Ryan Sandes will have a fresh start in kicking off his 2016 season at the Tarawera Ultramarathon this weekend. In the following interview, Ryan talks about what went wrong during his 2015 season, how he’s feeling now, and how he’ll approach this race.
To find out who else is racing, check out our 2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon preview. Be sure to follow our live race-day coverage!
Ryan Sandes Pre-2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Ryan Sandes before the 2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon. How are you, Ryan?
Ryan Sandes: Yeah, good. Awesome to be in New Zealand. I’ve been here for two weeks now. Really enjoying it.
iRunFar: You did an adventure race down on the South Island?
Sandes: Yes. It was pretty different multisports—a little bit of paddling and mountain biking. Yeah, it took me awhile to get used to the mountain bike, hence a couple of scars on the arms. Yeah, it was really nice just to mix it up and do things a bit different.
iRunFar: I saw something about you practicing clay pigeon shooting. Was that part of the event?
Sandes: Yes, one of the bonus stations was after you paddled and ran up the mountain into a clay pigeon shooting area.
iRunFar: What other sort of odd…?
Sandes: That was the most bizarre. We also did a bit of abseiling, but apart from that it was pretty straight forward.
iRunFar: You got a little bit of racing in, but this is the start of your trail running season, yeah? You had a, if we’re honest, a rough go at 2015.
Sandes: Yeah, I was glad to see the back of that, but also I learned a lot. I probably overdid it a bit in 2014.
iRunFar: You had a good first half of 2014. You were unbeatable and on top of the world.
Sandes: Yeah, it came back to bite me in 2015. But yeah, you live and learn, and I’ll try not to make the same mistake again.
iRunFar: You’re feeling pretty totally recovered?
Sandes: Yeah. Obviously after last year, I need to try and build up the confidence again. Yeah, after UTMB I did take a lot of time off and tried to see what went wrong. My blood count was completely whacked, so that’s a lot better now. I’m a lot more positive about 2016. Yeah, I think we’ll try and do a little bit more resting and just kind of focus on the specific races I’m going to be running.
iRunFar: So coming from the Northern Hemisphere, I tend to think of people from New Zealand or South Africa, like this is the core of their season or the end of their season. If I understand, you’ve been kind of laying low? It’s really hot where you live.
Sandes: Yes, it’s been pretty warm. Yeah, I basically started running in again in December. I suppose for Tarawera it looks like it’s going to be fairly warm out there, so I’ve got a bit of heat training in for that.
iRunFar: How about—obviously you’ve had some great success at mildly mountainous to mountainous races—how do you feel going into one, especially late in the race, that is quite quick?
Sandes: Yeah, I’ve run the last 20k, and it looks properly fast. Yeah, I’d like to think I’m a bit of an all-around athlete—not completely mountainous, not completely racing flat.
iRunFar: Your success at Western States has shown that. You can handle both parts of that race.
Sandes: Yeah, hopefully that will play into my favor. Obviously, it’s only 100k, so from watching last year’s video, it looks really, really fast. You can’t really mess around too much. You can’t afford to have any bad patches. You’ve just kind of got to open from the start.
iRunFar: I can’t imagine that you have, but have you raced Jonas Buud in the past?
Sandes: No, I’ve never raced him. Obviously I’ve seen him race because he’s run the Comrades, and I’ve watched that on TV a couple of times. Yeah, he’s obviously going to be really fast on race day.
iRunFar: Who else do you sort of have on your radar?
Sandes: Vajin Armstrong—he’s always super consistent. Jason Schlarb—he’s always super strong. I’m trying to think… Michael Wardian—I’m sure he’ll really relish the final 40k. I know he’s raced a bunch already, so hopefully he’ll be a little bit tired.
iRunFar: Does that change your strategy for a race like this knowing there are some people who are really super skilled on that fast stuff?
Sandes: Yeah, it’s tricky. I’ve thought about it. After last year, especially with this being the first race of the season, I just really want to race myself and see how quickly I can get to the finish line. I’m trying not to worry too much about the racing. I tend to normally start fairly conservatively, and I’ll probably go for that again. I’ll try and make up a little bit of time in the middle of the race in the technical sections. Hopefully, I’ve got legs for the last 30k or 40k and try and push on that.
iRunFar: You’ve been doing this long enough that you probably have benchmark runs or workouts that you do in South Africa. Have you been doing any of them that give you some confidence going into this race?
Sandes: Yeah, my sessions have gone really well, but even last year before UTMB I had some really, really good training sessions and then, yeah, just seemed to all fall apart. I’ve been feeling good, and I feel like I’m running well and moving efficiently. In a race like this, you’ve got to be moving well and running efficiently. Yeah, I think I’m feeling confident. We’ll just have to see how it goes. I think it’s all going to be about the last 40k. It just looks really fast. I think if you blow up on a mountainous terrain, you can kind of get away with it. But on a course like this, if you’re running 5:30 min/k and someone else is running 4:15 min/k, they’re going to put lots of time on you.
iRunFar: Real quick. So did you ever figure out exactly what was wrong with you? I know you were sick at the end of 2014.
Sandes: Yeah, I got glandular fever or mononucleosis, and I thought I’d recovered from it in March or April last year. Then I dropped out of Transvulcania and thought I was just kind of… I’d been doing a lot of flat stuff for Western States, and I thought I was just kind of… something just wasn’t right. Unfortunately I got sick right before Western States. That was completely unrelated, just a stomach bug worst nightmare come true. Then unfortunately at UTMB, I thought training had gone really well, and then exact same thing happened again. My legs just seized up. To be honest, a day or two after UTMB, I thought mentally I’d just lost it. Maybe I wasn’t tough enough to deal with the pain. It definitely wasn’t that. For two weeks after, I could hardly touch my legs, and I’d only run 45k at UTMB. I did loads and loads of blood tests and all sorts of analyses. There was nothing serious, but my blood count was way too low. I don’t know if the glandular fever or mononucleosis really affects your liver and your blood counts, so it obviously just took me a lot longer than what I’d thought to recover. Yeah, I think that’s why doing a race like Tarawera is… it’s still a 100k, so it’s a long ways but it’s a fast 100k. At least it’s not a European race where I’m going to be spending 14 or 15 hours on my legs. I think it will be a good test for me.
iRunFar: A good stepping stone for the rest of the season?
iRunFar: Best of luck out there, Ryan. Enjoy.
Sandes: Thanks. Thank you.