If there was an award for North American ultrarunning rookie of the year, we’d already have engraved the nameplate with Sage Canaday. His runs at Chuckanut, White River, and UROC rank him among the year’s top ultrarunners. Period. And those are his first three ultras. In the following interview, find out if he’s confident going into the 2012 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile, how the elite road and ultra scenes compare, and how he makes ends meet as a professional runner.
We’ll be providing live coverage of the TNF 50 on Saturday. [Update: We’ve posted full 2012 TNF 50 results with links to many other race resources, including a race report from Canaday, who DNFed after leading.]
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Sage Canaday Pre-2012 TNF EC 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Sage Canaday before the 2012 The North Face Endurance Challenge Championships. How are you doing, Sage?
Sage Canaday: Good. How about yourself?
iRF: Doing well. I’ve seen you around this year after you’ve made your leap up to ultrarunning. You’ve had great success. You had a good run out at Chuckanut, set the course record at White River, chasing Max at UROC and beating a ton of good runners in the process. How is your confidence coming into what might be the most competitive race you’ve run in ultrarunning yet?
Canaday: Confidence is good. I like where I’m at. Since I’ve gone the distance now—before it was like, “Oh man, 50 miles is so far”—but now that I’ve gone 62 miles, it’s like I’m stepping back down. So that makes me feel a little bit better about this race.
iRF: Definitely. Did you ever have that feeling as you worked up to the marathon and then you would jump back down to the half, was it… not necessarily more confidence, but could you be more aggressive or was it just easier?
Canaday: Well, for me the shorter distances weren’t necessarily easier, but yeah, you feel stronger. So you have the confidence, “Yeah, my strength is good.” Mentally, I think it’s that I don’t have to suffer for as long; you get it over really fast. UROC was 8 hours which was hard to wrap my head around; so I’m thinking 6 hours sounds more manageable. That’s more of the confidence.
iRF: We just learned literally a couple of minutes ago that the course has changed for tomorrow and that it will be short by a couple miles. I really can’t say anything yet because I don’t know when this is going to air relative to the official announcement of that distance, but it’s going to be a little short. It’s not only going to be a fast course, but a shorter course. Are you going to try to be aggressive on it, or do you think where will be a pack that just goes out?
Canaday: I guess a little. I’ll view my finishing time as being a little faster since it’s shorter. It’s still a long distance for me, and I kind of have to play it by ear. I’m not exactly sure what the conditions will be like during the race. I’m a little disappointed if there’s less vertical, honestly, to tell you the truth. I like the idea of more vertical. You can adjust though and play it by ear.
iRF: You have one of the fastest flat marathon PR’s in the course, but do you just enjoy the hills? Why?
Canaday: Yeah, I enjoy the hills—uphills more than down. I like the challenge, and I like grinding up the hill.
iRF: I guess you’ve had some success with that this year with Mount Washington, the win there.
Canaday: Yeah, thanks. I think White River had some good rollers, and I definitely liked the long climbs there.
iRF: Yeah, you were disappointed to hear a couple of those big climbs will not be in there on Saturday.
Canaday: Cardiac… I’m not sure where, but…
iRF: Yeah, somewhere. You’ve run in the Olympic Trials marathon; you’ve raced against slews of great runners. What have you learned in those experiences? What do you take out of running in a race like that as opposed to maybe a smaller marathon where you don’t have that depth? Do you approach it mentally differently?
Canaday: I haven’t actually run a smaller marathon. I wish I have because it would probably be a better feel. I see at these ultra races sometimes it feels a little bit smaller, so it’s more that feel. It’s more relaxed and more enjoyable. Big race marathons you’ve got all these international athletes, Olympic athletes a lot of times. It’s a pretty humbling experience when you’re out there. But the road mindset is a lot different from the ultra trail mindset, too. It’s totally different.
iRF: How about now that you’ve been in the culture a little bit longer? You were just chatting with Ian Sharman like you guys have known each other forever. Does the same sort of thing happen? Anyone that’s been around ultrarunning knows that that sort of thing happens around all the elites—good friendships. You hang out beforehand and you have a beer afterwards. It’s great. Does the same sort of thing happen in the elite road running world?
Canaday: It does in some circles. It’s kind of on a different scale. There will be little circles of athletes that know each other and do the same races, but it’s not as close knit of a community. People are probably a little more secretive about their training. They don’t want to give away their strategies. They’re probably a little more cutthroat, too, especially the upper level athletes. They’re trying to compete to make an Olympic team or make $100,000 at Boston or whatever. Those upper level athletes—it’s more cutthroat. I never had to worry about that.
iRF: You haven’t seen that dealing with the likes of Max and Ian.
Canaday: No, those are great guys. I’ve learned a lot from them. It’s good to be around them.
iRF: You’ve been trying to do the professional running thing for a couple of years now. How do you cobble it together? How do you make life as a runner work? Everyone’s curious about that.
Canaday: I call it “living the dream.” Basically, it’s what I wanted to do coming out of college. I have some side sources of income. I sell my book, “Running for the Hansen’s,” through www.VO2Max Productions.com, and I make some off ads on my YouTube channel. I’ve actually started coaching this year, too. So I do that. Through sponsorship, too—I got really fortunate with Scott Sports, Flora Health Udo’s Oil, Smith Optics, Drymax Socks, Ultimate Direction. Without the sponsorships, I wouldn’t be here right now. It took a lot of hard work. I emphasize social media marketing a lot. I think that helps the sponsors out, and it helps me out. It’s a win-win. Being on iRunFar.com… it’s good exposure.
iRF: You’ve really grown into the sport this past year. Best of luck to you tomorrow.
Canaday: Thank you! I appreciate it!