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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

'Manage your low moments' - Advice from Ryan Sandes about how to survive tough conditions

During a week when many South Africans are simply trying to stay warm amidst a cold snap that saw snowfall in Johannesburg for the first time in over a decade, some runners have decided to remain indoors and leave the running for when it gets warmer. But Ryan Sandes believes that taking a break from training because of the cold weather would be a mistake. The man made a name for himself by winning a 250km multi-day self-supported race in sub-zero temperatures in Antarctica, says training in tough conditions is important to build a runner's mental strength.

"Mentally it’s so important to stay strong," he told #TheTopRunner as he reflected on a glittering trail running career that saw him become the first man to win all four Desert Races back in 2010. "It’s the person that can manage their low moments the best that will come out as the most successful. If you also go into a bad mindset than things can spiral out of control. I always try to have a sense a humour about it."

Sandes on his way to winning The Western States ® 100-Mile Endurance Run in June 2023, which is a trail race run through mountains, snow and the desert heat of the western United States of America. Photo Credit: Supplied.

In fact, that philosophy of not allowing the difficult times get the better of him is what led to the 41-year-old's success long before he won his first ultra trail event. You see Sandes studied Quantity Surveying at the University of Cape Town and was a part-time trail runner. But that would all change when as a relatively unknown competitor he won the 2008 Gobi Desert Race and then won the second of four Desert Races when he crossed the finish line first in Egypt at the Sahara Race later that same year - all because he believed in himself took the leap of faith to become a professional athlete.

"It was very difficult because for the first year and a half I was still working a full time job as a QS. The entry fee alone excluding gear and travel was $2500 which was a lot of money. It can be costly if you wanna travel overseas and compete. I trained really hard and prepared for the event, but I didn’t expect to win the Gobi desert ultra my first time out. I went out aggressively and gained some momentum. After that , I basically took a big risk with the money I made because I could get by for six months. I did that and the rest is history."

Sandes training on the beach in the Western Cape. Photo Credit: Supplied.

Hedgie as he is affectionately known not only survived but thrived through those tough times. Realising his ability, Red Bull signed him up as one of their elite athletes. He is still with them today over ten years later. "They support all the crazy ideas that we pitch. I think what’s been awesome about the brand is how they support athletes long term. Often when a player is injured he’s turfed to the side, where Red Bull don't do that. They support us."

And because of the close relationship he enjoys with drink that gives you wings, Sandes has decided to take part in the Red Bull Quicksand race which takes place at North Beach in Durban on Saturday 15 July even though he is preparing to take on the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc in France at the end of August. Sandes says this one mile obstacle course on run on beach sand is exactly the mental change he needs before tackling the 171km odyssey through Italy, Switzerland and France.

"That’s the cool thing about being a Red Bull athlete, it takes you out of your comfort zone. I actually am taking part in Red Bull Quicksand, because it's always fun to a little something different," he chuckled. Click HERE to enter the race at a cost of R150 and test yourself against this course which is rigged with giant sandcastles, trenches, and rollers, giving competitors a real test of endurance, acceleration, and bursts of speed.

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