Ryan Sandes has finished second and fifth in his two runs at the Western States 100. This year, he’s looking to win. In the following interview, Ryan talks about how he’s prepared specifically for Western States, what a week of his training looks like, and why he’ll often take a day off instead of push forward with a workout.
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Ryan Sandes Pre-2015 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Ryan Sandes before the 2015 Western States 100. Welcome back, Ryan.
Ryan Sandes: Thanks.
iRunFar: This is your third go at the race?
Sandes: Yes, I’m looking forward to it.
iRunFar: You’ve got a second place and a fifth place. How high are you aiming this time?
Sandes: As always, I think first things first is always to finish the race, but I’d love to do one better than 2012 and get a first place. I came so close in 2012. Last year it was quite a rough run for me. Yeah, I’m hoping for a good run this year. I’ve prepared pretty specifically for the race, so I’m excited.
iRunFar: How’s your fitness and racing coming up to the last couple months?
Sandes: I haven’t done much racing at all. I went out and did Transvulcania which didn’t go too well at all. I wasn’t feeling great and ended up dropping out. In hindsight, I don’t think that was a bad thing. I was able to get straight back into training for Western States which is my main goal for the first half of this year. I was up in Big Bear and I got a good block of training in, so…
iRunFar: Big Bear and the Sierra Nevada specifically training. Obviously you’ve been on this course a couple times and know the mix of terrain. Were you just playing in the mountains or did you do some flatter, faster stuff as well?
Sandes: No, I definitely tried to get some flatter, faster stuff in. I think Western States is quite a specific race. I definitely felt last year I’d done a lot more mountainous stuff before and I kind of lacked that kind of speed on the flatter sections. I’ve worked quite a bit on that in the first half of the year. We’ll see on Saturday.
iRunFar: Now that you’ve had a couple goes at the race, has your planning and nutrition and gear and all that changed over the years, or has it stayed more or less the same?
Sandes: If anything I think I’d just tried to simplify it this year. In some ways, it’s quite a fast 100 miler. I’m trying not to overcomplicate the nutrition. It’s kind of just basically relying on the gels and stuff like that, just really easy stuff to get down. It’s obviously going to be fairly hot on the day. Last year I had too much variety and you come into the aid station and you’re trying to think of what to choose. Also, it’s not ideal on your stomach to have loads of different things to try to digest.
iRunFar: Did you have different flavors of gels or like gels and block and real food?
Sandes: Real foods and chocolates and, yeah, it was just too much.
iRunFar: This time, just gels?
Sandes: Yes, I’ll keep it simple—gels and maybe a couple of blocks.
iRunFar: How about gear? Do you go with what you start with basically the whole way in terms of shoes and clothing?
Sandes: Yes, that’s the plan. Obviously I’ll have a back-up pair of shoes in case maybe after the river. I don’t think I’ll change shoes, but you never know. Gear is kind of the standard gear. I think it’s pretty important—obviously you want to acclimatize—that on the day that your heat management is pretty crucial for the race. I’ll try to keep as cool as possible using ice baths and getting lots of water on my head and stuff like that.
iRunFar: Does that mean you’ll still wear a vest, racing vest, or no?
Sandes: I’ll stick to the racing vest, yes.
iRunFar: You will, even in the heat?
iRunFar: Why is that? In theory, it could trap more heat because it’s an extra layer or two?
Sandes: I’ll wear the Sense vest which is fairly light and allows a lot of movement. I have quite a big one. I think if you wear it it’s quite nice.
iRunFar: It holds the water a little bit?
Sandes: Yes, it kind of helps keep you cool.
iRunFar: And you can carry water more comfortably as well. How much water do you think you’ll carry in the longer stretches between aid stations? Will you really stock up?
Sandes: No, I’ll just kind of go as usual, nothing more than I need to. Sorry, when you were talking about vests, I’ll use handhelds. I thought you meant a vest top. I normally do the handhelds or the soft flasks on my hands. Yes, I think a vest gets too hot.
iRunFar: Sorry, I got confused there. A lot of your Salomon teammates always run with vests.
Sandes: Yeah, I prefer the bottles here. Also, sometimes you only need one bottle between aid stations. That’s what is really cool about this race is the aid stations are pretty well stocked and quite close together here.
iRunFar: The only thing is this year there’s not going to be a whole lot of water along the course to cool off with compared to some of the snowier years. Fitness-wise, do you think you’re on?
Sandes: Yeah, I hope so. Obviously, 100 miles is a long ways and anything can happen. Your training can go perfectly and everything can go according to plan, but you have to put it together on race day. I’d like to think I can. As I said, I had a really good block of training and I’ve been able to focus. I think this will probably be my last crack at Western States. I love the race and it holds a special place for me, but there’s also so many other races out there that I want to do, so I’m definitely pretty focused. As I said, I’ve put a lot of effort into preparing specifically for this race. I’m hoping for a good one on Saturday.
iRunFar: Say at the end of May, what was a week of your training looking like? What was your volume of training and what were your workouts?
Sandes: I probably wasn’t doing much more than 15-hour weeks. I picked up glandular fever at the end of last year (mono), so I think it made me realize that—because I’d had a really big first half of last year and I think it took its toll on my system. I’ve been running ultras for quite awhile now, so I think I can get away with a little less training and more quality stuff. Generally, I’m kind of getting one or two long runs in during the week with some tempo in the long runs and then one to two, or two, good quality sessions with some hill repeats or a bit of speedwork. At the same time, I’m also not burying myself in the quality sessions because otherwise it takes you four or five days to recover. So I’m just trying to keep a consistent bit but really focusing on recovery which is just so important, too.
iRunFar: What do you do to focus on recovery?
Sandes: I just really stay in tune with my body. Obviously you try and follow a set training program, but if you’re kind of feeling a little beat up that week, then you really just step off the gas or cancel a session or two. It’s pretty tough doing that because you kind of feel like you’re slacking, but I think it’s just so important to listen to your body. I’d rather start the race 40% undertrained than 2% overtrained.
iRunFar: Sometimes skipping a day is better than getting that extra workout in?
Sandes: Yes, for sure. At Big Bear, I skipped a couple of sessions here or there just with the altitude—it also takes a little bit longer to recover. I’ve tried to be really careful. I’ll see if it…
iRunFar: In terms of sleep what do you do? Do you really focus on that or take naps?
Sandes: I’m only just trying to do one sleep per night and try to get an eight-hour sleep in or possibly a bit longer than that. Normally it’s about eight hours. I find if I nap, I often don’t get up or I don’t sleep at night.
iRunFar: Best of luck out there this weekend, and enjoy the course.
Sandes: Thank you very much. I’m looking forward to it.