The 2017 Western States 100 champ Ryan Sandes returns to the starting line after pacing at last year’s race. In the following interview, Ryan talks about what brought him back to running the race, how his effort on the Great Himalaya Trail last year took more out of him than he expected, and what his goals are for the race now that he’s won.
Ryan Sandes Pre-2019 Western States 100 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Ryan Sandes before the 2019 Western States 100. Welcome back, Ryan.
Ryan Sandes: Thanks, yeah. Good to be back here.
iRunFar: Are you excited to be back at Western States?
Sandes: Yeah, really excited. Looking forward to it. It’s always such an awesome vibe, and just being here for 10 or 11 days now, and the local community is just so cool, and in a way it feels like a home away from home.
iRunFar: Does it? I kind of wondered about that. You worked for a number of years and had obstacles and hurdles to try to win, or have a great day, whatever that was, and then you won it two years ago. I could have seen you stepping away having accomplished that long-standing goal. What brings you back?
Sandes: Yeah, to be honest after 2017, winning it, and having my family here, like as I said, it being such a pinnacle race for me, my biggest race win for me, I thought you’re never going to be able to better it. And, then, last year I came back here and paced François [D’Haene] and just, I guess just being in the whole atmosphere, I was like look, I’ve got to come back here. So yeah. Coming back again, and I guess in a way, having won and achieved that, I feel a little bit less pressure having achieved that goal, but it’s still such a big race. It would be amazing to get two cougar trophies.
iRunFar: Do you also feel like having got that win you have less pressure, you’re more free to just have your good day, whatever that is.
Sandes: Yeah, exactly. But I guess like I said, the race, easier said than done. I’ve been staying out in Auburn, and just kind of driving out here, up here and this morning you kind of realize that it’s kind of a deal to be on the start line at Western States.
iRunFar: Does it get you excited, like tingly?
Sandes: Yeah. I’ve been racing for quite a while now, bit of an old buddy in South African terms, and there’s very few races that appeal to me, and I guess Western States is one of them.
iRunFar: One of them. Yeah. You’re not racing a ton these days.
Sandes: Yeah last year, because I did the Great Himalaya Trail project, definitely took a lot more out of me physically and mentally than I initially thought, and second half of my year race wise was a bit of a disaster. I was pretty beat up physically and mentally. So I’ve done one or two races this year, getting back into it, but I guess I like to spread them out a little bit more and throw in some free running projects in between.
iRunFar: Do you feel like you are completely recovered and now fresh?
Sandes: Yeah. Like I’ve had a really good six- or seven-week training block, so I’m feeling really good. I guess there’s always in the back of your mind, like after experiencing something like the Himalayas, you wonder, am I going to fully recover, so I guess at times you kind of have that when you’re having an off week. But luckily 100 miles is a long way. You don’t need to be crazy fast. I think it’s about racing smart and having those good strong legs, so I like to think.
iRunFar: And you have that experience, that knowledge of this course.
Sandes: Yeah. I feel pretty comfortable. I don’t know if I’m too blasé about it, but it’s definitely a race I know, and run a lot of the final parts of the course the last week, and as I said I’ve kind of, Table Mountain is home for me but some of the trails around the canyon in Auburn definitely feel like home away from home down there.
iRunFar: Right on. You’ve had a lot of success at hot races. Do you kind of wish it was going to be 10 degrees Celcius warmer out there?
Sandes: After 2017, I was actually quite relieved to see it was going to be a bit cooler. Even the first day I got here it wasn’t that hot, and I ran from Green Gate to kind of Pointed Rocks or No Hands Bridge. I got to what is it, the Highway 49 crossing, and there was actually no cell-phone signal. I was going to ask my wife Vanessa to come pick me up.
iRunFar: You were about to bail out of training run because it was too hot?
Sandes: Yeah. I just felt terrible. I think I got jet lag, drank too much coffee, and I thought it’s not going to be too hot today, what the heck. And I saw quite a big bear on the trail, so that wasn’t a good start, and then…
iRunFar: So you’re already a little jittery from jet lag, then too much coffee, then the bear.
Sandes: Yeah. I was a mess by Highway 49.
iRunFar: But a day or two later you felt pretty good.
Sandes: Yeah. So all good.
iRunFar: Right on. So you paced François last year, who’s pacing you this year?
Sandes: I’ve got Ryno [Griesel] pacing me again, same as 2017. He’s going to pace me from Green Gate onward. I guess having run a couple 100 milers I enjoy being in my own head space so the plan is for him to pace me from Green Gate, and then if things are going completely pear shaped he’ll probably step in from Foresthill, but as I said I just enjoy kind of being in my own headspace a bit.
iRunFar: But I wonder especially with Ryno, somebody you’ve done so many long adventures with, you probably gone hours or half a day not talking out on some hard effort.
Sandes: Yeah. Because he paced me 2017 from the river or from Green Gate onward, and that was crucial. Because when I crossed that river I was feeling dead and buried. I thought the guys were going to catch me and I had a bit of a poker face, saw you guys at the river, head down, kept going.
iRunFar: You weren’t feeling great.
Sandes: No, I was feeling, on top of Green Gate, I was like jeez, want to lie down.
iRunFar: Probably very few people who can motivate you as well as him?
Sandes: Yeah. As I said, we’ve done some pretty crazy and stupid things together. So it’s what kind of goes through your mind, you’ve both kind of seen each other in worst states possible so you feel pretty comfortable together.
iRunFar: What is the best thing you could get out of this weekend?
Sandes: The best thing? I think just having a good experience with no regrets and also just knowing I’ve given it my all. There’s nothing more I can ask for. Just crossing the finish line feeling absolutely dead and buried but satisfied knowing I’ve given it my all, and really just being here for the 10, 11 days, it’s been a really cool build-up. I guess that’s another big thing that draws me back is the community and the friends we’ve made here. The only time we get to see them is if I come back here, so it’s been cool just to hang out with them, like staying on extra week and going out to Donner Lake and just to kind of hang out with them is cool.
iRunFar: A vacation almost, afterward?
iRunFar: Nice. Well best of luck to you out there this weekend, Ryan. Have fun.
Sandes: See you out there. Thanks.