In 2012, Ryan Sandes finished second to Timothy Olson in the second-fastest time ever run at the Western States 100. Having running extremely well so far this year, Ryan will give another go at winning this historic race. In the following interview, Ryan talks about who he thinks his strongest challengers are, what his strategy will be, whether he has anything left in his legs, and what transformed him from a strong runner to one of the world’s best.
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Ryan Sandes Pre-2014 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Ryan Sandes before the 2014 Western States 100. How are you doing, Ryan?
Ryan Sandes: Yeah, really good. I’ve been here for a few weeks now, so I’m getting really excited for the race now.
iRunFar: You’ve been here for a couple weeks. You were down in Auburn for a couple weeks and up here in Tahoe area for a couple weeks. I’m assuming you’ve checked out a lot of the course?
Sandes: Yes, I’ve checked out about 80% of the course or 70%. I know what’s coming, but obviously I was here in 2012 so I’ve got a gauge of what the course was about then. I’m looking forward to it. Obviously I have a bit more experience and knowledge of the course the second time around.
iRunFar: Yeah, having raced the course and having checked out other parts of the course again, are there any places you can make some big improvements or run a different strategy in?
Sandes: I think I’ve got my race strategy pretty down… it went pretty well last time in 2012. I think I’ll probably stick to some of that strategy. Yeah, I think there are parts of the course I’ve eyed and think that they’ll suit me. Again, it’s 100 miles and anything can happen out there, so I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. I think it’s just about starting out conservatively and seeing how you feel when you get to Foresthill. I think the race really starts from Foresthill.
iRunFar: Yeah, and this year’s race is not going to be… we don’t know exactly what the weather is going to be, but it’s not going to be a terribly hot day and it’s not going to be a terribly cool day. It’s going to be maybe 15 degrees warmer than two years ago. Does that change your strategy at all?
Sandes: No, actually the hotter it’s going to be the more I’m looking forward to that. I enjoy running in the heat. I think it will favor me. Obviously the hotter it gets the more important it is to just really look after yourself and make sure you’re properly hydrated and you get cooled down. I think it’s obviously important to check to your crew and make sure they know what you need beforehand. I don’t think my strategy will change much. I think it’s just the hotter it gets the more the race becomes about survival.
iRunFar: Yeah, you were second to Timothy Olson two years ago, and you ran the second-fastest time ever here at Western States. Does that put any pressure? You’re coming in here as one or two or three of the favorites if not the favorite. Do you feel any pressure on that?
Sandes: Not really. I kind of channel pressure in the right way. I think there are so many strong runners coming into the race. There are probably 15 to even 20 guys that I feel could win the race if they have a good day. I think there are 10-plus really strong guys. I think it’s up to who wants it the most on the day and who runs the smartest race. If you run a stupid race, you can be as strong as you want but you’re going to suffer the consequences later on.
iRunFar: I assume you’re going for the win?
Sandes: Yeah, I think that would be nice to get one better than 2012, but again, for 100 miles I never like to be too far ahead of myself. Anything can happen if you have a bad day. I think first things first will be about trying to get to Foresthill feeling strong and then take things from there.
iRunFar: If you had to name two or three guys who you think most likely will be challenging you if you’re going for the win on Saturday…?
Sandes: Yeah, obviously I think definitely Rob Krar is going to be really strong out there. He hasn’t raced a lot this year, so I think he’s being really smart and he’s focusing on the race. I think Dylan Bowman—I ran with him a couple weeks ago and he’s looking super strong and super slight and adept. There are also the guys like Miguel Heras—I ran with him this morning and he’s looking strong, fit, and healthy. He’ll be a strong competitor. Even someone like Ian Sharman—he seems to be focusing quite a lot specifically on Western States. I think there are guys ready to be up there.
iRunFar: You mentioned Rob Krar hasn’t raced a lot. You have a lot of hard miles on your legs. I keep thinking, When are those wheels going to come off? Do you feel energized physically and mentally? You’ve done a lot of racing.
