Sage Canaday caps another year as a trail and ultrarunner with success by winning amongst an incredibly stacked field at the 2014 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. In this interview, Sage parses out his all-day battle with second place Dakota Jones, how he used his climbing strength throughout the race, and where we’ll see him in 2015.
For more information on how the race played out, check out our results article.
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Sage Canaday 2014 TNF EC 50 Mile Champion Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Sage Canaday after his win at The North Face 50 Mile Championships. Sage, another great race.
Sage Canaday: Yeah, this one takes the cake for my year and my season so far.
iRunFar: It’s pretty good. You had some other great results, some good running at Sonoma, a win at Pikes Peak and Speedgoat, but the field here today was something else.
Canaday: It was stacked. It was loaded. Yeah, I feel really good about it. I had a good, solid performance. I was happy with my time even, too.
iRunFar: That’s a really good time. It is a course record, but it’s also not something you can compare to the other courses. It changes enough every year…
Canaday: The changes, yeah…
iRunFar: It’s not just this trail over here versus that trail over there.
Canaday: I got 51 miles, though.
iRunFar: That is long.
Canaday: I will upload it on Strava and see what the climbing is. I know it’s probably a little less climbing. Yeah, it was a mosh pit out there with the mud.
iRunFar: What was the muddiest bit?
Canaday: The descent down Cardiac when you’re heading back toward Muir Beach. They made it so it’s a longer out-and-back. So there were a lot of 50k runners running up, so there was a lot of foot traffic. The first time when I made that climb, that was my move where I took the lead and opened up a gap. It was just like this river running down. In this case, it just turned into this really muddy slick spot coming back down later in the day. It got worse as the day progressed kind of.
iRunFar: So you kind of had your climbing legs on today because everybody behind you was saying you were climbing really well.
Canaday: I always try to have my climbing legs on. That’s all I’ve got. I can’t descend very well, so I’ve got to do something.
iRunFar: Was there some seesawing there relatively with Dakota [Jones] and yourself?
Canaday: There was. At about 38 miles, I had this real low point. My legs didn’t feel really great the whole day. It was a sufferfest the last 30 miles basically. At 38, I was puking my guts out. I’ve never actually puked so much during a race—just drinking too much Coke, I think. I was burning it really hot, so I took too much sugar. I was puking. I stopped. He caught me and passed me. But then coming into Muir Beach, right before that, he peeled off into the bushes for a pit stop or something. So I took the lead back. I wasn’t moving really well, but I had a minute to 30 seconds on him. We were both eyeing each other coming out of Muir Beach on that climb. I was trying not to powerhike. It was a steep climb. Even the next eight miles after that, descending into Tennessee Valley at mile 45, He was 20 seconds behind me in that aid station. I’m looking over my shoulder obsessively every quarter mile. I see him right there. I’m trying to disappear into the fog. I just gave it everything I had at mile 45 climbing out of Tennessee Valley. I was just fearful all the way to the finish—running on fear and a lot of pain.
iRunFar: You kind of made that move at the crux point. Tennessee Valley has become, a couple times in the past… Mike Wolfe and Dakota, they were together coming in there basically. He made the move and you did, too. Did you kind of make a move or did you just kind of…?
Canaday: I just gave it everything I had. I figured the uphill probably favored me, so I didn’t want it to come down to the last two miles where you’re coming down the hill. So, I just was breathing really hard and grunting it out. My legs were almost locking up.
iRunFar: Did you want to stop at any point?
Canaday: I always want to stop. There’s always a point in every race where I think, You should drop out; you should DNF. Right around half way I was like, DNF—you’ve raced too much this year; your legs feel horrible; you’re in a lot of pain. But then you’ve got to overcome that.
iRunFar: How do you? It’s a good lesson for anybody. How do you work through that?
Canaday: I get a lot of motivation from thinking about, you know, my parents came all the way down here from Oregon… I’ve trained for this race. I’ve been looking forward to it for months. This is voluntary. This is something I signed up to do. I entered the race. I’ve been pumped about it. I don’t want to disappoint myself, I guess.
iRunFar: You’ve entered the race a couple times before…
Canaday: I have. I’ve had some bad luck here. So, third time is a charm.
iRunFar: It’s about time for most people to take a break in their running season, and you’re going to charge for Houston and try to get an Olympic Trials qualifier in the marathon.
