Defending Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon champion Sage Canaday is back for more of New Zealand’s North Island. In the following interview, Sage talks about how this year’s strategy will differ from last year, what shoes he plans to race in, and the marathon training and racing he did at the beginning of this year.
For more on who else is racing this weekend, read our preview article.
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Sage Canaday Pre-Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Sage Canaday before the 2014 Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon. Welcome back to New Zealand, Sage.
Sage Canaday: Oh, thank you. It’s good to be back.
iRunFar: Yeah, last year you were here and had a great race. You won. You’ve come back as the defending champ. But last year’s race wasn’t perfect by any stretch.
Canaday: Oh, no.
iRunFar: You went out really hard and paid for it later. How have you improved or learned in that year since? Timothy Olson ran out of real estate to catch you—pretty close.
Canaday: Yeah, it was scary—I guess to pace myself better. 100k is still really a pretty far distance for me as far as the distances I race; so it’s a long way to go. Here, the humidity is a little higher, and it’s a lot warmer than Colorado this time of the year. So, yeah, I’ll probably stay on top of hydration—drink more water and less Coke—and not go as fast. I’ll write down my splits from last year on my arm at each aid station. I know 16 miles in I made my break for the lead and I just pushed way too hard, and I couldn’t handle it. My quads were shot at the end.
iRunFar: I remember looking at the race program two days ago and there’s a five-leg relay race that goes alongside the 100k. You have the record for leg 2—none of the individual relay racers ran faster or have run faster on that. You were clearly pushing early.
Canaday: Yeah, I outdid myself on that. I think one of the relay racers was chasing me down and so did the mountain biker I was with. We thought it might be a 100k runner, and it freaked me out. So then I sped up even more, but then it ended up being a relay runner.
iRunFar: So this weekend you’re probably the favorite—you’re the defending champ—and looking at the field, you’re going to be up there with the leaders. Do you think you’ll run with that lead group for awhile or are you just going to run your own race the whole way?
Canaday: A little bit of both. I think going out conservatively is probably a good idea, and with such a loaded field it will be a pack, I’m sure, for a good ways. I’ll gauge my pace based on last year’s Strava splits and keeping up on how I feel. You have rough patches; you slow down a little and rehydrate. I definitely want to pace myself more conservatively early on, but then the course changes. It will be an interesting event.
iRunFar: Compared to some of the people in the race, you’re a very good climber. On stuff like .Mount Washington you can climb really fast. That’s where you made your move last year, right?
Canaday: Yeah, it was on a road 16 miles up and then a smooth, runnable trail uphill.
iRunFar: Whereas the end of the course, there’s 30-plus-k of slightly downhill singletrack and dirt road which a lot of the other competitors up front have really good skill sets for, so it will be a tactical battle maybe.
Canaday: Yeah, it will be a lot different. But it’s always a matter of getting from point A to point B as efficiently as possible. Other racers aside, you can just do the math and be like, Okay, I’m going to try to run as efficiently and as fast as possible from the start to the finish without crashing and burning hopefully, which could easily happen.
iRunFar: It’s going to be interesting weather out there. The forecast is a little dynamic, but some very heavy rain forecast. What are you doing to go with shoe-wise?
Canaday: Hoka Clifton or Huakas.
iRunFar: Okay, so definitely still sticking with a road shoe even with the rain?
Canaday: Yeah, I’ve been talking with a lot of the locals and the Race Director, Paul Charteris, and they say it actually drains pretty well. So even if it’s raining a lot, the soil, there’s some volcanic rock in it, and there’s a lot of vegetation that it actually doesn’t get that muddy or slippery or anything.
iRunFar: It won’t be as slick or anything.
Canaday: So even with traction like on these shoes’ bottoms, hopefully I’ll be okay. I don’t know.
iRunFar: Yeah, it’s not like you have 1,000 meters descent on slick trail where… it’s pretty flat.
Canaday: Part of the end is like a crushed-rock fire road.
iRunFar: They were saying almost like a cinder track.
Canaday: So that should be good.
iRunFar: It could be like a track meet the last 20 miles.
Canaday: No, I don’t know…
iRunFar: You have worked on your speed in the off season, correct? Training to try to get a qualifier—you ran second place at Carlsbad Marathon in 2:22. How did that go?
Canaday: It was good. I was happy with how it went. The speed definitely came back slower than I thought coming off of ultra training. I was training for TNF 50 in December, focusing for that, then got knocked out for a week with the flu. I didn’t even start that race. So I took a week off and kind of wiped the slate clean. I lost some fitness for sure. So coming into Carlsbad I was like, Alright I’ll work on my speed a little. I went out there with Sandi [Nypaver]. I got a good effort in. There’s 1000 feet of climbing in that race. But man, marathon pace never felt so fast; it felt like a sprint. My 5:20 marathon pace was just… you just really… I wasn’t used to it. Hopefully this fall I can go back to Chicago [Marathon] or something and get my qualifier. That’s the goal.
iRunFar: It feels like a sprint, but on the other hand, physically it feels like a sprint, but mentally does it feel like, ‘It’s over.’ It could be a 5k on a track in college.
Canaday: Yeah, mentally it was a lot better. It’s not even… it’s a fairly short time to be running relative to 100k. I was really happy with the last 10k; I actually ran a pretty even split. Half of my marathons I’ve crashed and burned in the last 10k, so it was good. I felt like I had some ultra strength for the last 10k. I didn’t bonk or hit the wall as hard as I have in the past in the marathon.
iRunFar: Nice, well maybe that non-bonking, staying strong will happen for you here at Tarawera this weekend.
Canaday: Hopefully. Fingers crossed.
iRunFar: Best of luck out there.
Canaday: Thank you very much.
iRunFar: So, Sage, you’ve been here in New Zealand for two days now? Two or three days?
Canaday: Yeah, three days.
iRunFar: Have you gotten to sample any of the local beers?
Canaday: I did. I had a ginger beer.
iRunFar: An alcoholic ginger beer.
Canaday: An alcoholic ginger beer, yeah. Last year they only had the regular ginger beer which is more like root beer, a non-alcoholic beer. But this year one of the major brewing companies in New Zealand, they actually have an alcoholic ginger beer.
iRunFar: Pretty good?
Canaday: I had a couple of them last night. It was very good, yeah.
iRunFar: You brought some Avery over?
Canaday: I brought some Avery over.
iRunFar: Good trade.
Canaday: Yeah, it is.