I recently joined ultra-distance trail runner, Ryan Sandes on one of his training runs at one of his favourite places to run – Table Mountain. We chatted about his extraordinary rise to fame and success in the world of endurance running and his new book, ‘Trail Blazer’ which is a curation of all the amazing adventures he’s been on traversing the remote locations of the world. He also shared his advice for avid runners…
Wardah Hartley: How did you first get into endurance running?
Ryan Sandes: I ran the Knysna Marathon back in 2006 with a bunch of friends. I was in my final year at the University of Cape Town and my main reason for going up to Knysna was to have a party at the Oyster Festival. I actually really enjoyed the marathon though and before I knew it I was running my first ultra in 2008, The Gobi Desert Race.
WH: Did you ever think it would result in you seeing and competing in parts of the world few people ever get to see?
RS: No not in my wildest dreams. I have been fortunate to run on all seven continents and in some of the most craziest places in the world like the Amazon Jungle, The Atacama Desert, Antartica, Patagonia etc.
WH: What keeps you motivated and focused when you’re on your own in the wilderness in the harsh conditions you sometimes run in?
RS: I focus on the epic surroundings I am running through. I always try and stay positive and remind myself that I chose to be here and do this. I am often out there on my own but I feel I am running for more than just myself. I am running for everyone who has supported me on my journey.
WH: You recently curated your adventures in a book called “Trail Blazer” – what made you decide to pen all your adventures?
RS: Its been such a crazy unexpected journey over the past 8 or 9 years that I wanted to tell my story and hopefully inspire other people to chase their dreams. I wanted to really explain what goes on in my mind and give the full story of my journey.
WH: What is your favourite story out of the book?
RS: There are a number of stories but the one of when I got stopped by Pakistani customs official for having a big bag of white powder (my nutrition) is quite funny.
WH: What can budding runners learn from your book?
RS: I have a number of reader take outs like how I have structured my training, packing for a multi day race and how I went about getting sponsorships etc. I hope my story will also inspire them.
WH: You got married last year and now are expecting a baby, how has this changed your perspective in life and how you approach your sporting career?
RS: Yes, Vanessa and I are really excited about having a baby but this has not really changed my outlook on life. I believe in making the most of life and living every day to the fullest. I am really looking forward to sharing some of my / our experiences with our baby.
WH: For endurance running, you must follow a strict diet – what does it consist of?
RS: No I am not too strict on my diet. I try and eat lots of healthy whole foods and listen to what my body wants. If I feel like lots of vegetables then that is what I will eat or sometimes after a long run I just crave a hamburger and then I will eat that. I try and avoid fast and processed foods.
WH: In terms of your training, what does your training consist of?
RS: I do about 15 – 22 hours a week of running which can include up to 10 000m of ascent. I also do another 3 or so hours of strength and mobility drills. I also get regular body work done to keep my wheel alignment straight.
WH: What are the top three common mistakes amateur runners make when getting into this sport?
RS: It’s important to set yourself a goal so that you have some direction and motivation. A number of people don’t do this. A training plan, even if it is not too structured is also very important to make sure you don’t end up under training or over training. If you are feeling tired or fatigued, take a rest day. A number of runners don’t do this and then they end up picking up an injury or getting sick. It is very important to stay in tune with your body.
WH: What would be your top three tips for people wanting to improve their performance?
RS: Make sure you are moving efficiently and have no restrictions when running. Work on your weaknesses i.e. it may be hill running etc. Have sufficient recovery in your training and don’t force all your runs. Your recovery runs must be very easy, even when you are feeling good – focus on recovery.
WH: What more would you like to tick off on you bucket list?
RS: A traverse of the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda and a win at Ultra Trail Mont Blanc.
Ryan’s book, ‘Trail Blazer’ is available for purchase at all book stores.
Photography: Tegan Smith
Image of book cover : Redbull.com
Happy, Healthy, Fabulous