Anyone who knows anything about Ryan Sandes knows he epitomises the
phrase less is more. The less I’m referring to isn’t less
training, less speed or less talent – not even by a smidgeon. Instead it’s less
talk, more action. Unlike others on the start line, the winner of this year’s
Western States 100 is renowned and respected for his humility, and for his
knack of approaching races with a quiet self-confidence.
| photo credit Corinna Halloran | Red Bull Content Pool|
Now two weeks on from his US win, Rockhoppin’ Trail interviewed Ryan at
his favourite coffee shop in his home town of Hout Bay, Cape Town, South
LD It’s now 2 weeks on
from your WS100 win, and you’ve had a chance to digest the experience. What are
your thoughts about it? (physically, emotionally, etc.)
that finish line brought huge relief because it had been such a tough day, but
also a great sense of fulfilment. But having come 2nd in 2012, and during that race passing Timmy and then having him then overtake me, meant that this year I did run scared the
last 20 miles or so.
At the river crossing, about 30km to go, I hit my lowest moment, I felt really
shattered. The crossing only takes about 30 secs so it’s not much of a rest.
From there Ryno ran with me, for the next 20km, which really helped me
mentally. Physically I managed to cool myself down in a couple of creeks – the
water was pretty cool because of snow melt.
the aid station after Green Gate (about 20 miles to go) I learned I was about
22 min ahead. But then when I came into Pointed Rock aid station (about 9.5km
to go), I got conflicting reports that Alex was only 5 min behind me! I
panicked and took off – I even ran straight through an aid station where
Vanessa tried to give me stuff but I just ran through. Then thankfully one of
the guys I know drove ahead and at about 8km to go told me the info I’d been
given was incorrect, so I knew I could back off a bit, I didn’t have to kill
myself! So the sense of relief crossing the line was huge.
since then I’ve had a great sense of fulfilment, and of course pride. It’s hard
to describe. Max at a race finish was super cool. I visualised that for weeks
leading up to the event. During the race, with our times so slow, I started to
worry that my finish might clash with Max’s napping time and he’d not be there!
think my achievement only really sunk in the next day when I was holding the
cougar trophy. Vanessa joked with me that I’ve finally got my second cougar. I
told her it was harder to get than my first!
the other huge confirmation for me was looking back at Bruce Fordyce’s inspiration
message to me in my copy of Tim Noakes’s book Challenging Beliefs. Finally achieving this goal I’ve wanted for so
long means a lot to me.
LD Six years ago you won
Leadville in 16:46. That was a massive win on the US trail-ultra fraternity,
how does Western States compare to Leadville?
is a bit more mainstream – it has the biggest participation of all 100 milers
in the US, and with the exposure that “Born To Run” gave it, it will always be
popular. But in the last few years, Western States has attracted a far stronger
field, particularly internationally, since being on the Ultra Trail World Tour.
both tough – Western States for its heat and Leadville for its altitude. But
it’s difficult to say which is tougher – it’s all relative to the individual,
and to the day.
LD Analysis of your
times and splits during WS100 have shown you ran a near to perfectly executed
race. What was your race plan, how did you plan it, did you stick to it
precisely, and would you regard this one as your perfectly run race?
generally don’t run according to planned splits, but because I knew the route,
I had a pretty good idea of the splits between points. I expected the pace would
be fast, and I think we all under-estimated how slow going the first section of
the course would make us, because of the deep snow. People used up a lot of
energy trying to keep to their planned splits in those conditions, and I think
that’s what contributed to the big drop-out rate. I was fortunate, I felt
pretty good from the start, and although I kept the splits in my mind, I stuck
to my strategy of running according to how I felt. That meant I ran quite a bit
harder in the first half than I’d done in previous races, but I had expected
the pace to be fast and I knew that I wanted to not be far off the front pack
during most of the race. There’ve been other races when I’ve hung back a bit
far and then when coming through the field not had quite enough time to make up
positions, and ended in 3rd or 4th place.
knew Jim would either do something amazing or completely blow up, and I wanted
to be within reasonable distance to be able to act. But when he was 40 or so
minutes ahead (Forest Hill area, 100km), I realised it would be crazy to push
to close the gap.
I passed him, I ran pretty much according to feel. I had slower and faster
sections – like from Rucky Chucky River up to Green Gate I was slower, but I picked
up nicely when Ryno joined me. Then from Pointed Rocks I was on my own again –
that was when I was told incorrect splits and I took off!
LD I know this win has
been a goal of yours since you signed up for your first WS100 in 2012. You’ve
had a testing past couple of years since contracting glandular fever – it
knocked your system good and proper, leading to issues with gut issues during
races and seeing you having to pull out of a few big events. This must’ve have
tested your confidence in a big way. Speak me through that, and through the deep
determination you’re known for that has seen you to the achievement of this
always planned to give myself three years to do the best I can be at Western
States, and then give UTMB the next three years – because they’re such
different races. When I came 2nd in 2012, and had what I still
consider to be the best 100 miler I’ve ever had, I thought I could come back in
2013 and do even better. But I sprained my ankle badly about six weeks before
the race so I was out. It was my focus then for 2014, but that year I packed
far too many races into my schedule – I did Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji, the
Drakensberg Grand Traverse, etc. and I went into the race feeling a bit
overcooked. I was happy with my 5th place, but I knew I hadn’t been
able to give it the build-up I’d wanted because I’d just got carried away with
races between January and June. In 2015, I picked up a bug – the Friday morning
before the race I woke up with my worst nightmare, a stomach bug was going
around the Squaw Valley and a lot of people got sick. My system is usually
strong enough to resistance those sort of things, but I think my immune system
was still so low from having had glandular fever that I was prone.
