After winning the 2017 edition, Ryan Sandes is back at the 2018 Western States 100, though this time as a pacer. In this interview, part of the iRunFar Live at Western States show, we ask Ryan about what it takes to put together a good race in the unique conditions of Western States, why this race keeps drawing people including him back, and what he thinks of his pacing duties for men’s contender François D’haene.
Ryan Sandes Pre-2018 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar – Meghan Hicks: All right, we are back. This is iRunFar Live at Western States. It’s happy hour at Coffeebar. It’s happy hour wherever you are at home.
iRunFar – Dylan Bowman: We’re here with last year’s champion, Ryan Sandes. You’ve had quite an interesting history here at the race, having run one of the fiercest battles against Timothy Olson the year he broke the course record and you ran one of the fastest times ever. Then you had to drop out of the race before you even started in 2015 due to a stomach bug, having flown all the way from Cape Town, South Africa. Then you came back last year and won the race. Can you talk about how satisfying that was? Are you happy you don’t have to put yourself through that again this year?
Ryan Sandes: I think that Western States will always be part of my blood, part of my DNA. I’m kind of frothing not to be racing. I’m sad about that a little bit, but it’s cool to be part of the race by pacing. At least I’ll get to run the last 60k. It’s not the full race, but…
iRunFar – Bowman: So you’re doing from Foresthill all the way to the finish?
Sandes: That’s the plan, if I can keep up with François D’haene [laughs]. I think last year was just a really magical day for me – one of the best days of my life. I think one of the reasons for not coming back this year, aside from being completely smashed from my Himalaya Project, was thinking that I couldn’t better last year. I couldn’t match that day. I think being back here now, I realize I want to come back and race again. It’s something so unique.
iRunFar – Bowman: Can you talk a little bit about last year’s race? It was in historically difficult conditions. You managed to run 16:20 on a day when almost everyone was 1:15-1:20 slower than they usually are on the course. So theoretically, it could have been equivalent to a 15:00 race, which is mind-bogglingly fast. How hard of a day was it for you? How hard was it for you to be chasing Jim Walmsley for 80 miles or however far it was?
Sandes: Definitely I was destroyed from the river onwards. It was one of the toughest days of my life from a running point of view. Luckily at the start, I ran side-by-side with Jim for about 200-300 meters and I asked him if he was still going for sub-14:00 and he said, “hell yeah, baby.” Then off he went. So he was so far ahead I didn’t even think about it. I knew either he was going to have a magical day, or I was going to pass him somewhere when he is destroyed. Luckily for me it was the latter. So from that point of view, it was just one of those days when I was feeling really good and everything felt pretty smooth. It was just about pacing and running my own race. Looking after myself in the heat was so crucial, and not getting too far ahead of myself. I think when I got into Foresthill, Jim was nearly an hour ahead. That’s massive.
iRunFar – Bowman: I saw you there. I remember telling you, “Jim looks gassed.” He was an hour ahead of you at that point.
Sandes: Yeah, I heard he threw up at Foresthill. Even at the aid station off of Duncan Canyon – Robinson Flat – I heard he sat down, and that he had pushed pretty hard through the snow. I tried to be a little conservative through there. I knew something wasn’t right, when I heard he was an hour ahead – that’s a whole other world.
iRunFar – Hicks: One of the things that I saw you do last year that I didn’t necessarily see all of the frontrunners do was slow down and take your time, to get yourself wet and put ice everywhere. You had this epic running hat and this epic ice bandana that you left aid stations with. Can you talk about being methodical with that stuff?
Sandes: The main thing for me was slowing myself down a bit at aid stations. Yeah, I had that Super Mario-style ice hat.
iRunFar – Hicks: I loved it. I actually want one.
Sandes: Yeah, it looks normal when there isn’t ice inside it. When you add ice [he gestures that the hat gets taller]. So, then I’d do an ice bandana and add ice to my sleeves. I was really, really trying to cool myself down because it’s so brutally hot out there. I think the canyon was just baking. I remember one minute, you’re feeling fine and then you’d hit this hot pocket of air and you’d feel really knocked down. So keeping ice on me and staying wet really helped the whole day.
iRunFar – Hicks: Aside from the river crossing, there are places on the course where you can submerge yourself in water. Did you take the time to get wet in those places?
Sandes: Mainly I used ice up until the river crossing. I probably didn’t spend enough time in the river. I was actually feeling so terrible there, and there were a lot of people around. I tried to get out of there as quickly as possible.
iRunFar – Bowman: Yeah, Alex Nichols was actually really close at that point.
Sandes: Yeah, I was pretty worried there. I had flashbacks of 2012 when I passed Timothy Olson and then he came stealing past me. So last year, I tried to get up to Green Gate as quick as possible. There’s a couple of creeks after Green Gate, I got in one or two of them. My pacer actually dragged me out of one, I was pretty happy to just stay there.
iRunFar – Hicks: I think I heard Kilian Jornetspent a lot of time in one of the creeks along there. They must have a magnetic force.
iRunFar – Bowman: Yeah, I think he took a nap! Well, that’s so cool man, the way you just got it done last year. Now you’re back and of course you don’t get to just hang out this weekend. You’re sort of in a high-pressure situation, because you’re pacing François D’haene who is obviously one of the best in the world and one of the best of all time at the distance. How did that idea come up? Did he ask you to come, or did Salomon bring the two of you together?
Sandes: Yeah, I was chatting to Greg, our team manager, about my schedule this year and I was trying to find an excuse to get back here. So I spoke to François earlier this year and he was like, “cool, it’ll be great to have you as part of the team.” It was kind of my idea to get back here, but really cool to see how François does.
iRunFar – Bowman: Do you guys have like strategy, or have you given him advice about how you’ve been successful at the race? Because he’s had some trouble at this race, and it’s rare for him to have trouble.
Sandes: From a running point of view, not too much advice. But getting crewing dialed, and approaching the race… yeah, I’ve tried to impart a bit of knowledge.
iRunFar – Hicks: Pacing from Foresthill to the finish is pretty serious business. I’m sure you had to train for it.
Sandes: Yeah, I was a little nervous because after running in the Himalayas, I’ve been taking it pretty easy. I did a little bit of a run last week with François where we ran up the first part of the course and yeah, I was sucking air behind him. He said it was just an easy jog. Luckily, after he runs through the canyons and it warms up a bit, we’ll be a bit more evenly matched.
iRunFar – Bowman: Yeah, the fact that François will have run 100k by the time you start pacing him will be a good governor. Let’s talk about what you have coming up. You’re going to the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blancat the end of the summer, a race you’ve had some adversity at. I think you’re going to Europe shortly after you leave here. Can you talk about your preparation?
Sandes: Since I’m doing UTMB, I need to get my butt into gear from a running point of view. I need to start getting my mileage in my legs.
iRunFar – Hicks: Yeah, you look like you’ve let yourself go.
Sandes: I think living in Cape Town, like you [addressing Bowman] living in San Francisco, it’s really hard to get big mountain training in. So I’m going to do two or three weeks of training after this in Europe. Then I’ll had back to my family, and head to Chamonix two weeks before the race. That and next weekend I’ll do the Stubai Ultra. I think it’s about 60k with about 6,000 meters [19,700 feet] of vert.
iRunFar – Bowman: That’s in France?
Sandes: It’s in Austria.
iRunFar – Bowman: Cool. Well, it sounds like you’re setting yourself up for a good one. I hope you don’t have another rough one there.
Sandes: Yeah, I hope to make it around the mountain this time [laughs].