I think it was September 2008 when I was running the Volunteer Wildfire Services Trail Race on Table Mountain when I first spoke to Ryan Sandes. It was early in the race and this young guy bounded up to me. I'd seen him at a Trail Series race that we sponsored (at CAPESTORM) and had heard he was running the Gobi Desert March later that year. We chatted at the VWS race, I wished him luck, said something crass like 'be careful, its a tough race' and he shot off into the distance.
Ryan won the race, then four of the next five races in the series, by increasing margins. Oh, and winning every stage. Some people said he was only a multistage racer, where the competition was often the older and wealthier runners. The next year he entered the Leadville 100 miler and won, with the third fastest time ever. But the field wasn't the strongest was it, they said. So onto the most revered 100 miler, Western States last year. After an epic battle with Timothy Olson, Ryan was second in the second fastest time ever, only an amazing day from Olson bettered it. Olson won again this year.
I guess my point is that every time Ryan has a challenge, he steps up to it, and almost always comes out on top. He doesn't race like the Americans, every week, but picks his races and ensures he is in shape for that race. Olson seems to have a similar outlook, and before his win this year, it was obvious he was 100% focussed on the race.
This week at the Hardrock 100 miler (probably one of the toughest in the States, with the winning time in the region of 24 hours) a number of Western States runners and of other recent 100 milers turned out, and almost all dropped (ie pulled out before the end). I don't understand this racing mentality. Is it sponsor pressure? Is it 200 mile weeks that makes them think they are indestructible? Or do they get something from pushing themselves to and beyond exhaustion that makes it worthwhile? We all have bad races and runs, but rarely is it so obvious to work out why!
In a month's time Ryan heads back to Leadville again, after missing out on this year's Western States through injury. I'll be there as part of the pacing team that includes elite athletes Anna Frost, Adam Chance and Ryan Scott. I'm honored and looking forward to being part of the action. After getting a taste for these 100 milers at Western States, I'm thrilled to be part of the front of the race, and hopefully be a small part of seeing Ryan home for his second Leadville win. A sobering note is that as Tim Olson won his second WS this month, he dropped his pacer. That's how well he was running. The pacer would have run a MAX of 20 miles when he got dropped, Olson, 82 miles!!
I better start training!
I better start training!