8 Questions With Trail Legend Ryan Sandes


Penelope Cairns |

When you’re one of South Africa’s best-known runners, you get asked a lot of stuff. We got Ryan Sandes to answer his top-8 most frequently-asked questions. – By Ryan Sandes

Image by Emma Garrard/Salomon
Image by Emma Garrard/Salomon

“When are you running Comrades?”

I get asked this a lot. I generally answer “One day, when I’m big!”

To be honest, the Comrades isn’t really a race I want to do, since it’s a road event, and I love being off-road and in the mountains. Though I have the utmost respect for this iconic race and the people who do it.

The right amount of training – and the correct type of training, i.e. on the road – needs to be done for such an intense race; and I wouldn’t be able to do that, since my career requires me to train off-road.

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Going forward, my focus is big mountain races with lots of of climbing, so too much time on the road would be counterproductive to that goal. Trail running and road running are two completely separate sports, and they need to be trained for separately as well.

“Do you follow a strict diet?”

I don’t follow a strict diet at all; but I try to eat healthy, whole foods. For me it’s about balance, and staying in tune with my body – if I’m craving something, even chocolate, I eat it. I don’t generally worry too much about carbs, but in the evenings I prefer to cut out complex carbs. Our modern-day diet consists of way too many carbohydrates, most of which tend to be highly processed foods.

Image by Craig Kolesky/Nikon/Lexar
Image by Craig Kolesky/Nikon/Lexar

More recently, I’m often asked how fatherhood is going…

This is one of my favourite questions, as it’s new – and I don’t have to think too much about my answer. I’m really stoked to be a father; it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Obviously, it has its challenges… and learning how to deal with a lot less sleep has been interesting!

RELATED: Sandes’ Epic Journey To Western States 100 Victory!

“What’s been your favourite race?”

That’s quite a difficult question, as every race has special memories for me. After writing my book, though, and looking back, I’d say one of the most memorable races I’ve run was the K9 Search & Rescue Association of the Western Cape 4km dog/owner race I ran with our four-legged daughter, Thandi. We won the race! And her rosette still sits proudly on the fridge, years later. It’s the small things in life that count, and not necessarily the big race achievements.

Image supplied.
Image supplied.

“What’s been your hardest race?”

The Leadville Trail 100. It was my first 100-miler, and my quads were completely smashed towards the end. And I had never been in that pain cave before!

The Gobi Desert race also stands out for me, as it was my first ultra, and I really suffered. The long stage, which was over 80km, was insane – I had never run that far in one go.

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The race that stands out the most – not necessarily the hardest, more the most challenging one I’ve run – was the Jungle Marathon. Everything in the jungle wants to eat you or kill you! Jaguars, snakes, dangerous plants, etc, etc… it was a crazy experience!

Leadville (aka The Race Across The Sky) features 4 800m of ascent/descent. Most years, fewer than half the starters finish within the time limit. Image by Ricky Gates/Red Bull Content Pool
Leadville (aka The Race Across The Sky) features 4 800m of ascent/descent. Most years, fewer than half the starters finish within the time limit. Image by Ricky Gates/Red Bull Content Pool

“How long do you think you can carry on running professionally?”

That’s quite a hard question to answer, as I love what I do, and I never want to stop. I guess I have another four years or so of competitive racing internationally; but I hope to extend that a bit, by not over-racing. I also have a few free-running projects I’m working on.

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“Don’t your knees get injured from all the uphill and downhill running on the trails?”

No – I find the trails a lot softer on my body, compared to the road. The terrain is varied, and therefore my stride changes constantly, which helps me avoid repetitive overuse injuries.

I do tend to fall on the trails from time to time; and that can hurt. I’ve also sprained my ankles a number of times. Those have been my worst trail-running injuries. My knees can be a bit tender after 100 miles, but I guess everything hurts then!

Ryan Sandes and Vanessa Haywood. Image by Craig Kolesky/Nikon/Lexar
Ryan Sandes and Vanessa Haywood. Image by Craig Kolesky/Nikon/Lexar

“How many kays do you run a week?”

I usually convert that back to hours, because technical terrain or more elevation takes more out of you. For example, I can run 20km in an hour and a half on flattish terrain, but a more hilly 20km can take me four hours. Therefore, I work it out in hours per week and elevation gain or loss per week.

So I run about 13 to 18 hours a week, depending on where I am in a training block. In 2013/2014 I was averaging 15 to 18 hours a week, but after getting glandular fever in 2015 – and because I’m older now – I find less is more. I want to carry on running for as many years as possible!

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The current trend, especially among the youngsters, is that a lot of them are doing crazy-high mileage, and getting great results initially – but the problem with that is that they tend to burn out quite quickly. It’s just not sustainable.

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