After an extremely successful first half of 2014 and a quiet last half, Ryan Sandes kicks off his 2015 season with the Transvulcania Ultramarathon. In the following interview, hear Ryan’s reflections on his last season, how it’s informing his 2015 racing choices, and what he thinks about this weekend’s course and competition.
Find out more about who’s racing with our men’s and women’s previews. On Saturday, you can follow all the action with our Transvulcania live coverage.
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Ryan Sandes Pre-2015 Transvulcania Ultramarathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here on the island of La Palma here on Spain’s Canary Islands just before the 2015 Transvulcania Ultramarathon with South African Ryan Sandes. How’s it going?
Ryan Sandes: Yeah, really good. I’m super excited to be here. I went for a run on the island this morning, and it’s incredibly beautiful.
iRunFar: This is pretty amazing to me. You’ve been at this sort of mountain running, ultrarunning, trail running business for quite some time, but you just told me this is going to be your first Skyrunning race. What gives?
Sandes: Yeah, I’m not too sure why I’ve waited so long. I think I’ve just probably focused on the 100k and 100-mile distance races. Yeah, but I’m super excited. For me, I think 2015 is a year of trying all kinds of different things.
iRunFar: Is this your first trip to the Canary Islands, or have you been here before?
Sandes: It’s my first visit to La Palma, but I’ve been to Gran Canaria the previous two years.
iRunFar: One of the other islands, that’s right. You started your 2014 off with a bang there in winning Transgrancanaria, so you’re probably familiar with the volcanic big ascent, lots of technical stuff up high, and then the big descent type race.
Sandes: Yeah, I really enjoy that kind of stuff that’s fairly technical and the long climbs and the long descent. I’m looking forward to it being nice and warm, which I enjoy running in the hotter conditions.
iRunFar: You’re coming off of the South African summer, so you’re probably a lot more acclimated than us Northern Hemisphere folks.
Sandes: Yeah, I hope so. It’s been really warm in Cape Town where I live in South Africa this past few months. It has started to switch over to winter the past few weeks, so it’s getting a bit chilly. I’ve kind of chosen the perfect time to come here.
iRunFar: Let’s look back at your 2014 really quick. You started off here in the Canary Islands with Transgrancanaria. After that you had a big mountain project at home, and then you hit two 100 milers right in a row—Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji and Western States. Then kind of after that at least on the international radar, you went quiet for Ryan Sandes. So recap your year for us.
Sandes: Obviously the first half of the year, to recap in a nutshell, was pretty crazy looking back now. I was super stoked that I did it, and it obviously went according to plan. I’m very happy with the end result and coming second on the World Ultra Tour. It definitely took its toll on me. The second half of the year was definitely a lot more chilled out. I did a race in Madagascar and then a couple of local races and also got married. I ended up finishing off the year with glandular fever, so it took its toll on me. I think it was a little bit too much racing.
iRunFar: Are you saying getting married was stressful a little bit?
Sandes: Yes, it definitely added a bit of stress. I think it was my bachelor party that was probably the most stressful.
iRunFar: I don’t want to know what happened.
Sandes: Yeah, so it was all good, but looking back, it was a really fun year and it was a year I learned a lot and evolved as an athlete, but I think I overdid it a little bit. So in 2015, I think for me, I’m going to try and take it a little bit more easily, a little bit less racing, and yeah, see how it goes.
iRunFar: Awesome. So Transvulcania this weekend, and then what else is on your calendar?
Sandes: After that is going to be Western States.
iRunFar: You’re coming over to the U.S. again?
Sandes: Yes, as I said, Western States was kind of towards the end of my season last year, so I felt a little bit tired, but I think I gave my best crack at it on the day. Yeah, I want to go back this year and give it one last go around on fresh legs and see how that goes. Second half of the year, I’m looking to do Grand Raid de la Réunion. That will be my other 100 miler for the year.
iRunFar: Island hopping.
Sandes: Yeah, it’s also pretty close to South Africa, so hopefully it won’t involve too many long flights. So Western States and Raid de la Réunion are my two focus races for the year. I’ve entered for CCC because I want to do UTMB in 2016, so I might head there just to check out the course.
iRunFar: Check it out and see the scene?
