This Guy Just Became The First South African To Win The World’s Most Gruelling Ultra Race

Kirsten Curtis |

Pic: Corinna Halloran/Red Bull

Cape Town local Ryan Sandes just won the world’s oldest 100-mile race. 

The 163-kilometre Western States Endurance Race ultra trail run starts in snow and ice, and ends in 40-degree heat. It descends into canyons and climbs back out again on its route from Squaw Valley to Auburn in California, USA.

And this past weekend, Ryan Sandes finished it in 16 hours and 19 minutes.

The 35-year-old trail runner from Hout Bay crossed the line a full 29 minutes ahead of his nearest competitor, after chasing American Jim Walmsley for most of the race. The victory was especially sweet because Sandes has attemped the race four times before. He’d finished 2nd in 2012, and 5th in 2014. Twice, he failed to finish.

“This is the one race I’ve always dreamed of winning,” Sandes said in a post race interview with “There’s something special with this race being the original and just all the history that goes with it is really special.”

The distance is not the only challenge when it comes to Western States. Runners must climb 5 480 metres of ascent and 7 010 metres of descent as they traverse the canyons along the route. Weather conditions play a massive role, as the run begins in icy conditions but progresses to heat in excess of 40-degrees celsius.

Sandes’ wife, Vanessa, helped set up aid stations along the route, where his team would load ice blocks into a sewn up buff wrapped around his head. As the ice melted, it helped to keep him cool in the blistering heat.

“The crew is crucial, especially on a race like Western States where it’s all about managing your situation well – keeping your core temperature down and staying hydrated and getting the best nutrition,” Sandes told Red Bull. “It’s often not the best athlete that wins but the one who manages himself the best who does. You need the people who you know and trust there for you. Those who understand you.”

Watch an interview with Sandes the day after the race:

READ MORE ON: endurance Ryan Sandes

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