The hallucinations didn't start until just before dawn on the second night. “I was so tired, I was getting dizzy,” says Ryan. “I was starting to see and hear helicopters overhead – even though there were definitely none there!”
But a short, seven-minute rest helped him reset his 'body clock', and with that, Ryan Sandes and Ryno Sandes were back en route to their record-breaking completion of the Drakensberg Grand Traverse.
Unsurprisingly, that ultimate low – where he was seeing things that simply didn't exist – came right before an incredible high. “Sunrise on the second morning, right as we were coming over the highest peak (the Thabana Ntlenyana, 3482m) was simply spectacular – to see that view, from that location, was simply unforgettable.”
There's no question it wasn't easy. At a pace most would think humanly impossible, it was 204 kilometres over treacherous and challenging terrain. It was that terrain that proved to be the biggest challenge. “I took a fall in the first hour, and had blood shooting out of my hand,” says Ryan. “Then I rolled my ankle twice in the next hour. I was running scared – I wanted to make sure I got through in one piece! You're so isolated and remote, that if anything goes wrong, you're in trouble.”
With team-mate Ryno Griesel leading the way as navigator, the duo charged through the DGT at pace averaging between five to six kilometres per hour, much slower than the 12 that Ryan usually runs in ultra distances. “On some parts of the route, power-hiking is definitely faster,” he says. “My personal style is that I prefer to run. But sometimes it's so vertical and so technical, it's just faster to get your hands involved and use a power-hiking approach.”
While the challenges of exhaustion and technical running were expected, there was one that wasn't: the heat, with temps reaching 36º C during the middle of the day. While Ryan is used to running in hot weather, it still vastly reduces the body's ability to perform efficiently, and at one point, Ryno Griesel became quite dehydrated – but charged on after re-hydrating.
“I couldn't have done this without Ryno,” says Ryan. “He's in these mountains every month and he knows them like the back of his hand. If you get lost here, you're in real trouble – Ryno prevented that!” Sandes was grateful for Ryno's presence in more ways than one. Says Sandes: “It's such a long way, it's great to have someone out there.”
The pair had packed lightly, but upon finishing, found themselves with just a little bit of food left over, and happy with their gear decisions – although Ryan mentioned next time he'd bring a few less sweets and a little more salt – “I was really dying for something savoury in the last few hours of the run!
And as soon as the run was over, he got it: in the form of a best-tasting bacon cheeseburger of his life, a taste good enough to distract him from his wrecked feet and exhausted body.
“I'm still mentally drained,” he says, two days later. “But all in all, the body survived quite well – I've a few blisters on my feet, and I've been eating non-stop since the run was over – my metabolism is in overdrive at the moment, and my legs are still twitching in my sleep – but that's totally normal!”
It's a good thing he's feeling fine – because there's more running to be done. He's off to Japan for the Ultra Trail Mt Fuji in just over a month – a 100-miler around the base of Japan's biggest mountain. But after dominating the Drakensberg, it's going to feel easy. The next challenge? “I really like running in Africa,” says Sandes. “I might have to go check out the Kalahari!”
Learn everything you want to know about the Drakensberg Grand Traverse (including the value of Ryan's caloric output in numbers of Red Bulls) by clicking here. Get more from Red Bull's Adventure Channel on our Facebook page.