San­des set for sand and snow in the States

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

SOUTH AFRICA’S world-class en­durance ath­lete, Ryan San­des, re­turns to the USA next week­end for some un­fin­ished ul­tra-trail busi­ness.

Next Satur­day San­des races the Western States 100 miler. To­gether with Ul­tra Trail Mont Blanc in the French Alps, the Amer­i­can event is re­garded as trail rac­ing’s most sought-af­ter ti­tle.

The Cal­i­for­nian race is known for its ex­tremes of weather. It is not un­com­mon for par­tic­i­pants to sweat in un­com­fort­able heat in canyons shortly af­ter run­ning through snow­fields at high al­ti­tude. Hav­ing been suc­cess­ful in the Sa­ha­ran deserts, Ama­zon jun­gles and frozen Antarc­tic waste­lands, San­des is equipped to cope with these chal­lenges, and is de­ter­mined to bounce back from re­cent dis­ap­point­ments at the event.

“Ja, there’s some­thing about this race,” San­des ac­knowl­edged. “These days I’m try­ing to ex­plore new places to see as much as pos­si­ble, so I don’t of­ten re­turn to races. But the Western States is dif­fer­ent – it’s one of the few races I’m fix­ated over.”

Af­ter plac­ing sec­ond to a record-set­ting Tim Olson in 2012, a sprained an­kle days be­fore the start ruled him out of the 2013 event. A fifth place fin­ish in 2014 was fol­lowed by an­other “DNS” when a stom­ach bug laid him low 24 hours be­fore the starter’s gun.

Strug­gling to shake off lin­ger­ing glan­du­lar fever, San­des bat­tled to re­turn to suc­cess in 2015 and 2016 un­til he took fourth po­si­tion at the Grand Raid 100 miler in Re­union last Oc­to­ber.

“I’ve had a solid five to six week block of train­ing at home,” said San­des. “I stayed in a cot­tage at the base of the Ma­troos­berg, just out­side Ceres, for the final week and trained on the moun­tain tracks up to 2200m. I’m feel­ing pos­i­tive for the race this time around.

“I know I’ll have to take risks if I’m to be com­pet­i­tive, and I’m cer­tainly aim­ing for a podium fin­ish. The race has changed over the years. You can no longer jog the first half if you are aim­ing to win. You have to be some­where in con­tention. But on the other hand, I will not go out with the lead­ers - that would be sui­cide.”

Amer­i­can Jim Walm­s­ley is favourite to win. Since blow­ing up in the lat­ter stages of last year’s race, and then run­ning off the trail to even­tu­ally place 19th af­ter run­ning ahead of record pace for much of the way, Walm­s­ley has been breaking records wher­ever he goes.

His aim is to run the race in 14 hours – 44 min­utes in­side Olson’s record – and no one will be able to stay with him if he can achieve that goal. San­des’ hope is that his ri­vals might try and then come un­stuck in the lat­ter stages, leav­ing him to come through to a high-placed fin­ish.

Swede Jonas Buud, who has earned gold medals in the Com­rades Marathon, To­fol Cas­tanyer of Spain, Erik Clav­ery of France and Paul Gi­b­lin of Bri­tain will also be strong con­tenders.

Three weeks af­ter a Com­rades Marathon vic­tory, Amer­i­can Camille Her­ron will aim for a dou­ble at the Western States, with Swiss An­dre Huser and last year’s win­ner, Amer­i­can Kaci Lick­teig most likely to chal­lenge her in the women’s com­pe­ti­tion. – Stephen Granger

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