Canaday: Yeah, that’s really important to me, qualifying for the Olympic Trials Marathon. It would be my third one. I have a year to do it before the Trials in 2016. Houston is a good opportunity in six weeks. It’s a flat, fast course. It’s where I ran my first marathon. It’s good competition. I’ll get my doors blown off. It’s good weather usually.
iRunFar: There will be people to chase.
Canaday: Yeah, there will be people to chase and probably pace groups. Good incentives. It’s a good race to do and high on my priority list. Yeah, ideally I should take a break. Sandi [Nypaver] and I coach a lot of athletes and we never put this on them. It’s a horrible idea. I’m knocking on risk of injury or overtraining for sure. I do want to take a break after Tarawera in February for sure—an extended break. I don’t ski in the off season. I don’t play golf. I don’t do anything else. Running’s all I’ve got. I’ve done it year around the past 15 years.
iRunFar: So far, so good.
Canaday: Yeah, knock on wood somewhere.
iRunFar: After your break after Tarawera which you’re going to take, are there any big races that are exciting you for next year?
Canaday: Oh, I’ve got some big ones planned.
iRunFar: Oh, yeah? How big?
Canaday: Very big. I want to be on the biggest stage. It’s not set in stone…
iRunFar: Nobody has signed up for races yet.
Canaday: No, I signed up for Comrades. There’s that one in May. I haven’t figured out the travel and logistics out there yet. That would be high on my priority. It’s an up year. Max King I heard is doing it. I think Ellie [Greenwood] is going back. It should be a good contingent. I made the U.S. Mountain Running team in the long distance at Zermatt Marathon which is the fourth of July and part of the U.S. team. Since I’m over in Zermatt, I might as well bop on over to Chamonix and maybe train there for a month or two and maybe try my hand at the UTMB.
iRunFar: That’s 100 miles, though.
Canaday: I know—100 miles, 30,000 feet of climbing almost, right? The potential for an epic blow-up is very high. It could be a total disaster, but I want to do a 100 on a really big stage and I’m qualified for UTMB. I’m not qualified for Western States, plus it doesn’t come at a good time. UTMB, I think, could be an epic blow-up, a real epic melt-down disaster, but I’d go over and train on the course because that’s important.
iRunFar: That excites you.
Canaday: It does. It’s time. I want to do the 100.
iRunFar: It’s time. Max King last year; you this year… or this coming year. I feel like it’s already 2015.
Canaday: I’ve got to get a well-rounded ultra experience. The MUT running, it’s mountain, ultra, trail. You can do mountains—you could do 100 miles in the mountains like UTMB. You can do an ultra on the track or the road. And trail races—50 miles, trail, buttery smooth single track or Skyrunning like Speedgoat or The Rut.
iRunFar: You like to mix it up.
Canaday: The variety is fun. It’s key. It’s probably not ideal. It takes awhile to adapt to changing your training stimulus.
iRunFar: You mean training for a 50-mile really hilly race versus a road marathon?
Canaday: Well, there’s that, there’s Skyrunning, there’s a 50k versus a 100 miles…
iRunFar: Is there any truth that that can make you stronger? Training for some of your weaknesses or the things you’re not as good at could make you better at the marathon?
Canaday: For sure. I think all ultrarunners, as much as a lot of trail runners don’t like the road, I think running a road marathon is sometimes beneficial, or at least a faster trail marathon course. It might not be your specialty. You might be better at 100’s, but the speedwork…
iRunFar: But it makes you better at the running portion of those 100-mile races.
Canaday: Yeah, you get your better running form at higher speeds. You’re training your lactate threshold and your VO2 max. Some formal speedwork helps everyone, I think.
iRunFar: Sounds good. While you’re taking your break sometime in there, I’ll do some speedwork… maybe. Maybe.
Canaday: Yeah. You’re a sprinter. You’d blow my doors off on the track at 200 meters.
iRunFar: That’s an idea. If you want to be a well-rounded runner, I think we should have a 400-meter race tonight.
Canaday: Beer mile.
iRunFar: Beer mile.
Canaday: Beer mile. I can’t chug very fast.
iRunFar: When and where?
Canaday: Midnight at the local high school track. No. That’s not legal. I didn’t say that.
iRunFar: Somewhere, sometime. Beer mile.