After years of traveling the world to race, Ryan Sandes will take his first shot at the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc this weekend. In this interview, Ryan explains what caused him to DNS Western States, how he turned his sights to UTMB, and how his training has gone the last couple months. Ryan also talks about his forthcoming book.
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Ryan Sandes Pre-2015 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here in Chamonix valley with Ryan Sandes a couple days ahead of the 2015 Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB). Hi, Ryan.
Ryan Sandes: How’s it going?
iRunFar: Good. How are you doing?
Sandes: Good, thanks. Yeah, looking forward to Friday.
iRunFar: I just got here. You’ve been here a couple weeks. How are you feeling?
Sandes: I’ve done quite a bit of running on the course. I’ve done 130-odd kilometers of it. It looks pretty challenging and quite difficult, but I’m really looking forward to it. It’s my first time running. It’s a new challenge. Everything is quite fresh to me. Yeah, I’m super excited about a new adventure.
iRunFar: You’ve probably been here to the Alps before but not done this race and not been on the course. What’s been a surprise? What’s been a “Hey, this is going to be really good about this race?”
Sandes: Probably the surprise like some of the times I’ve run on the course, the weather’s been quite bad and quite challenging. Yeah, that was a bit of a shock to the system—kind of running and you don’t actually know where you’re going. I was following my GPS. I think just what’s really appealed to me about the course is just how big these mountains are and just how spectacular everything is running in these mountains. I kind of stop the whole time to check out the view. I’ll try not to do too much of that on race day. It’s been absolutely incredible to me to experience the whole vibe and atmosphere of Chamonix and the ultra trail.
iRunFar: See the views, experience the culture pre-race so you can put your head down and do the job on race day.
Sandes: Yeah, that’s the plan. It’s all going according the plan.
iRunFar: The last time we saw you was a couple days ahead of Western States a couple months ago back in the U.S. Western States did not go according to plan.
Sandes: No, definitely not. I woke up on the Friday before the race just feeling terrible. As the day progressed I just felt worse and worse. I tried to go and register and I just couldn’t even do that. I had to drop from the race which was pretty disappointing. I’d been practicing on it for quite awhile. Yeah, I suppose in any disappointment you try and look forward, and that opened a new door for me in being able to run the UTMB which wasn’t in my original plan this year. I’m really excited to run that. I believe everything happens for a reason.
iRunFar: Talk about how you made that transition. Western States you couldn’t start because of some sort of stomach bug. How did you decide, Okay, UTMB.
Sandes: As I said, I was quite disappointed and down in the dumps for a couple of days. I’d done a lot of training and I felt like I was in good shape and really fit, so I decided to… UTMB has always been a dream of mine. I decided to give that a go. Obviously it’s quite a different course than Western States, but over the last year or two I’ve started to do a lot more mountain running. So I just mixed my training a bit and started getting in more vert. I’d like to think I’m in good shape. Like you said, I’ve been here for just over two weeks now and have run quite a bit on the course and have done quite a lot of mountain running. Yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing if it all goes according to plan.
iRunFar: The men’s field is deep, really deep. Who are you looking forward to racing? Whose style fits yours? Who might you see to run with out there?
Sandes: I think, obviously, my typical strategy is to start off a bit slower and finish a bit stronger. I’ve seen in the past before at UTMB that the guys start off really fast. I think guys like Sage [Canaday] and [Luis Alberto] Hernando will go out really fast. As far as guys to stick with and key off of, I haven’t really given it too much thought. I’ve been trying to focus on my race. I think someone like Miguel [Heras] if he’s in good shape will run a smart race. I think maybe sticking with someone like him would be a good idea. But I think I’ll just try and maybe play it by ear and stick with me running my own race rather than trying to key off guys. Obviously, you want to know how far ahead the other guys are or what’s happening up at the front, but yeah, I’ll just try and focus on getting to the finish line as quickly as I can.
iRunFar: It’s 100 miles, but it’s a long 100 miles. The elevation change adds hours to it. Best-case scenario, it’s still the better part of a day out there. How do you… it’s more hours than most races you do. How do you get yourself into the mental space that this is a day’s journey?
Sandes: I think I just try and break the race up into different stages. I definitely think you focus initially just to try and get through the night phase, and then you kind of focus on the day. Yeah, just breaking it down into lots of little mini-goals. At the different points you can have crew there and just focus on getting from one point to the next. I’ll be pretty conservative with the start. I’ll probably break the race down into three or four stages and rely on the last 40 or 50k if I’m feeling good to really attack then. I’ll almost switch off from racing for a lot of the race if that’s possible. Also, I think the race is so incredibly beautiful that I’ll try and take in a bit of the scenery. Like I said, I’ll try and switch off from the racing and relax as much as possible for definitely the first half of the race.
iRunFar: Ride the scenery high for a little bit?
Sandes: Yeah, for sure. That obviously will probably be quite different down at the start line. The start looks pretty epic, so I’m sure there will be a lot of emotions and a lot of adrenaline. It adds a new experience for me, so I’ll just take it as it comes.
iRunFar: The night start—when you ask people about the night start, they either love it or they hate it. What do you think?
Sandes: To be honest, I prefer running during the day. Last year I did a couple of races through the night. The Drakensburg Traverse ran through two nights. I don’t mind it too much. I’m fairly comfortable. Again, mentally I find it quite challenging because you can’t see anything around you. It’s just kind of looking directly in front of you.
iRunFar: Like living in your headlamp, right?
Sandes: Yes. Time goes pretty slowly at times. That’s why I said, for me, it’s about getting through the night phase and then kind of reassess how things are going and take it from there.
iRunFar: We got some interesting news about you this week. You’re writing a book.
iRunFar: Apparently you have time fitting in research and writing a book while you’re busy running also?
Sandes: Yeah, it’s been a fun experience. I actually started it earlier this year and the end of last year. Steve Smith is co-writing it for me. He’s obviously doing a lot of the hard work and writing. Yeah, for the first couple of months this year we sat down and had loads and loads of interviews. It was pretty mentally consuming, but it was cool to finally do something. Yeah, this is going to be launched early March next year. I’m looking forward to it.
iRunFar: So it’s your story?
Sandes: Yeah, it’s going to be my life story. If you would have asked me 15 years ago, “Would you see yourself as a trail runner or running ultra trails?” I would have laughed at you. It’s been quite an epic journey, quite an unexpected journey. Yeah, it will be kind of cool to document that and put it down on paper.
iRunFar: Last question for you: This is the Chamonix Valley and this place is famous for its glace. There’s ice cream on every street corner. Have you been enjoying it at all?
Sandes: Yes, the first few days I was. Then Vanessa told me I was getting a bit fat, so I’ve turned it down. Yeah, I…
iRunFar: Cut back a little bit?
Sandes: I remember the first time I walked through town, I stopped two or three times to test it all out. So yeah, I’ve definitely been enjoying it.
iRunFar: Favorite flavor?
Sandes: The chocolate Oreo is pretty good.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you this weekend. Good luck on your journey around Mont Blanc which is staring us down right now.
Sandes: Thanks very much. Yeah, I’ll see you out there.
iRunFar: Good luck to you.