After a year-long break from competitive running, elite athlete Ryan Sandes returns to the racing scene. Having taken to the sidelines last year with a pelvic-stress fracture, Sandes is readying himself for his first 100-miler since Ultra Trail Drakensberg (UTD) in 2021. Under the guidance of his coach Jason Koop, Sandes says that his preparation for The George Mountain Ultra Trail (MUT) has provided him with the structure and consistency he has needed in order to return to the start-line of ~160 km races.
While last year’s injury was disappointing and saw Sandes withdraw from Ultra Trail Mont-Blanc (UTMB); Sandes affirmed that throughout his running career, he has always believed that “everything happens for a reason.” Despite “being a bitter pill to swallow at first,” and the reasoning behind his stress fracture “initially difficult to pinpoint;” Sandes now sees and understands the value behind this forced time off his feet.
Sandes describes his sabbatical from competitive running as beneficial, as his break has only left him “more motivated and focused.” Not only has his body responded positively to his 100-miler race build-up, but Sandes describes the process of training as being a mentally rejuvenating experience. He has highlighted how last year’s setback was rather a step forward and closer towards his ultimate career goal – finishing UTMB.
South Africa’s top ultra trail runner, with an arsenal of trophies, titles and FKTs to his name, has yet to cross the finish line at France’s iconic UTMB World Series race. Having stood at four start lines but never completed the full course, Sandes says UTMB is the only race he has “unfinished business with.” UTMB, for Sandes, is the pinnacle of trail running, drawing the most stacked elite field of internationally renowned trail runners.
To qualify for UTMB in September, Sandes will tackle the Outeniqua Mountain range in hopes of securing a podium finish. Although feeling confident, Sandes has a healthy respect for ultra-distance running and knows that a lot can happen and go wrong on race day. While local legends hold a competitive advantage, running on home grounds; Sandes has spent several weekends training in George, familiarising himself with the course and route profile. Having covered 95% of the route during his recces, Sandes confidently “knows what to expect.”
As the countdown and taper to MUT-100-miler begins, Sandes admits to feeling some pre-race nerves, but his strategy remains: “Take it all one step at a time.” Sandes acknowledges that the winter weather could play a significant role in the race outcome, with the rain and cold potentially adding an extra technical and challenging element to the already slow-moving course. But, with years of experience in ultra-racing, Sandes knows it is about managing the low moments which is all crucial to success.
Sandes’ season opener will be one to watch; an exciting reintroduction into tackling the ultimate endurance distance on foot, a nail-biting home-soil race, and a UTMB qualification on the line… While his UTMB goal will be determined by the outcome of his MUT race, Sandes is all about bigger-picture thinking. He reminds himself that although winning is the goal, he is driven by his love for the sport – the adventures, the community, and tagging new peaks.
With family, friends and sponsors cheering him on, we are wishing Ryan Sandes luck as he crosses his first race start line of 2023.