come from this and wanting to push myself further and further. I’m not sure where my limits are yet but I want to run an 100 mile ultramarathon and complete an Ironman.
You’ve nailed an ultramarathon recently, we’d love to hear about it?
I did The Wall last year, which is an incredible event that sees about 500 runners’ race from Carlisle to Newcastle; 69 miles in one day. I set myself the goal of finishing in daylight and, starting at 7am, that gave me about 15 hours to ‘enjoy’ the undulating Cumbrian country along Hadrian’s Wall. I wouldn’t say ‘nailed’ necessarily but I managed to crawl along the Tyne just before 9pm, finishing in under 14 hours. I was delighted with the time.
You were on the London to Paris cycle with us when we had the inspiration for Meander Apparel. We loved the experience (barring the odd navigational snafu). Do you have any fond memories/stories of the trip you can share with us?
‘Snafu’ is an understatement – at one point we were carrying our bikes along a muddy woodland path! But I have nothing but fond memories of the whole trip. The key to undertaking something like that is go about it with the right attitude. If there is a spirit of enjoyment and you can maintain a sense of humour, you’re able to laugh at things going wrong, like when you develop saddle sores or get lost.
One memory sticks in the mind and that was a story Steve told us one evening of a crayfish – called Reggie – that he’d ‘befriended’ in Australia. It had us in stitches, but you probably had to be there!
We’re always seeing lots of nice pictures of you jet-setting. What’s your favourite travel destination?
It may be an obvious one, but after spending time in Chile recently, albeit in brutal conditions, the Andes have to be up there. We were based in the El Morado National Park and it’s stunning. Otherwise New Zealand holds a special place in my heart from time spent there. But it’s impossible to pick a favourite because surely the point of travelling is that opportunities are only limited by your imagination? I’d love to have more time to explore all the world’s nooks and crannies and am planning several trips with my girlfriend, who shares my love of the great outdoors, including trekking along the Great Wall of China.
What are your favourite spots in London to explore/run/cycle/hike/enjoy?
My girlfriend and I often spend our weekends strolling through London, enjoying spots like Regent’s Park and Marylebone and going to the different markets. We love sampling the different foods on offer, particularly the oysters in Borough Market, shucked in front of you and amazing with a dash of Tabasco and some lemon juice!
I think the green spaces in London are great in such a busy city too. I often run in St James’s Park, Green Park and Hyde Park in my lunch break.
Huge thank you to James for this inspiring Q&A. Make sure to follow James on insta here @jamesgwinnett to keep up with his latest adventures!