Sandes: I try to be smart in my training and really focused on recovery after UTMF in Japan. I’m feeling good and excited. Yeah, I think I’m fully recovered. I hope I’m fully recovered. I suppose I’ll know in a few days’ time. I think Western States is my last major race of the year. I have a couple of smaller races later in the year. I’ll definitely take some time off after Western States. As I say, I really have focused on recovery and trying to not overdo the training too much. I’ve kind of done my long training runs in some of the racing I’ve done this year.
iRunFar: We were talking a little bit on the way over here, it’s an amazing and gorgeous place to run. How have you been able to restrain yourself the past week or so to not overdo it and not just go out and run 20 miles per day?
Sandes: Yeah, it’s tough. I think Lake Tahoe is one of my most favorite places in the world. That’s why I like coming here for as long as possible before the race and kind of escape the Cape Town winter back home in South Africa. So it is tough. Every day is like this. There are some insane trails around Lake Tahoe. It is tough. There’s so much to do around here. It’s a multi-sport paradise and a running paradise. You definitely do have to restrain yourself and just go out and run for maybe an hour or two every day and then you kind of have to lock yourself in the house. But you’ve got to be professional about it and realize that come Saturday you have 100 miles to run and need to be as well-rested as possible.
iRunFar: Has there been a section of trail here that has just been outstanding for you and that you’ve enjoyed above the rest?
Sandes: Sheesh, there’s just so much. On the Rim Trail running parts of the Flume Trail is really incredible. You’re just running right along the ridge and there are just massive cliffs and drop-offs to the side.
iRunFar: Looking straight west out to Lake Tahoe.
Sandes: Yeah, it’s pretty spectacular actually. I rode it on a bike the last time I was here. I’ve tried to stay off the bike this time as some of the cliff drops were pretty sketchy. Yeah, I didn’t want to do anything stupid just before the race. Yeah, I think the whole scene here is just really incredible. Yeah, I’d love one day to actually try to run the whole Rim Trail. It looks like quite an epic challenge.
iRunFar: When you go over to some place like Transgrancanaria or Mt. Fuji, I’m sure you’re very recognizable. People are coming up to you and wanting pictures taken. Has it been like that in Auburn or Incline Village or is it pretty low-key in comparison.
Sandes: Yeah, I think it’s pretty low-key. It’s pretty cool. Still I think the race is really special. I like not having all the hype and buzz of some of the European races. I think it’s kind of special in its own unique way. I think just some of the volunteers and the guys that have been managing the aid stations for 30-plus years. They’ve got so many different stories. Yeah, I’ve bumped into a couple of guys that have manned the aid stations. It’s always interesting chatting to them. A lot of the guys say the course is a lot easier now than back when they ran it when it was a lot more rugged.
iRunFar: Of course.
Sandes: Apparently the course was about nine miles shorter, so I suppose it’s give or take. Then then I’ve made a lot of friends walking around. The locals seem really welcoming and friendly. It’s a really special place for me.
iRunFar: A few years ago you were well-known for doing the stage races and you were a tough runner. But in the last two or three years, at least from an observer’s point of view, you’ve really made a step up in how fast you can run these top-level races. What have you changed in the early days’ stage races to now kicking ass on the world’s stage?
Sandes: I suppose I started running a little late. I think when I was running the stage races I only had just started running, so it’s just been a natural progression for me. I think I just really enjoy what I’m doing. Obviously I suppose I just push my training a bit harder and try to get as much help and advice as possible with training. I think I just enjoy the whole experience. I think that helps. If you enjoy what you’re doing it’s a lot easier to perform well. I suppose I’ve tried to race smart and run as injury-free as much as possible. I think with ultra trail running there are so many talented runners out there, but there are also so many races out there; so a lot of people tend to over race and overdo things which I’ve tried not to do. Obviously this year I’ve had quite a busy first half of the year, but that’s why I say I definitely try to take some time off towards the end of this year.
iRunFar: Nice. Well, enjoy Western States, and enjoy the downtime afterward.
Sandes: Thank you. Will do.