Sandes: Yeah, get a feel for it. Yeah, I’m really excited but kind of just focused on Transvulcania this weekend for now.
iRunFar: Let’s look at your training for this race. You said you had some time off because of glandular fever. When did you start up with your training again? How’s it been? You said maybe you’ve done things a little bit differently with your training?
Sandes: Yeah, I’ve definitely downscaled my training a lot more, so I’m doing a lot less hours but a little bit more quality work. I’m mainly focusing everything kind of towards Western States for now. I think Western States is 100 mile, but it’s quite a fast 100 miles.
iRunFar: It’s a fast 100 miles.
Sandes: Yes, you’ve got to be fast.
iRunFar: Over before dark, right?
Sandes: Yeah, I hope.
iRunFar: Yeah, knock wood.
Sandes: Yeah, so I’ve definitely done a lot more quality and less quantity and I think it’s worked out well. I’m recovering a lot quicker. As I said, I only started training and started running again at the end of February. I had to take basically the whole of December and January off and really go back into things slowly. My recovery has been really good this year, so I think the forced break was probably a good thing. Yeah, I think it’s probably good. I’ve been running ultras for quite awhile now, and I think I can get away with running a little bit less distance now and more quality.
iRunFar: Yeah, it will be fun to see how that theory and the change of your training pans out this weekend for you.
Sandes: Yeah, I think obviously Transvulcania is going to be pretty fast and intense for me. I’m a little bit on the short side, but I think it’s going to be great.
iRunFar: Several hours too short?
Sandes: Yeah, I think if we turned around and ran back again I might be a little more confident. I’m just looking forward to the experience.
iRunFar: Yeah, so the race itself is a really interesting course strategically. There’s a huge, many kilometers of climbing, and then the technicality aspect, and then the long, long 8,000-foot (2,500-meter) descent or something like that. Then there’s this silly little really hard finish. How do you, being the longer-distance specialist that you are, how do you apply your strategy to that? How do you figure out where your strengths and weaknesses are going to be?
Sandes: I’m still trying to figure that out. I’m going to have to gauge that on race day. I want to save something for the end, for the descent and the little flat through town. Obviously you don’t want to be too far off the pace. I tend to come from behind, so I can’t drift off too quickly. I think I’m going to have to just see how I feel after the first 40 to 50k on the climb. Ideally, I don’t want to be more than eight or 10 minutes off the lead group. That’s in an ideal case. I’ll just see how it goes and then try and save something for the end. Obviously, it’s a race and a lot of things can happen. Yeah, I think I’m going to have to be really flexible with what my strategy might be and mark out a few guys that I think will have smart races and then try and see where they are in comparison to me on race day.
iRunFar: So who are those guys who you’re going to be marking for Saturday?
Sandes: Obviously, [Luis Alberto] Hernando—he got it right.
iRunFar: He has a slightly different racing style than you. He goes out hard from the get-go.
Sandes: That’s what I was going to say. I’m sure he’ll be way out ahead. I think someone like Timmy Olson always runs a really smart race and kind of comes on a bit stronger towards the end. Dakota [Jones]—he’s also a friend. It’s hard to kind of pick anyone out. I think I’ll just try and gauge off of a few guys. If everyone is 30 minutes ahead, I’ll realize I’ve got to get a move on really quickly. Yeah, I think it’s about being flexible. I’m really excited. Obviously, it’s a super-competitive field, and I think I need a really competitive race before going into Western States. Having not raced competitively for about six or seven months now, I could be a little bit rusty.
iRunFar: Last question for you, with the rocky, pumice dust and then some of the gnarly exposed rock, what’s your shoe choice?
Sandes: I’m going to use a prototype shoe that’s obviously Salomon. It’s kind of a mixture between the Mantra and the Sense. The sole and the outer sole is the Mantra and the upper is going to be the Sense. I use them for most running conditions. I just find they work really well. Yeah, I was actually kind of surprised this morning running on the course how sandy it was. But I come from running in the desert, so it might play to my favor a little bit.
iRunFar: It might play into the… didn’t they used to call you the “Sandman?”
iRunFar: The Sandman’s favor. Best of luck to you.
Sandes: Thanks very much.
iRunFar: We’ll see you out there.
Sandes: Yeah, thank you.
iRunFar: Good luck.