South African Ryan Sandes is a record breaker. He does it wherever he runs, on any kind of terrain. His wins include the desert races Planet Gobi and Sahara, the Jungle Marathon Amazon; he’s won in the Atacama Desert, in Antarctica and Nepal, the Leadville 100, Hong Kong, Australia…this list goes on. And by recently claiming victory at the 83 km La Advance Trail of the North Face Transgrancanaria, he’s now the first person in history to win an ultra-marathon trail run on every continent of the globe. Currently he’s in Patagonia for a race in Torres Del Paine, and here he shares his thoughts on the joys of long distance running, travel, and a life of adventure.
The Clymb: You started trail running only seven years ago. What got you interested in it, and why have you committed to it so fully as opposed to any other athletic endeavor?
Ryan Sandes: I ran a marathon with a group of friends back in 2006 during my last year at University. I did not do much training for it as I only decided to enter it a few weeks before the start, but to my surprise I really enjoyed it. Crossing the finish line gave me a sense of fulfillment and I guess it was like a drug and I wanted more. I live on the back slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town and before I knew it I was spending all my spare time in the mountains running.
The Clymb: What’s it do for you?
Ryan Sandes: Trail running is a form of meditation for me, it allows me to escape reality and brings me a lot of joy. I enjoy the adventure aspect of it and love traveling the world, meeting new people and seeing some incredible landscapes.
The Clymb: You’ve risen to the top of competition quickly, what do you credit that with?
Ryan Sandes: I really enjoy what I do and I am passionate about trail running. If you love what you do then it is easy to be successful. I like setting myself challenging goals and not stopping until I achieve them. I suppose you could call me stubborn determined – I don’t stop until I achieve me goal. Nothing in life comes easy and hard work pays off.
The Clymb: On a long run, is mental preparation as important as physical? How do you prepare?
Ryan Sandes: Yes the mental side is just as important as the physical side during an ultra event and at times is even more important. Physically I run anything between 12–25 hours a week to prepare. Mentally I try to visualize the run/race beforehand. I run through different race scenarios (good, medium, bad, etc.) so that when it happens during the run I am mentally prepared. It’s important to focus on the positives and not the negatives.
The Clymb: How do you keep from getting burned out? What keeps you coming back?
Ryan Sandes: After a big race I take a week or two off to mentally freshen up. I stay away from following a set training program for a couple of weeks and just run for the love of it. If I feel like running 10 minutes then I only run for 10 minutes; if I feel like running for 5 hours then I will run for 5 hours. I love what I do, it enables me to be in control of my own destiny and I get to push my physical and mental boundaries on a daily basis. I also do some cross training like mountain biking to mix up the running a bit.
The Clymb: By focusing so much on running, do you ever feel like you’re missing out on other experiences, or do you make it a point to venture into other areas of interest when possible?
Ryan Sandes: I have had to make a number of sacrifices along the way and I don’t get to spend as much time with my friends as I would like to. I try and keep a balanced lifestyle though and make time to enjoy my other interests. It’s a learning curve and I am learning along the way.
The Clymb: The North Face Transgrancanaria climbs 4000 meters over 83 kilometers. How much does that suck?
Ryan Sandes: The Transgrancanaria is a tough race with some big climbs. It’s good value for money with regards to vertical meters climbed compared to KM’s run…It’s a tough race but that’s what trail running is about, getting high up into the mountains and exploring new landscapes while pushing our own personal abilities. My legs were tired after that race!
The Clymb: When you’re not training for a specific race, what are your days like?
Ryan Sandes: Generally I will run in the morning, then go to gym. In the afternoons I often do quite a bit of admin: interviews, sometimes photo shoots, etc. And on some days I run again in the afternoon. In between I like to eat a lot, take Thandi, my dog, for walks, drink coffee and spend time with my fiancé Vanessa. Generally I like to be outdoors and I keep quite busy. Shopping malls are not for me.
The Clymb: Do you have a favorite race? If not a race, what about terrain?
Ryan Sandes: Every race is special in it’s own way. I love the Western States 100 racecourse and race vibe. In South Africa the Otter Trail Run or Salomon Skyrun are my favorites. I like a trail with a variety of terrain, rocky, sandy, muddy, hilly. As I have grown up on the coast I love running coastal trails like the Otter Trail.
The Clymb: What are you up to in Patagonia?
Ryan Sandes: I have always wanted to go to the Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia so when the Patagonia International Marathon organizers invited me to come and run the 63km ultra I was, “Yes, please!” Initially it did not fit into my schedule but I have had an injury so I had to re-plan my schedule and it now fits in. I am getting here a week early to explore the area and the Torres del Paine National Park. As I said earlier I love the adventurous life trail running enables me to live and I can’t wait to explore Patagonia. Living the Dream!