Navigate Lesotho: South African runners circumnavigate ‘Mountain Kingdom’ in 16 days



There wasn’t a touch of exhaustion on Ryan Sandes’ face throughout a latest CNN interview with the adorned ultra-athlete in his Cape City residence. You’d by no means guess he had just lately returned from an epic 16-day run alongside the principally uncharted mountains of Lesotho’s borders – till he took off his footwear.

For runners, blisters and cracked toes are par for the course; they’re virtually a supply of pleasure for Sandes and his working accomplice Ryno Griesel, who collectively created and subsequently accomplished Navigate Lesotho on April 27. They lined 1,100 kilometers (684 miles) with over 33,000 meters of elevation acquire in 16 days, 16 hours and 56 minutes – all below excessive climate situations.

Ryan Sandes (left) and Ryno Griesel (right) during a leg of their Navigate Lesotho run.

“In some methods it was our hardest problem, however due to what we’ve discovered previously, I feel our maturity and simply the bond we’ve got, made it so much simpler,” Sandes advised CNN.

The South African duo aren’t any strangers to excessive adventures. Collectively, they maintain the file for quickest identified time (FKT) on one of many hardest routes on this planet – the Great Himalaya Trail in Nepal, the place they lined 1,504 kilometers (934.5 miles) in 25 says. Additionally they maintain the FKT on their residence nation’s famend Drakensberg Grand Traverse, breaking the earlier file by 18 hours.

Even throughout Covid-19 lockdowns in South Africa, Sandes managed to get in an unofficial 100-mile ultramarathon – round his home – which he completed in 26 hours.

“He had completed about 140 kilometers (87 miles) and he was like, ‘I can’t go any additional, that is the toughest factor I’ve ever completed,’” Sandes’ spouse Vanessa Haywood recounts of the one-man race.

However circumnavigating Africa’s “Mountain Kingdom” would show to be much more grueling.

“Lesotho was undoubtedly essentially the most difficult by way of situations, though you don’t give it some thought that approach, as a result of it’s so near residence,” Griesel mentioned, including that it’s a five-hour drive from Johannesburg.

The expedition required two years of planning, or what Griesel likens to “constructing a puzzle.” The pre-production concerned plotting unmapped territory, getting sponsors on board, constructing relationships with locals and scoping out areas of the route they’d later run.

“Individuals typically say the toughest half is attending to the start line and truthfully (it) is, after which the remainder of the toughest half begins,” he mentioned.

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They ran a few marathon and a half every day, trudging by means of extraordinarily chilly, snowy, windy and muddy situations in accordance with Sandes. In complete, Sandes and Griesel crossed 187 rivers.

Temperatures ranged from -5 levels to 30 levels Celsius all through the journey.

Sandes fording a river during the 16-day run around Lesotho. He says he went through a pair of socks every day.

Some nights they slept, generally they didn’t, relying on situations and retaining on tempo with their focused 17-day end.

The working duo needed to deviate from Plan A fairly a couple of instances, and Sandes mentioned they backtracked a couple of mountains and rivers and took alternate routes because of poor situations.

Navigating Lesotho proved to be mentally robust as nicely, however the pair determined early on that giving up was not an choice.

“If you’ve been shivering for 2 to 3 days, you possibly can’t even assume clearly since you haven’t slept, you’re tremendous hungry, ran out of meals two days in the past … there’s at all times 1,000 good causes to stop,” Griesel mentioned, “however as soon as you are taking that off the desk, you then’re compelled to maintain transferring in the direction of the purpose.”

Griesel and Sandes making a big push up one of Lesotho's many mountains during a particularly rainy day.

They carried a powerful load of their packs: garments, meals, water, additional socks, GPS trackers, water purification straws, headlamps, mountaineering poles, sunscreen and extra.

And for gas? Every runner carried a mix of complete meals and carb-heavy electrolyte mixes, plus one dehydrated meal per day. They estimate they burned 120,000 energy all through the journey.

Griesel mentioned his favorites meals that acquired him by means of Lesotho had been sizzling cross buns and chocolate. “I’ve at all times been actually dangerous with food plan in the event you had to take a look at it from a standard viewpoint, however I do imagine that the perfect meals[s] on these lengthy initiatives are what you’re wanting ahead to consuming,” he added.

A crew on horseback support Sandes and Griesel during a leg of their Lesotho circumnavigation run.

They weren’t fully alone of their expedition; a help crew on horseback, motorbikes and four-by-fours helped resupply their fundamental wants and provides them cooked meals at numerous pre-planned areas.

Sandes (40) and Griesel (42) met in 2012 on the ultra-trail race Salomon SkyRun South Africa, the place Sandes positioned first and Griesel third. Two years later, they might run the Drakensberg Grand Traverse collectively – and break the FKT file.

Sandes and Griesel celebrate completing a difficult stretch of their Lesotho journey.

“That was undoubtedly the place our friendship began,” Sandes mentioned, including “Ryno and I are very totally different folks, however I feel we actually complement one another.”

Sandes joked that Griesel’s race gear will likely be labeled and so as, whereas his personal is in a disorganized pile.

“Even when I take a look at what we carry to the desk, I come from extra of a working background and competing on the worldwide circuit, whereas Ryno is extra into journey racing and his mountain abilities and navigating [are] subsequent stage,” he mentioned.

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Sandes is the bodily powerhouse and Griesel is the nimble navigator.

“It’s all good and nicely to go quick – it’s splendid to go quick in the suitable course and I feel that’s the place we actually match collectively,” Griesel mentioned.

The ultra runners said it took about two years to map out their Lesotho route.

The standard runners stability one another out in additional methods than their skillsets. Griesel mentioned Sandes is nice at retaining morale going by celebrating the “mini milestones,” which helped him push by means of throughout their Lesotho run.

“We’ll get to the highest of [a summit] and I’ll be like, ‘I nonetheless want 10 days to complete this,’ and he can be reminding me of the place we’ve come from,” Griesel mentioned.

Whereas these two will seemingly proceed going for FKTs, Sandes mentioned the pandemic has created house for him to decelerate and respect what his residence continent has to supply.

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“All through my profession, I’ve been fortunate sufficient to run on all seven continents and expertise a number of the world, however I really feel like I haven’t skilled sufficient of Africa,” he mentioned. “And I feel being compelled to do extra regionally has made me actually develop to like residence much more.”

Sandes and Griesel look forward to spending more time on their home continent. Here they're pictured trekking up a steep incline during their Navigate Lesotho run.

The pair are additionally targeted on mentioning the following technology of South African runners by means of packages like LIV2Run which goals to assist uplift folks from deprived communities.

“In life all of us type of want that connection to the outside,” Sandes mentioned. “I feel we’re so related to know-how, [we need to] break that and to be at liberty and pure and complete once more.”

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