World-renowned trail runner Ryan Sandes says running ultra marathons and playing a five-hour round of professional golf both place an intense focus on correct mental preparation.
The professionals competing in this week’s Sunshine Tour and Challenge Tour co-sanctioned Bain’s Whisky Cape Town Open at both the Royal Cape Golf Club and Rondebosch Golf Club, which tees off on Thursday, are all seeking that mental edge in a sport that requires them to maintain focus and concentration for hours on end while competing at the highest level.
“The mental side of things is so important in sport, no matter what the sporting discipline. Just being able to have that sustained focus for a long time is key,” says Sandes, legendary in his sport and a proud Capetonian.
And, similar to a professional golfer mentally mapping out his course strategy, Sandes says he relies heavily on visualisation to prepare for the demands of the trail he’ll be running.
“Visualisation is important for me in ultra running. I run through in my mind how the day is going to go – good and bad,” he says.
Professional golfers often speak about leaving a bad shot or hole behind them as quickly as possible and not ‘taking it with’ mentally on to the next tee box. Sandes believes in the same.
“The biggest thing is that when things aren’t going your way, you’re still able to keep your focus and get through that and stay present. I break down a race into bite-size chunks, and I would imagine in golf it would be a case of taking it one hole at a time and not drifting off and thinking everything is now going to fall apart.”
Gary Player has always declared that it’s not a lack of nerves that makes a champion, but rather an ability to correctly manage the inevitable nervous tension before a major tournament. According to Sandes, finding enjoyment in his sport enables him to correctly manage the pressure of performing at an elite level.
“It’s important to keep the enjoyment and take the pressure off a bit, and to use pressure in the right way. One of the top tri-athletes once said that pressure is a privilege, and you need to focus it in the right way. I think the day I stop feeling nervous before an event then it’s probably time to stop. Some nerves and anxiety are good. If I’m overly nervous before an event, I’ll do breathing drills or just go for a run to get in the right headspace to compete.”