Sandes’ win at UTD160 2021

By Staff Writer: Jess Meniere

Photograph by: Marzelle van der Merwe.

With the spectacular Drakensberg mountain range as his backdrop, Ryan Sandes crossed the UTD160 finish-line in first-place at 22:30:38. A victory which saw him traverse across two countries, along high-altitude trails, tagging the highest peak, Thabana Ntlenyana, in South Africa, tallying a total of 5,638m ascent and 7,015m descent, with an accumulated mileage of 160km. 

Sandes’ win at UTD160 2021

While a technical course lay ahead of Drakensberg Ultra-Trail runners; endurance athlete, Sandes, laced up and stood at the start-line, ticking off a new milestone, his 1st 100-miler on home soil. The 10h00 countdown on Friday 23rd of April set the race into motion, sending competitors chasing after the day’s light over and across ridges and summits which pierced and stabbed their jagged edges at the skyline. 

Racing this gruelling trail, mapped out by steep scrambles over sandstone terraces, basalt outcrops, and weathered mountains, with plunges down deep gorges and veering valleys; Sandes shared the most physically enduring part of the race was the night-stretch. As nightfall triumphed against the setting sun and sunk behind the backbone of the mountains, thick clouds clung to the terrain and ensnared the landscape in her cold clutches. Navigating through the thick silent fog was an arduous experience explains Sandes, shining his head-torch directly onto his shoes to steer him through gritty greyness along the single-trails… Alone, at night, and carrying a few souvenirs from a tumble or two; Sandes carried himself from aid-station to aid-station, sharing that “when it gets tough, it’s important to break everything down into bite-size pieces.” 

As Sandes ticked off check-point after check-point and climbed peak upon peak, fuelled on a mixture of soups, potatoes, fruit, electrolytes, GUs and Redbull, he said “remaining present and appreciating where you are,” help overcome both physically and mentally overwhelming challenges… His highlights included running alongside a ‘lead-out’ herdsman through the Lesotho section, whom, Sandes trailed alongside, fast in his strides to the top of the peak before Sani Backpackers’ checkpoint. With a crushed bag of crisps to accompany the sunset, Sandes said this scene, albeit brief (“probably 30-seconds”), spent watching the Lesotho evening skylight with a complete stranger, will forever be a part of his memory. 

The support from wife, Vanessa, and son, Max – who tracked Sandes’ moving red-dot virtually throughout day and night, and raced from point to point to meet and encourage him on. The familiar support of running amongst local legends, sharing South African soiled trails with other South-African athletes; makes you realise how beautiful our country is, shared Sandes… 

The morning sunrise just before crossing the finish, after a long night, marked another pivotal moment for Sandes; climbing to his final peak, the first place podium… He shared, that while he is “chuffed with his result, and winning is cool. A win is just an excuse for the whole journey and the build-up.” With more races behind his name, Sandes realises that there is so much more to racing than just winning; to which “there will always be more room for improvement.” 

In celebration, Sandes spent his Sunday lunch with the family, enjoyed some downtime, and of course, a couple of beers… 

A huge cheers to Faces’ ambassador Athlete, Ryan Sandes.