ARE we born to run? It’s a question journalist Christopher McDougall asks in a fascinating TED Talk.
And it’s a question Ryan Sandes would answer with a resounding “yes”.
“I started running while doing my honours in quantity surveying,” says the 33-year-old Capetonian.
After graduating from the University of Cape Town, Sandes worked as a quantity surveyor for two years.
Though he enjoyed it, he enjoyed running more.
“In 2009, I decided to take a risk and start running full-time,” he says. “I didn’t have enough sponsorship to get by on a monthly basis but I had some money saved. Luckily, the risk paid off and it all worked out.”
At the time, his friends thought he was crazy. His father suggested he keep his day job in light of the economic downturn. Still, his parents were his biggest supporters and his friends were happy to see their mate follow his heart.
“During a race you go through a number of highs and lows that affect you both physically and mentally,” says Sandes, who runs three to four key races a year.
One of the most difficult experiences he’s had so far was dropping out of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc last year because he hadn’t yet fully recovered from glandular fever. He hit rock bottom in his running career but learnt from the experience and believes he’s stronger now because of it.
“It’s important to stay calm and focus on the positives,” he says. “When I’m going through a tough situation, I break the run down into mini-goals and just focus on getting through one kilometre at a time.
“I find this more achievable and it helps me get through low patches in a race.”
Taking it one step at a time has been valuable throughout his career. In 2008, Sandes placed first in the “4 Deserts” races in the Gobi (China) and Sahara (Egypt). In 2010, he did the same at the Atacama Crossing (Chile) and The Last Desert (Antarctica), making him the only competitor to win all four stages.
“There are too many favourite places to name,” says Sandes, who cites winning an ultra-race on every continent as one of his professional highlights. “Table Mountain will always be special to me as it is an extension of my back garden. Patagonia is incredible and it is always humbling running in the Alps.”
In his downtime, Sandes spends time with his wife Vanessa and their “four-legged child T-dog”, going for walks on the beach or having a braai at home. He also spends time with the friends he doesn’t get to see as often as he’d like due to his travels.
In his most recent race, Sandes placed third at the Tarawera Ultra Marathon in New Zealand. He will be racing in Australia this month and the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in August as part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour. He’s also planning to run the fastest known time in the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda with his good friend Ryno Griesel.
Also, this year he launched an autobiography. Its takeaway message is that our minds are more powerful than we realise and that we can achieve a lot more than we think. Understanding that we are in control of our destinies, and that we only live once, helps us focus on the positives and make the most of what we have.