After that I started thinking that maybe a win for me at WS100 just wasn’t
meant to be. I gave the race a complete skip in 2016, but e-watching it gave me
huge FOMO, so when the race director Craig Thornley sent me a special
consideration entry to Western States after my Grand Raid of Réunion last year,
I changed my mind – I realised I’d never actually put it out of my head, and
that winning Western States was still a goal I wanted.
think I’ll go back next year. While I feel I’ve achieved what I wanted there,
it’s a race I really enjoy – it’s one of the few races I want to go back to.
| Ryan's 'tougher to win' cougar photo credit Bryon Powell | iRunFar.com|
LD You kept your support
team at WS100 small, and made up of some of your nearest and dearest – Vanessa
and Max, your mom, Ryno,Griesel, Dean Leslie. I’m a great believer in
heart-happy-run-strong. Do you think this played a role in your success on the
was there filming for Red Bull and came to join us – he and I are old friends,
we’ve known each since junior school, and he’s filmed a lot of my races. And
then Ian Little came over from Portland and it was great to see him along the
route. And then there’re a couple of great local guys like Bill and Tony, who I
know from previous years, and they’re super helpful. And Bill’s friend Karen,
who helped Vanessa crew, and whose house we stayed at for a few nights. They’re
all such awesome people. It’s one of the things I love so much about this race
– the sense of community. The whole vibe is more low key than something like
UTMB, where for the week leading up to the race Chamonix is just crazy with
media and hype. The community in Auburn are so laid back, and everyone gets
involved in the race.
This year I
managed to keep quite below the radar, which I far prefer. We only
arrived at Squaw Valley a couple of days before the race. And having my mom and
Vanessa there meant such a lot to me. Ness hasn’t been able to come to any of
my races for the past year and half now, because of Max, and having her there
was great – it was a good distraction. Often before a big race I’m often almost
too focused, and leading up to this
race I tried to keep as busy with other things, fun distractions, as possible,
which helped me to not over-analyse things. I went into this race as relaxed as
I could’ve been.
LD What do you consider
to be your strongest characteristic where your running is concerned?
guess I’m quite adaptable, which has meant I’ve been able to do well in
different types of races, from self-sufficient multi-day, to long distance, to
ultras. I don’t think I’ll ever be as strong as someone like Francois D’haene
on the mountains, just because I’ve not grown up exposed to mountains that big.
head strength is a strong point of mine. I guess I’m also stubborn – I keep on
going back until I achieve my goal (Ed: I’d rather refer to it as
certainly not the most talented athlete – I don’t have the natural ability of a
Jim Walmsley, for example, I have to train hard. I also look after my body with
cross training and strengthening, which definitely helps with longevity of
performance. So many of the elite guys out there last just two or years at the
top. I’ve had a fairly long career so far, and hopefully I can still keep going
for a bit longer.
LD You’re well known and
much loved for your humble approach to your talent and to your achievements. Asking
you to explain it is You have a quiet confidence, a determined self-belief, and
the ability to always to ahead to the bigger picture and the long-term goal.
Not easy for you, I know, but speak us through this winning attitude.
RS I think ultra-running is quite humbling – it doesn’t allow you to get
too far ahead of yourself. As soon as you get too confident, you get knocked
down pretty quickly. I guess I’ve always been quiet about things – always
super-competitive but mainly with myself, wanting to do the best I can do. If I
know I’ve done absolutely everything I can to achieve a race, and it’s only
good enough for last position, then so be it.
With some races I’ve just had a really good feeling beforehand. This
year’s Western States was one of those – going into the race I felt quietly
confident. Dean, who’s known me since junior school, told me afterwards that
he’s not seen me so laid back and relaxed before a big race as with this one. I
just had a really good feeling about how it would turn out.
But I think I get the humble approach from my dad. While my mom’s quite
outspoken in her approach to life, while my dad has a quieter way about things.
LD Ever-interested in
race nutrition as I am, tell me about your fuelling throughout this race.
was really super-hot. There was no way I could get any solid food in, so my
fuel involved a lot of gels and GU chomps – all the soft stuff. From as early
as Michigan Bluff (90km) onwards, I drank a lot of Red Bull mixed with water,
which is something I usually only do near the end of a race, but in those
conditions it called for it! At one point I tried to smash a rice pudding, but
it just wasn’t going down, so I stuck to gels and diluted Red Bull.
that sweet stuff meant I felt pretty yuk the next day – enough was enough.
LD Next up – what are
your race plans for the rest of the year?
two weeks’ time I’m off to compete in the pack burro racing champs in Colorado.
It’s a 30 mile (50km) race, and you have to run next to, push or pull your
donkey, you can’t ride it. I spent some time with Micah True when I did
Leadville, and I watched him do some burro racing – it looked brilliant and I
put it on my bucket list straight away! So that’ll be fun. I suppose I should
read up on mule-whispering techniques beforehand!
my next proper race will be CCC at the end of August. It’ll be my second race
of the 2017 Ultra-Trail World Tour. This year you only need two races to get a
ranking. I might also do Ultra-Trail Cape Town, but it all depends how the next
few months pan out.
Labels: Bruce Fordyce, Jim Walmsley, Leadville, Tim Noakes, Timmy Olsen, Western States, WS100