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The South African Dynamo

By Clare Morin

Ryan Sandes is sporting the beginnings of a serious Movember-Mo (that’s facial hair grown in aid of a global, mustache-growing charity event) when we corner him in the Fulbari Resort & Spa in Pokhara.


But hairy upper-lips are far from this young man’s mind right now. All eyes are on this South African as he takes the slot of top contender for RacingThePlanet:  Nepal. Since shooting onto the endurance map in 2008, Sandes has been scaling ever-greater heights of success—and 2011 is proving to be another defining year.


The 29-year old is fresh from winning the 2011 Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run. He took on the legendary race in August through the extremes of the Colorado Rockies, as an underdog. “The local guys in the States didn't consider me a challenge,” he says. “Although back home in South Africa, it was very different… It was my first hundred miler. It was quite emotional. I was really chuffed to win it. It was a really tough race".

Sandes has a habit of entering races as an underdog and then finishing them with astonishing ease. This happened at his first 4 Deserts event at the Gobi March in 2008. Not many people noticed when the 27-year old, with only one marathon under his belt, signed up for the race. But by the end of the 250-kilometer charge through China’s searing desert, he emerged as a powerhouse.


“It was beyond my wildest dream,” he says looking back at the career-defining win. “But there is also a sense of emptiness when it is all over and you need to look to the next thing".

The next thing, of course, was to tackle the rest of the deserts in the series. And by 2010, he had won them all, becoming the first person in history to ever accomplish this feat. “The 4 Deserts was a long term goal and it took a couple of years to get there, so it was almost a relief to finally finish and win them,” he says. “It was a big goal and also a great feeling of satisfaction".


But this didn’t slow the man down. In 2011, Sandes decided to set out on a year’s worth of 100-milers. He also wanted to take on his second Roving Race here in Nepal. His first was Namibia in 2009 where he placed second against Spain’s Salvador Calvo Redondo. So surely there is a wish to win it this time?


“It would be nice to win,” he admits. “But you never know what to expect. You don’t want to get ahead of yourself.”


This humility points to one of Sandes’ greatest strengths: his mind. Many people have commented that what sets the South African apart is his rock-solid positivity. He has a mental agility to get through extreme difficulties.  


“Don't start on the back foot,” he says of his thought-process out there in the race. “Go out there and enjoy it, see it as a challenge and take it is a challenge. It's important not to be negative,” he adds. “Sometimes it is mentally working towards the next campsite, or next checkpoint, or if things are really bad even just the next flag. It is amazing what the mind can do.”

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