Drakensberg demons: Ryan Sandes battles his fears

Ryan Sandes opens up on the mental challenge ahead of his DGT record attempt with Ryno Griesel.
Drakensberg Grand Traverse © Kelvin Trautman
By Jazz Kuschke

Some might say that a little stress is good for you. But with a challenge as ambitious as the Drakensberg Grand Traverse (DGT), it's a thin line before that stress gives way to fear. For Ryan Sandes, staying mentally focused is as important as being physically fit.

“Trail running can be very frustrating,” says Ryan. “In a trail race, it can take two hours to run ten kilometres which on the road would take you 50 minutes. That starts to play on your mind.”

Mentally, it's super draining.

Drakensberg Grand Traverse © Kelvin Trautman

Ryan recognises certain fundamental similarities between races like the Skyrun and tackling the DGT. “I set mini goals – focus on getting from one checkpoint to the next,” says Ryan. We should get to the first peak after about eight kilometres, but the second peak is roughly 50 after that. It's then ten hours to the next peak and all the terrain looks the same. Mentally that’s super draining. If things go bad, I’ll break it down into kilometres and just go one by one.”

Going ‘really bad,’ could very realistically happen on something as daunting as the DGT.

“You learn a lot from the lows,” he reflects. “Often you look back at those times and wonder how, when you really thought you couldn’t take another step, you somehow managed to push through.”

Drakensberg Grand Traverse © Kelvin Trautman

He believes managing these lows is the key to completing this endurance challenge: “I think the further you go the lower the low. But when I’m hitting a really low patch I kind of know I have something to look forward to, because the high will be proper.”

Ryan lists remoteness as a crucial factor in the DGT: “There’s just so much open space,” he says. “It’s almost the opposite of claustrophobia – it’s just these rolling hills and grass plateaus.” Ryan’s antidote to this is to keep moving:

If we’re moving then we’re doing well.

Ryan is currently up in the Drakensberg for a final recce and acclimatisation mission before setting off with teammate Ryno Griesel on the official attempt sometime later in March.

It is impossible to pre-set a specific start date as the weather window needs to be perfect. Check out the event website and sign-up to get notifications on when the attempt is on. You’ll also be able to track them in real time on an interactive map as that clock ticks down.

Stay updated on Ryan and Ryno’s progress and join the conversation:

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