Ryan ‘Sandman’ Sandes went into WS100 with a Drakensberg Traverse record, a European race win (Trans-grancanaria) and a second place at the 160km Mount Fuji. Along with Rob Krar, who was placed third in last year’s International Ultra Runner of the year (raking in 12% of the votes), Ryan was the favourite, but 100 miles (160km) is a long way.
At Western States, most of the top runners have crew and pacers. Pacers are allowed to accompany a runner from the 62 mile mark (100km) at Foresthill to the finish. I was due to jump in at the 80 mile (128km) mark.
Surely having run 80 miles I would be able to do the job and keep pace with Ryan? Pacers have been allowed at ultras for a while, in theory to provide safety for the runner should he or she get into trouble. In reality, with only five miles (8km) between aid stations, the pacer is more a companion and a cajoler, encouraging their runner when spirits and energy dip. You can expect to talk without reply, crack your best jokes without so much as a polite laugh and tell your man, in true Bruce Fordyce fashion, that he’s running like a star, when 80 miles into a race, shuffling like Ali is more the reality.
Eighty miles at Western is Green Gate Aid Station, which is, well, a nondescript green metal gate. When Ryan arrived at 5.30pm with the temperature gauge tipping 30 degrees, he did look great, at least compared to the other four runners who had gone through.