In his more than a decade of racing ultramarathons, this will be Ryan Sandes’s first time racing the Madeira Island Ultra-Trail. In the following interview, Ryan talks about why he’s racing MIUT, what went wrong with his UTMB a few months ago, and how he keeps things fresh with running over the years.
Ryan Sandes Pre-2021 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Ryan Sandes before the 2021 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail. How are you, Ryan?
Ryan Sandes: Yeah, really good. Excited to be, my first time racing Madeira Island Ultra-Trail. So looking forward to it and second time on the island.
iRunFar: Yeah? Tell me about your experience with, on the island before.
Sandes: Yeah. So I was here for a Salomon running camp. So yeah, it was really awesome. I had just finished running the Great Himalaya Trail [fastest known time attempt] so my legs were a bit smashed, but I really, really enjoyed it. And just the trails are really phenomenal. Just such a nice variety, and some pretty steep ups and downs.
iRunFar: Yeah. Looking forward to getting out there later on today?
iRunFar: Checking it out a bit?
Sandes: Yeah. Going to go and check out the first part of the course, which we’ll obviously be running at night, but yeah, cool just to do a little bit of exploring.
iRunFar: Yeah. So you’ve raced a couple times so far this year. You had a good run down in Drakensburg, your home adventuring territory, and then not so good run at UTMB. What happened there?
Sandes: Yeah, I don’t know. I just can’t seem to get it right there. I struggled with poles. I did like, a lot of preparation back home with poles but couldn’t get the same elevation gain in as what you do in Europe. So I was out there three weeks beforehand, and maybe just overdid the poles a bit. So kind of seized up my neck and shoulders and started having spasms and migraines and stuff. And this actually started happening before the race. I thought it was going to be fine. So yeah, kind of…
iRunFar: But it wasn’t?
Sandes: No, so kind of very long, long story, another, yeah, another UTMB I couldn’t finish.
iRunFar: This time due to poles, and I assume this is another race where you would want to use them, right?
Sandes: Yes, that’s a big like, I actually was down to run Madeira earlier this year.
Sandes: And then obviously it got postponed due to COVID-19. So I thought kind of I’d to be putting my feet up after, after UTMB. But obviously, after that didn’t go as planned decided to, to come here. But yeah, another big factor for coming here is to try and figure out the poles. Become one with poles. We are still trying to, trying to figure them out. Obviously living in South Africa I don’t come from much of a skiing background.
iRunFar: So did you get some good training within the past couple months or?
Sandes: Yes. Yeah, I guess like the last four weeks or so I did quite a good block with poles and just actually trying to just get much longer runs in with poles. So just really kind of overload my system a bit more instead of like being consistent. Like just do one or two long runs a week with poles and yeah, so far so good. I can’t say I feel at one with poles yet but definitely getting there.
iRunFar: Getting there. Will you have them out there on the trail this afternoon?
Sandes: Yeah, definitely. Had them out to just to test them a bit.
iRunFar: So it seems you’ve been involved in trail running and ultrarunning now at this point for quite a while. I mean going through the 4 Deserts Races in 2008 to 2010, winning Leadville 100 Mile in 2011 and continuing on since then. What has that journey been like?
Sandes: Yeah, it’s been like really cool. I guess a bit cliche, but life changing. It’s also been cool just to see how the sport evolves. And seeing kind of people come into the sport and people go out of the sport. But I think yeah, I kind of feel like I’m on a similar path as someone like D-Bo, Dylan Bowman, just really loves the sport and wants to stay involved. And I guess yeah, I guess I also mix it up again with doing a couple of kind of free running projects or kind of adventure-type projects, FKTs. Actually planning another adventure with, with Ryno [Griesel] next year in Lesotho. We want to try and run around the country of Lesotho, which is a little country in South Africa, quite a mountainous country. So yeah, I think by doing a bit of that and, and still mixing it up with some racing and keeping it fun, yeah. I’m still loving it.
iRunFar: Yeah. And during that time, you’ve also I believe, gotten married during that time?
iRunFar: Had a kid like, how was like your interaction of life and trail running or running evolved during that time?
Sandes: Yeah, obviously it’s changed. I guess becoming, becoming a dad and a husband but I think it’s a lot of ways kind of, becoming a dad, it’s actually helped me a lot. Actually, Max, our son, had him just after coming out of a like, a bad phase in my career where I had glandular fever, mononucleosis, and I just wasn’t enjoying running. I was trying to get back into racing, and I felt I was putting too much pressure on myself. And then I don’t know. I guess suddenly you have a son and it puts everything in perspective. And you realize being a dad like, Max doesn’t care if I come first or last in a race. He just wants me to be a good father. Like it’s no point being grumpy with him because I’m tense about a race or something like that. So I think that’s like, in a way taken a lot of, a lot of pressure off. But I guess having said that, like, I’ve been lucky enough to make a career out of the sport for the last 14, 15 years. So yeah, I guess there is always a certain degree of pressure.
iRunFar: Yeah. And you, you say you’ve kept it fresh doing these adventures. Is that something, a conscious decision to mix it up and not just have six races on your calendar every year, year after year?
Sandes: Yeah, for sure. Like I’ve always wanted to, I guess have a long career and also, yeah, I guess kind of be excited about the training. If you’re just going to do like the same, same thing, week in week out, I guess I’d get bored. And I think I enjoy the performance side of things, but also just like love the adventure. So I guess like coming to a place like this is really cool to, and like exciting to get out and explore. And I guess that just kind of also kind of keeps a motivation to keep racing and pushing yourself.
iRunFar: What are you excited to see out there over the weekend?
Sandes: Yeah, definitely the kind of high points of the course and hopefully if things are going well, I think that should be kind of just after sunrise. Yeah. Looking, looking forward to seeing a sunrise out on the route. And just yeah, it’s always pretty cool to look back at a race and realize you kind of ran from one, one side of the island to the other. So I think yeah, looking forward to that, and a few beers afterwards.
iRunFar: You can really, you know, the journey in some races can just sort of be ambiguous, like you’re going from maybe point A to point B, but in the middle of a big country or whatnot. But here, you’re going from the northwest corner to the southeast, more or less.
iRunFar: And there’s a real sense of journey, yeah?
Sandes: No, for sure. I think that’s one of the things is like even if you look at a lot of like the projects I’ve done, it’s always been like, I guess say someone like Kilian [Jornet]’s like, often like summited the highest kind of peaks in the world. I’ve always, I’ve quite enjoyed the journey like a traverse, like Drakensberg Grand Traverse [fastest known time attempt], or Himalayas or anything like that. It’s quite nice going from like point A to B and like this, as you say, actually traveling across an island.
iRunFar: Well cool. I hope you enjoy the journey this weekend. Good luck, Ryan.
Sandes: Thank you. See you out there.