Sage Canaday continues his dominance in sub-100 mile ultra racing in the US this year with his win at the Speedgoat 50k and is building a strong resume for Ultrarunner of the Year. In the following interview, Sage talks about his latest win, what trail running skills he’s been working on, where he’ll be racing next, and his recommendations for improving one’s downhill running.
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Sage Canaday, 2013 Speedgoat 50k Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Sage Canaday after his win at the 2013 Speedgoat 50k. Congratulations, Sage.
Sage Canaday: Thank you.
iRF: Really great run out there. Can’t say you led from the gun, because you and Max [King] went back and forth for how long early on—about four or five miles?
Canaday: Yeah, it was about the four-mile mark. Actually, we were coming up the road and came around a turn and there were two moose there with full antlers right in the road. I didn’t know what they were going to do. I thought they were going to charge me. So I started going off to the side walking really slow. Max comes charging by. I had about 20 seconds on him. He comes charging up the hill right by the moose and they run away. He’s got trekking poles, so he had a weapon in case they got aggressive.
iRF: Because that would help with two many-hundred-pound animals.
Canaday: Yeah, I was scared.
iRF: So did he take back the lead at that point?
Canaday: For a little while. We were together for another mile. Then there was a good uphill stretch on the road, kind of like Mount Washington, and that’s where I put it into high gear, but it was tough.
iRF: Did you make a specific move there and try to make a break for the prime?
Canaday: Yeah, that’s when it really kind of crossed my mind. I was like, You know, you might as well go for it. I want to take advantage of the uphills anyway, especially on runnable roads. So that’s kind of what I did.
iRF: That’s something you can probably do better than anyone else in the core of the field there.
Canaday: It almost came back to bite me, but yeah.
iRF: For that part, yeah.
Canaday: Yeah, runnable road helps, definitely.
iRF: Then you went over the top in the lead and continued to build that lead. Were you pushing the early descents into Larry’s Hole?
Canaday: Yeah, I was really worried because Max was probably running way better downhills than I am. There’s that one kind of technical section that’s a road but there are rocks this big, and so you’re trying to navigate that for a mile and a half. I just made a conscious effort just to push as hard as I could, because I knew as soon as we got to that mile 15.5 aid station you do an out-and-back. I wanted to make sure I still had a good cushion there. I pushed that downhill hard and had about four minutes there, which was about the same as Hidden Peak.
iRF: How did you actually navigate that rocky cobble section? Have you gotten better at that technical stuff or was it still pretty challenging for you?
Canaday: It was challenging. I’ve worked on my downhill running and more technical rocky stuff. I took little risks. I didn’t want to break my ankle, but I definitely tried to find a line zigzagging across the road and tried to run on that tilted side of the road, too, so you don’t trip on a rock and hurt yourself. I didn’t do that.
iRF: You come out and go to Larry’s Hole again at mile 21 and you don’t know how far of a lead you had and there’s a big, steep, hiking kind of uphill.
Canaday: Yeah, actually I did know. I saw them across the field. I knew I opened up a little coming out of the 15-mile aid station climb. I didn’t know exactly how many minutes it was. I didn’t know it was going to be so steep. Then all the sudden you come up towards the top, well before the top of Bald Peak, and you look up and it’s 25% grade off trail and you’re hands-on-knees just powerhiking. I’m horrible at powerhiking.
iRF: What’s going through your mind at that point?
Canaday: Tony [Krupicka] is catching me.
iRF: And Tony was catching you.
Canaday: Yep. I was looking over my shoulder there.
iRF: I don’t know how many minutes it was at Larry’s Hole but somewhere in the six-to-eight minute range. You had a four-minute lead at Hidden Peak. Did you catch a glimpse back at any point?
Canaday: Oh, yeah. I was looking over my shoulder a lot. I knew he was gaining on me after that. I was really feeling it. I was kind of on the edge of not… I was doing a lot of powerhiking. It was really tough. It was intense all the way to the end. I knew he would really be gunning for me on that downhill, too. I hate downhills even on the roads.
Canaday: Yeah, and he was. He was running five-minute miles down that.
iRF: He did close two-and-a-half minutes on you on that stretch.
Canaday: Even more. I looked back about 1.5 miles to go, and I saw him. I was like, Man, I’ve got to finish as hard as I can. So, I did, but man it was intense. It was good. It made it exciting.
iRF: What’s up next for you?
Canaday: I’m doing Sierre Zinal in Switzerland. It’s two weeks from today, actually, which is going to be tough for me to recover. It’s a 30k mountain race. It’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful mountain races in the world. It’s the 40th anniversary.
iRF: It’s the 40th anniversary and they’re going to bring a lot of the past champions back.
Canaday: I heard Kilian [Jornet] was signed up for it and Marco [DiGasperi] from SCOTT; Max King is doing it. There are a ton of Europeans, so it will be really competitive. Hopefully it will be a good experience with getting to travel which is a real privilege.
iRF: Real European course and a classic race.
Canaday: Yeah, in the Alps. I’m looking forward to it.
iRF: Anything back on US soil after that?
Canaday: After that I’ll get ready for UROC and The North Face 50. UROC will be a focus for sure, too.
iRF: You have improved your descending skills over the last year. Any tips for people who are new to trail running or are transitioning from road running? What can they do to get used to the mountains and descending mountains?
Canaday: Just mainly getting more vertical in your training. I think hill training gets in a lot of strength. I know a lot of people live in an environment where they don’t have mountains, but I used to ramp up my treadmill to get ready for Mount Washington. Any hill training—I guess that’s just uphill, but some treadmills go on the decline. Just short little hills that you can find—a little hill you can do repeats up that and go downhill fast, too. Doing more off-road running rather than just speedwork on the track or just tempo runs on the road. Getting out there and lengthening your long run, too, and just spending time on your feet. I’ve had to do that more to learn to utilize fat as a fuel better and not bonk as bad. It helps with the strength.
iRF: It doesn’t seem like you’re bonking that bad. You’ve run six ultras in the US so far and it’s five wins and a second.
Canaday: I think—I don’t know. I haven’t done the math. I did get second at Chuckanut, so there was that.
iRF: There was two—that and UROC. Other than that, it’s…
Canaday: Well, I dropped out of The North Face 50.
iRF: Good point.
Canaday: So, DNF. Yeah, so I got lucky today, so I was really happy.
iRF: Great race. How did the weather affect you out there? Was it pretty chilly on top?
Canaday: I think I got lucky with that because it was a lot cooler than last year, so that definitely made it easier to run a faster time. I was only chilly on top of Hidden Peak the first time. After that, it was a great temperature to run. I was sweating a little bit, but you couldn’t ask for better conditions to run fast.
iRF: Well you did get the course record. It probably feels pretty good to take down one of Kilian [Jornet’]s course records by a good margin today.
Canaday: Yeah, there was a little bonus there, so I was excited about that.
iRF: There was a bonus of some cash for that.
Canaday: I didn’t know that. I did write the splits on my arm from last year.
iRF: You had the splits.
Canaday: Yeah, as a reference.
iRF: You did come up with one of the biggest paydays in US ultrarunning.
Canaday: Yeah, it was my personal biggest payday for sure.
iRF: $4,500 is not a bad day.
Canaday: Yeah, by a lot.
iRF: Are you buying beers tonight?
Canaday: Yeah, of course. Well, I brought some.
iRF: Congratulations and good luck at Sierre Zinal.
Canaday: Thank you.