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Mental strength key for both pro golfers and ultra runner Sandes

Sunshine Tour professional Keagan Thomas focusing his mind during a practice round ahead of this week’s Bain’s Whisky Cape Town Open. Credit: Sunshine Tour

Sunshine Tour professional Keagan Thomas focusing his mind during a practice round ahead of this week’s Bain’s Whisky Cape Town Open. Credit: Sunshine Tour

Published Feb 16, 2022

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Centurion - Running ultra marathons and some of the longest races on the planet and a five-hour round of professional golf may not seem to have anything in common. But world-renowned trail runner Ryan Sandes believes both sports 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.

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“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, a legend of his sport and a proud Capetonian.

And in a similar fashion to a professional golfer mapping out his course strategy in his head, Sandes says he relies heavily on visualisation to prepare for the demands of the trail he’ll be running.

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“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 onto the next tee box. Sandes believes in the same.

“The biggest thing is that when things aren’t going your way, that 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.”

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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.

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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 is 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.”

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