Ryan Sandes is a South African ultra-runner with dozens of impressive achievements under his belt. He has won all four races in the 4 Desert Series, and was the first person to ever win an ultra-trail race on all seven continents. On June 26th, Sandes won Western States 100, one of the nation’s most prestigious and pedigreed ultra-marathons. He spoke with us about what it felt like to run Western States, how to train in the heat, and what kind of coffee fuels his incredible achievements. You can catch Ryan on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and his website.
FC: You’ve won all four races in the 4 Desert Series, and Western States is known for having periods of incredible heat. We’re obviously undergoing a pretty hot summer now. Is there a way you manage the heat, either in terms of physical prep, or mental mindset?
RS: It’s important to keep a positive mindset and mentally accept that it is going to be hot. If you are in a negative headspace about running in the heat then you have already lost the battle. I try and stay positive and look forward to the challenge of running in hot conditions. Physically it helps to train in the heat and get your body used to it.
During a hot race using cooling techniques like running with an ice buff or hat really helps.
During a hot race using cooling techniques like running with an ice buff or hat really helps. It important to manage the conditions and look after yourself.
FC: You’ve mentioned in a few interviews that one of the big reasons that you placed 1st at Western States this year was because you “ran your own race,” and didn’t stress too much over Jim Walmsley’s initial lead. What’s going through your mind then?
RS: Yes I always find that I run my best races when I focus on running according to how I am feeling and not get caught up in the hype of the race. Its important to know what’s going on around you during a race but not let it effect your style of running.
If he was, say, 5 or 10 minutes ahead of me I may have gotten caught up in trying to race him from an earlier stage.
Jim was so far ahead of me for a large part of the race that is made it easy not to focus or worry about him. If he was, say, 5 or 10 minutes ahead of me I may have gotten caught up in trying to race him from an earlier stage. I was quite surprised when I did pass him as he was walking and not in a good state. Mentally it was a huge boost for me to be leading Western States 100.
FC: Your Wikipedia bio mentions that your nickname is “Hedgie.” Where’d the name come from? Is it tied to running?
RS: Ha! No I got the name from some friends in high school. I cut my hair short and it went all spiky like a hedgehog. I got called hedgehog a few times and then the name just stuck and got shortened to Hedgie or Hedge.
FC: You wrote a book last year – Trail Blazer: My Life as an Ultra-distance Trail Runner. Do you see yourself writing more books in the future, potentially incorporating your Western States experience this year?
I am looking at getting Trail Blazer translated to Chinese so that is my focus for now.
RS: I would like to possibly add a few chapters to my book and incorporate Western States for sure. I am looking at getting Trail Blazer translated to Chinese so that is my focus for now. I found writing a book a very rewarding and a fulfilling process.
FC: From pictures, it looks like you’re rocking a Suunto Spartan Ultra; are there one or two gear items you can’t live without?
FC: You wrote a blog post back in March of ’16, about how, if you had to drop either coffee or chocolate, you’d stick with coffee. Are you specific about your coffee habit? Any particular beans/roasts/rituals, etc?
At home I tend to use a Mocha Pot to brew my coffee and generally have two of those to start the day.
RS: Yes, I really like good coffee. I am not too specific as long as the beans are fresh. At home I tend to use a Mocha Pot to brew my coffee and generally have two of those to start the day. I generally don’t have any coffee after 1pm otherwise I find I don’t sleep that well. The current roast I have at the moment is a Guatemalan blend which I get from my local coffee roastery in Hout Bay, Cape Town.
FC: You have a young son, Max. Any tips for parents who are trying to balance training, a job, and parenthood. And any jogging stroller recommendations ?
RS: Yes being a Father is so awesome, but as you mentioned it does consume a lot of time. I try and include Max in what I do as much as possible. I think it is important for him and his development to have as many experiences as possible from a young age.
A good way to balance things is that if you do a run then possibly you can meet your partner and kids after and do a short cool down run or hike with them.
Hiking with him on my back is a pretty good work out and recently we got a Thule Glide jogging pram. It is so cool to share the outdoors with him and see his reactions. I guess a good way to balance things is that if you do a run then possibly you can meet your partner and kids after and do a short cool down run or hike with them. I often do this and it is a nice way to include your family in what you do. I am really loving the Thule Glide – it is great over the rocks and more technical terrain most importantly it is super simple to operate.