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Interview with Ryan Sandes, Ultra-Runner

As one of Cape Town’s greatest sporting names, Ryan Sandes takes adventure travel to a whole new level. Having won ultra-trail marathons on every continent, he is also the only person to have won every part of the 4 Deserts Race Series. We caught up with him to find out how it feels to compete in these incredible races.

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Your ultra-running journey started in 2008. How did you suddenly find yourself running a 250km desert race?

I ran a marathon with a group of friends in 2006 and really enjoyed it so I continued running, but mainly on the trails of Table Mountain. Running gives me a sense of freedom and when I am on the trails I feel disconnected from reality. In 2007 I ran a few local trail races, no further than 35km, and then stumbled upon the 4 Deserts website. I have always been one for accepting a challenge and the thought of the Gobi Desert race really intrigued me, so I entered…

You’re currently the only person to have won all four desert ultra-marathons: what appeals about running through this hostile terrain?

I really enjoy the physical and mental challenge of it – you learn so much about yourself when running an ultra. I love traveling too, and exploring new places, so being able to run all over the world is a dream come true. I have been fortunate to run on all seven continents and in some of the most remote places in the world.

Where are your favourite races and running trails?

The Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia is breathtaking and one of the most beautiful places I have been to. The Atacama Desert is another one of my favourite places, as it feels like you are running on the moon at times. The Otter Trail in South Africa is my favourite home trail.

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Which race has been your greatest challenge?

My first ultra, the Gobi Desert Race, and my first 100-miler, the Leadville 100 [in Colorado], are two races that come to mind – I did not know what I was in for and it was a huge challenge for my body and mind to adapt to running such a long distance. The high altitude of Leadville makes it brutal!

Is there anywhere you haven’t yet raced, but would like to?

I would like to explore more of Africa and I am really excited about running a race in Madagascar later this year. The Ultra Trail Mont Blanc in Europe is a race that is still on my bucket list.

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Assuming you get time off in your training schedule, where is your favourite vacation destination?

I love the ocean and find going on vacation to the coast to be most relaxing. The Garden Route/ Knysna area on the south-east coast of South Africa is one of my favourite places to visit. It has a great atmosphere and there are loads of fun activities to do.

What’s your favourite running route in your native Cape Town?

I live on the back slopes of Table Mountain so I would say Table Mountain for sure – nothing beats running to the top of the mountain and watching the sun rise or set over Cape Town.

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Do you have a top post-race meal?

A hamburger at La Cuccina or a Brezola pizza from Casareccio. Both restaurants are in Hout Bay (my hometown), in Cape Town.

What’s your favourite thing to do in Cape Town (other than training!)?

Chill on the beach, drink coffee at a local coffee shop, take our dog (Thandi) for a hike, or have a braai (barbecue) with friends. I like to be outdoors and I can’t sit still for too long!

Which charities are close to your heart?

The Jag Sports Foundation and Laureus Sports Foundation are two charities I support – more details are on my website. Sport has given me so much in life that I feel it is really important to give something back to people less fortunate than me. I am also a huge animal lover, so I have a few local animal charities (such as Underdog) that are very close to my heart.

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