Ryan Sandes

Ultra trail runner, extreme sportsman and born and bred Capetonian, Ryan Sandes is the ultimate Discoverer and this is his inspiring story.

It seems only fitting to start at the beginning, at the beginning of my journey to becoming an athlete. I studied Construction Studies at UCT with the idea that I’d get into property development. Then a group of friends decided to run the Knysna Forest Marathon and asked me to join them. I’d never done anything like this and it turned out to be the end of one life and the beginning of another. I did pretty well on minimal training, but felt inspired and suddenly interested in a sport that I had until now had little interest in. I was bitten, bitten by the desire to run, and a whole new world opened up.

Coming back to Hout Bay, I joined the local running club. We’d run above Chapman’s Peak, behind Table Mountain and along Constantia Neck. My first big race was the 4 Deserts Gobi Desert Race back in 2008. It’s a funny story actually, I was working 9-5, I had done a few trails in SA and I remember Googling “extreme trail races”- I landed up entering not knowing where the Gobi Desert was! It’s crazy looking back, I entered a 250km race when the furthest I’d ever run was 35km on trail. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, all I knew was that I wanted to face my limits and conquer them. I was hoping for a top 20, I wanted to explore, get out of my comfort zone, and was it worth it? Definitely. I’d still be stuck in an office but instead I won a race that changed my life. I can pretty much say it brought out the passion in me, the lightbulb went on.

Since those days, I’ve travelled all continents as the need to do something bigger, tougher, more challenging grew and I embarked on international ultra trail races, which is anything over 42km’s. Now most of my races are 100km’s plus. I never thought I’d do this well, I never thought I’d go on to win an ultra trail race in every continent. 

We are so lucky to live in Cape Town and the Western Cape. The choices are everywhere! So many mountains, outdoor spaces, I appreciate this every day. I’ve been to big cities in all parts of the world and there are very few places that have big open natural space left. We’ve got direct contact with nature. We don’t have to train in a stadium, we train in nature. If I could change one thing, I’d make the mountains even higher, but that’s because I’m always up for a bigger challenge! I’ve run in the Cederberg, Matroosberg, Paternoster and been inspired by the open spaces in the Karoo. When I’m not training, my downtime includes snow boarding, surfing, mountain biking and spending time with Vanessa Haywood, my beautiful fiancé. 

My mom is a free spirit, when I told my parents I was quitting my job, she told me to go for it, live my dreams. They’re my biggest fans, the ones cheering from the sidelines. I’m always dreaming up new challenges. I think Red Bull gets sick of me because I pitch new ideas to them constantly (laughs). I’ll never stop discovering, it’s the reason I’m here and doing what I love every day.

We are so lucky to live in Cape Town and the Western Cape. The choices are everywhere! So many mountains, outdoor spaces, I appreciate this every day.

Discoverer Tip: We don't need stadiums, we train in nature.