Ryan “Hedgie” Sandes is a South African trail runner, who In 2010 he became the first competitor to have won all four of the 4 Desserts races, each a 7-day, 250-kilometer self-supported footrace. Being rated as one of the greatest endurance athletes of all time, his most recent victory came in the 2014 North Face TransGrancCanaria 125km trail run.
Getting into Trail Running | I got into trail running fairly quickly and entered a couple of trail races and really enjoyed challenging myself. And one day, I was pretty keen at the time to travel to somewhere different and have a really unique experience, I thought, “Why not combine a race with the whole travel experience?” I think I Googled, “extreme trail races” and got to 4 Deserts website, and so I entered into the Gobi Desert race without giving that much thought.
My Highlights | Winning the first stage of the Gobi Desert Race was probably the highlight. Like just because it was so unexpected, but it was such a proud moment for me and as I said, I just really didn’t expect to cross that line first. It was so unexpected and I think basically crossing the line first that day changed my life and I definitely wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t won the Gobi Desert Race… And along the way obviously winning the 4 Deserts series was really special, actually finally going off and achieving something I’d spent a lot of time aiming towards and working towards. Winning the Leadville 100 miler last year was also very special.
Learning Through Travel | I’ve been lucky enough to travel to all seven continents over the past two years and meet so many different people. And I think by meeting different cultures and interacting with different people, seeing different landscapes, different cities, I think you learn so much. I’ve learned so much about myself but also about just humans in general and also about our planet. And I think you realize how small and insignificant we are, actually as a species.
How People View South Africa | There are a lot of mixed feelings and thoughts on South Africa. Yeah, a lot of people are very open about South Africa and yeah, I think most people say they really want to come to South Africa – “we’ve only heard good things about it” – but then in the same breath they’ll say they’re a little bit worried about the crime rate and that sort of thing… some people are slightly naïve and want to know if I’ve got elephants that walk around the back garden or if I’ve got a lion as a pet.
How I Use my Mind | I am quite stubborn and quite focused. I’m super focused if I’m doing something that I really want to do, but if my head’s not in it then I’m kind of wasting my time. I’m actually quite a shy and introverted person so, I suppose yeah, kind of running being on your own is something that does appeal to you.
Being a Control Freak | I’m always a bit of a control freak. I like to be able to control kind of the future or what’s going on around me, and I think that running ultras and trail running there’s oftentimes when I realize that you can’t control the surroundings around you, you just got to do the best you can do with the current situation, you can’t let your head drop, you just got to stay focused and positive.
The Importance of Passion | I think obviously you have got to have a certain amount of talent and drive and all that, but I think at the end of the day a lot of it comes down to passion and how much you actually enjoy what you do. I think most of my success is because I’m so passionate about what I do, and from that passion I have the drive to go and train for 6-7 hours a day, train when it’s raining or when it’s really hot, but for me I don’t see that it’s hard work. A lot of people say, “Oh, running up and down a mountain for 8 hours is pretty grilling and it’s really taxing” and it is, but if you’re having a good time I don’t see it as being that difficult.
The Meaning of Life | We’re here to live life. I think too many people aren’t living life; they’re kind of stuck in the gym or treadmill society… before you know it you’re in one job and paying a mortgage for 40 years and next minute you’re in a retirement home and you look back and say, “Jeez, actually I haven’t lived life and there’s so much I still want to do.” And for me it’s about living life. I think life is all about experiences and living those experiences and gaining memories.