The success story of a stress fracture setback

By staff writer: Jess Meniere

Ryan Sandes is seen in Chamonix, France. By Kelvin Trautman / Red Bull Content Pool

South African ultra-distance athlete, Ryan Sandes has temporarily hung up his running shoes and taken to the sidelines with a pelvic stress fracture. Having recently completed his extreme ‘Circumnavigate Lesotho,’ challenge with Ryno Griesel – a 16-day feat which saw this endurance athlete clock 1,100kms and climb an elevation of 33,000m – Sandes’ was excited to start his Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc training; but when completing an intense hill interval session, a sharp pain in his glute sent him straight to the specialists. 

6-weeks of complete rest, with no hiking or running, was Sandes’ prescribed recovery; “a tough pill to swallow,” said Sandes as he knew that this prescription came with his UTMB withdrawal. UTMB has long been on Sandes’ wish list of races to tick off; knowing that he won’t be participating in this year’s event has been a mental challenge in itself.

Just short of 2-weeks into his recovery, Sandes shares that the initial stages were both physically and mentally hard. Nonetheless, Sandes has chosen to focus on the positives of this setback and spoke of the power in reframing one’s approach to thinking about an injury. 

Currently, in Chamonix with his family, Sandes admits that it has been weird not to run, but equally special in that he is able to experience these french mountain ranges in a completely different and unique way. In previous years, Sandes spent his days’ training in these valley’s snow-capped summits; but now, basking in the luxury of a slower-paced life, can “create memories with Max (his son) and Vanessa (his wife), that he otherwise would not have been able to do.” 

Ryan Sandes in Chamonix. Red Bull Content Pool.

While confessing that injuries always allow “self-doubt to creep in;” standing at the footholds of Chamonix’s mountains has only motivated Sandes “to come back stronger.” Having been in the professional athletic scene for 14 years now, Sandes shares the importance of listening and respecting the body. Although extremely disappointed that he is unable to race UTMB, Sandes knows the race will always be there, and shares that he “believes things always happen for a reason, regardless of whether the reason makes sense or not, at the time.” 

As Sandes leans into this season of rest and recovery, he says that with injuries come many lessons about oneself. He is enjoying the challenge of making peace with this setback and is excited for the rebuild stages (which will be equally challenging) when he returns to running. 

Sandes says that his long-athletic career and the many injuries he has endured have allowed him to “accept that being injured is part of the profession and the process of running.” Continuing to seek out the positives in this stress-fracture setback, Sandes concludes that the recovery has been made easier in knowing that he has already accomplished an incredible challenge this year – the “Lesotho project,” – and that future finish lines await, as he hopes to, recovery-dependent, race Ultra-Trail Cape Town 2022.