ryan sandes peak performance

Peak performance by Jess Meniere

Our Cape Town mountain range stands sentry to its knotted city below, with its jagged wide-ranging presence, her guards groove rutted silhouettes into the horizon, reminding us of her faithful watchful eye; moody with the changing weather, temperamental in colour, solid and strong with her undulating backbone of peaks and summits. Her boundless beauty is both breathtaking and at times surreal, but the reality of our mountain range is the endless opportunities and potential it provides for her athletes. 

South Africans (in particular Faces’ local athletes, Toni McCann and Ryan Sandes) have quite literally turned our backyard sentinels into their training ground, summiting her ridges and inclines to reach their peak athletic potential.  

There is no shortage of ‘track’ to train on, and the diversity of terrain makes our mountain range the perfect training partner – from the underfoot crunch of forgotten shell midden quarries to dusty gruelling sandy paths, damp corridors of mossy coated rocks that slip and tumble between strides,  to the foliaged overgrowths that scratch and gnarl at forgotten exposed skin, open plained fields of fynbos, fragrant and heavy with scent and bloom – to inclining boulders, wide and tall. These routes map out sensory stimuli to motivate and push forward, further, and faster the impassioned trailer whose need is to; explore and conquer. Whether it be the spicy aromatic wake of proteas in bloom,  the washed-over southeaster that tempers the mood after a hot and sticky summer’s day, or the howling whistle of pending rain and her angry aftermath that blankets a fog of heavy low hanging clouds – each disposition unique, every climate distinctively carving out new technical and challenging courses that test and strain her athletes with obstacle courses of unpredictabilities;  fallen trees, new raging rivers, crumbling and slippery paths or, even an unruly troop of baboons.  Competing against her constantly changing narrative is demanding, it’s physical and ever-changing – Many a trail has seen the most extreme athletes weep and has brought both grown men and women to their knees, blistered, bruised and battered, but not yet willing to concede to her capricious character.

The mountain spectators watch from a distance, with an occasional Klipspringer or common duiker to judge your progress, or a low flying Jackal Buzzard that sways and shrieks in assessment, the Agama lizard pushes you forward with a dip and bow of his courtship dance, while the parrot-beak tortoise reminds you to maintain that steady “speed.”  

Face’s athlete Toni McCann reiterates this sentiment, sharing that “the mountain is never the same –  it’s forever responding to the elements – and you, forever responding to it. Each trail, whether 30  minutes long or a 1/2-day adventure, is always significant.”  Ryan Sandes agrees, adding that “the mountain challenges him, being outdoors and having a direct connection to nature, keeps him evolving as a person.” 

The Cape Mountain range trails offer an immense network of courses – endless loops that feedback into one another, with others that disappear into and over the mountain. From steep technical inclines that snake precariously over muddy verges, deep descents through bushes and brambles that roll between boulders and squeeze under branches, to jeep tracks, which slog up, up, up to the relief of a tagged beacon. Sandes shares that we are spoilt with these trails to train along, and the “fact that they are so easy to access,” means that a quick detour of running along the top of Table Mountain en route home from the office, only aids in his training. McCann shares that her vice is the mountain, it’s her “call to adventure. Her “irresistible guide that leads her to new horizons, through transformations both big and small, so that when she returns home to the norms of life, she is forever changed.” 

Our mountain changes you, she rewards your raised heart rates and fatigued legs with new perspectives, allowing you the privilege of views and endless vistas of beauty. She sets the pace, decides the course, and as you climb exhausted to the top, she teaches you resilience, patience and gratitude. She offers up the very best and absolute worst of you and leaves you wanting for more. So when the mountain calls your name, you have to go.

Author: Jess Meniere