Trail Blazing with Ryan and Thandi

How amazing would it be to wake up on another continent, looking up at a sky speckled with stars that are unfamiliar to you? Stretching and yawning, while drinking your coffee, and amazed at the opportunity to be where you are. It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

Well, this is the upside of being an ultra-trail runner, there’s always a new adventure waiting. Then the hard work starts!  From here, you pack your kit, put on your running shoes and run for a full day if you’re lucky (and only entered for one day). If you opted for the multi- stage race, you do this for five to six days. You stretch your motivation muscle to the most extreme extent of your capacity, and keep putting one foot in front of the other while facing the unyielding terrain, the blistering sun, and possibly, the howling wind and blinding rain.

The amount of willpower it requires to build a career in ultra-running is astonishing, to me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like a good bit of trail running myself, and this is exactly why I am able to say: “Ryan Sandes is a legend.” Tim Noakes has referred to him as an enigma, because even he can’t really explain how Ryan does what he does.

Starting his running career in his mid-twenties, Ryan did the unthinkable and dived into his first 250km race having only about a year or two of running experience under his belt. Guess what! He won the race!

We are talking about the Gobi March. A race hosted in Mongolia, consisting of six days of running through desert places, with harsh weather conditions. One of the biggest obstacles faced is carrying your kit with you for the entire race. There are constant debates on the running forums about how heavy a couple of litres of water can be, and how that can slow you down, but the people endeavoring to run the Gobi March have to carry food, water, clothes, shoes and sleeping gear. How hardcore is that? These days Ryan competes in challenges such as the 13 Peaks and 100 miler expeditions. (That’s miles, people. Roughly 161km for a one day challenge. To put it in perspective, we are talking about almost two comrades marathons, back to back over mountain terrain.)


The 13 Peaks Challenge was born when Ryan decided to link up some of his favourite peaks on Table Mountain and the Cape Peninsula area.

Starting with Signal Hill the route makes its way to Lions Head, followed by MacLears Beacon, Grootkop, Judas Peak, Klein Leeukop, Suther Peak, Chapman’s Peak, Noordhoek Peak, Muizenberg Peak, Constantiaberg, Klassenkop, Devils Peak and back to Signal Hill.

The idea behind the initiative is to get people moving and exploring the scenic routes and wilderness area. This route can be done by runners and hikers alike, and will guarantee a fun challenge.

For more information, check out www.13peaks.co.za


Ryan has always been very competitive, even as a  child, and tells of numerous occasions during which he was upset if he did not win a prize at a birthday party, or a similar occurence, in his book, “Trail Blazer”. The book is a testament to Ryan’s career until now, and tells of his life in general. The book started out as a passion project, with Steve Smith behind the pen, and has been wildly popular with fans around the world. It’s funny and real, and everyone will find something to relate to while reading about Ryan’s upbringing, party days and finding his passions in the most unexpected places.

Growing up in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, and Houtbay, especially, Ryan paints vivid pictures of helping his grandfather in the garden as well as times playing with friends. One of the resounding messages that also comes across in his talks and videos is his connection to nature and his love for trees. Choosing a career in Trail Running, specifically, was destiny.

It also should come as no surprise that Ryan loves animals. Ryan shared his childhood with a Jack Russell called Raptor, and later on a rescue called Buzzbee. And, why not, running through the forest or farm lands won’t be the same without a K-9 at your heels, right?!

These days the Sandes family share their home with an adopted dog, called Thandi. Thandi was adopted by Ryan’s wife, Vanessa, from Randburg SPCA, when she was looking for a companion. There were a lot of dogs looking for homes that day, but the two just connected, and Thandi, also fondly referred to as T-dog, found her forever home.

You can find Thandi anywhere the Sandes family is. She is so involved in their everyday life that when you watch a promotional video for Red Bull or Salomons, you’ll see her in almost every second shot. I think this is thanks to Ryan, who has admittedly been the instigator of allowing Thandi on all the furniture when Vanessa wasn’t looking.

This thirteen- year-old rescue also still takes on trails and beach outings with her family. Carefully selected routes will feature Ryan, Vanessa, their son Max, in a stroller, and T-dog, all taking on adventures.

The silver-faced K-9 has also learned that having a three-year-old accomplice in  the house isn’t too bad. It makes begging for snacks that much easier. Her human brother loves her so much, he would never deny her a piece of whatever is on his plate.

Now, if you were as stunned as I was about Thandi’s great form, you would be wondering what she eats. The answer is a simple diet of rice, veggies and some chicken or mince. Regular vet visits make sure that she isn’t uncomfortable, and a bit of flaxseed oil helps with her joint health.

Even though the life of an ultra-athlete  is busy and sees Ryan away from home a lot, he still makes time for doing good.

Ryan is also the CEO of the Southern Lodestar Foundation, an organisation that focusses on the nutritional needs of children. Through education and the supplementation of a breakfast program to students, they are hoping to improve the cognitive and physical health of learners to help them reach their full potential.

It isn’t hard to see why this is such a passion for Ryan. One of the key components of being a professional athlete is knowing what your body needs to perform at its peak. Using this knowledge to the advantage of an NPO shows the selfless nature of a guy who just wants to help everyone he meets.

If you see Ryan on one of the trails in Cape Town, please stop and say “hello”. He is the friendliest guy ever. One of his promo videos also captured a wish that he had to one day be the “old ballie” on the mountain that everyone knows.

Ryan is a true South African legend and we are very proud of all that he has accomplished. We can’t wait to see what he gets up to next!

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