Ryan Sandes: My toughest challenge yet

Ryan Sandes talks about his 220km record quest across South Africa's Drakensberg mountains.
Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel on a training run for the Drakensberg Grand Traverse
Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel on a recce in Feb © Kelvin Trautman/Red Bull Content Pool
By Jazz Kuschke

Fresh from his win at Transgrancanaria, Ryan Sandes tells us why he has his heart set on a Grand Traverse of the Drakensberg

220km, non-stop, no sleep – sounds fun.
In about 2010 some guys were talking about the Drakensberg Grand Traverse (DGT) and saying that it's the most extreme thing you can do in South Africa. It’s kind of the next thing from running a multi-day race – just really hardcore and out there!

I don’t want to start hallucinating and thinking about snakes.

Portrait photo of Ryan Sandes ahead of the Drakensberg Grand Traverse
'My toughest mental challenge yet' © Kelvin Trautman/Red Bull Content Pool

Who are you doing it with?
Ryno Griesel. He's the current record holder [which stands at 60h 29m 30s]. I got talking to him after I did the Fish River record in 2012 and got real excited. I also realised it would be near impossible to tackle it on my own, as I don't have enough experience in the Drakensberg – unless I spent like six months there as a mountain man.

Going 50 hours without sleep is a problem.

Biggest challenge?
We'll push through the night and I have never done that before. Going 50 hours without sleep is a problem. I’m not sure you can train for that. On a normal trail you can kind of just switch off and put one foot in front of the next, but on this the terrain is so technical you have to be on full alert the whole time. I don’t want to start hallucinating and thinking about snakes!

Drakensberg Grand Traverse
The team has to be totally self-sufficient © Kelvin Trautman/Red Bull Content Pool

Yes, the famous ‘sleepmonsters’. How will you deal with them?
Ryno is quite keen to go without sleep and with his adventure racing background I think he could do it. But I don’t want to start hallucinating! I’m going to push for 18 hours before I need to nap, but ideally want to go for at least 24. But it’s also weather dependent – if it’s raining and cold we won’t be able to stop and I’ll just have to push through.

But the weather’s nice in South Africa, right?
It can be very unpredictable – you can get everything from 35°C during the day to thunderstorms. It gets really cold at night – you can even a couple of inches of snow!

Drakensberg Grand Traverse
Ryan Sandes on a recce © Kelvin Trautman/Red Bull Content Pool

Your secret for success?
If we can move up some of the big climbs fast, we will move fast. Ryno has done a lot of work on the maps to pick the fastest lines. Also, he’s very technical. He knows how to manage his nutrition and pack and keep moving where I’m a bit more clumsy with that sort of stuff – I have to sharpen up!

Final word?
It’s the next level for me. With trail running in general, all the top guys want to keep pushing the boundaries. That’s where trail running is going – fastest known times (FKTs) on trails that aren't really runnable.

Ryan and Ryno will attempt their challenge March 23-27. Follow their journey live here.

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