South African ultra-trail runner Ryan Sandes is recovering after a Corona “lockdown” run around his home turned into one of the most arduous training “100-miler” runs of his career.
“It was a lot tougher than I expected,” the ultra-trail sensation and Red Bull athlete said this week, after completing the run on a course around – and through – his home.
“I’m pretty relieved that it’s finished.”
Worldwide, runners have found the restrictions of COVID-19 lockdowns hard to bear. South Africa quickly joined other countries with videos showing runners “shamed” after taking to the streets soon after a lockdown was imposed. Reports of hefty fines quickly sent other COVID-era road warriors indoors.
For those lucky enough to have gardens, the “garden marathon” is the alternative to running stairs or going cold turkey. Online fitness classes have clearly not been doing the trick, because suddenly the “home run” is huge.
Anyone who thinks this is not serious business should think again. Sandes’ circuit forced him up a stairway through the home, resulting in a 4,500 meter elevation gain (half the height of Mt Everest) during his gruelling 26 hour, 27 minutes run.
A ‘garden circuit’ can be restricted to as little as three metres for those using balconies. Once-neat GPS training “lines” have transformed into “birds’ nests”. Runners with access to longer circuits, such as South African trail athletes Meg Mackenzie and Robbie Rorich – fortunate enough to be locked-down on farms – are not being regarded as legitimate garden-party “players” in the home run “game”.
Often linked to fund-raising or challenges – Captain Tom Moore being the undisputed world-leader – the craze has turned neatly manicured lawns into deeply worn paths as trapped runners seek release.
Top South African trail athlete Suzette von Broembsen ran standard marathons on successive Saturdays on her 60-metre garden circuit in Johannesburg, completing around 700 laps per marathon, with her pre-lockdown training partner and top ultra-runner, Anouk Baars, matching her in her own garden.
Another South African ultra-distance athlete, Bennie Roux, recently ran a 90 km “Comrades Marathon” around his garden.
But it took South Africa’s most successful and best-known ultra-trail athlete, Sandes, to add a whole new chapter to the garden marathon handbook with his 1463-lap 100-miler, in the third week of South Africa’s lockdown.
Sandes had hoped to make use of his full residential estate for training during lockdown but a “no estate access” ruling for South Africans made that impossible.
“If Vanessa (Haywood – Sandes’ wife) allows me to run through the house on each lap, I think I can accommodate a 100 metre circuit,” Sandes said in the build-up to his epic run.
An image shows Sandes on the stairs through the house.
The Red Bull ultra-trail runner and adventurer, who has taken on life-threateningtraverses in the Himalayas and Drakensberg and won major trail races on everycontinent, said he would rest up following what he dubbed the #HomeRun.
“I can chill for a week or so and don’t have to do any of the kind of half-hearted 5km garden runs or anything like that,” he joked.
The course was deceptively difficult and Sandes’ experience offers lessons to others. “There was no space to open up on the lap or get into any kind of rhythm, so it was nothing like a 100-mile trail race,” he reflected.
“I knew it was going to be really slow and tough on the body, but it was the mental challenge I found toughest.”
Sandes tackled the challenge by breaking it down into smaller goals. “I pushed into that first night stretch and then the day stretch and then again into the night, ultimately breaking it down into four separate marathons or just about.”
Haywood and their two year-old son Max served as “seconds” the entire way and Sandes admitted he would never have been able to do it without their support.
The “aid station” on the dining room table was stocked with Red Bulls, water and electrolyte carbohydrate mixes, along with sports bars and other snacks – all part of the professional athlete’s tried-and-tested recipe for optimal nutrition and hydration to complete ultra-distance races.
Sandes’ feat did not go unnoticed, with athletes around the globe – including super-stars Kilian Jornet and Francois D’Haene – acknowledging the performance. “I think Francois said I was completely crazy!”
Sandes plans to take on the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc in France in late August as his second 100 miler of the year – a race he has yet to conquer. But with future uncertainty being the watchword in the COVID-19 context, what chance #HomeRun2?
VIDEO COURTESY OF RED BULL/ VIDEO AND PHOTOS BY VANESSA HAYWOOD. WORDS BY STEPHEN GRANGER