100 World Class South Africans: Ryan Sandes

2013-07-16 12:00

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Running the planet

When Ryan Sandes pitched up in China to run across the Gobi Desert (250km), he was a rookie who’d only recently taken up running.

He left the world’s best extreme athletes in his dust, winning that race plus the other three that make up the Four Deserts Challenge (Sahara, Atacama, Antarctica).

He is the first to ever win all four.

In five years, Sandes has become the world’s top ultra trail runner.

He doesn’t always come first – after initiating the Red Bull Lion Heart (in Cape Town) last year, he came in third – but he does win most.

In 2012 he took on the 84km Fish River Canyon –‘a personal quest to push my own boundaries’ – and blasted more than two hours off the record. The first guys to run it took over 11 hours; Sandes did it in a mind-boggling six hours 57 minutes.

He’s run in the Amazon jungle, the Alps and Himalayas, and last month became the first to win an ultra trail run on all seven continents.

But it’s when one sees pictures of Sandes competing, a tiny solitary figure in an immense wilderness, that one truly appreciates the greatness – and symbolism – of what he does.

He claims to have no sense of direction, but he’s put South Africa on the map.

And it’s SA that inspires him:‘Whenever I’m going through a low point during a race, I look down at the SA flag on my race T-shirt and it immediately lifts me up again, and I regain my focus.’

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