The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc will be Sage Canaday’s debut 100 miler. Because of this, Sage has researched, planned, and trained for the race’s specific variables. In this interview, Sage details his training and preparations, from his adaptation to the European time zone to night running, from running significantly longer than any previous race to nutrition, from race strategy among his competition to the course layout, and more.
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Sage Canaday Pre-2015 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar here, and I’m here in Chamonix, France, with Sage Canaday ahead of the 2015 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB). This is your first 100 miler.
Sage Canaday: It is, yeah.
iRunFar: How’s it going?
Canaday: It’s going well. I’ve got my health. I’m excited to be here. I feel very fortunate. I don’t take any day of doing this for granted. I’m really lucky. I’m happy to be here.
iRunFar: It is just a couple days before you toe the line in your very first 100-mile race. You’ve been at this ultra thing for a couple years now. What’s going through your head?
Canaday: I’m pretty worried about it. Excited and nervous—it’s going to be a big adventure just because of the dynamics of the course, stiff competition, foreign country, 33,000-34,000 feet of climbing over 107 miles about with a chance of any type of mountain weather. It could be an epic disaster. There are so many variables that could go exponentially wrong, but at the same time there are things that could go right. I don’t know exactly how it will pan out, but I know it will be an adventure, good or bad.
iRunFar: I’ve listened to a couple of people talk about and ruminate on Sage Canaday’s first 100 miler. People seem to fall in the category of either it’s going to be an epic success or an epic blow-up.
Canaday: Yeah, I’d agree. There could be some middle ground maybe. Between nutrition, stomach issues, sheer muscle failure—just legs cramping up—hypothermia, that probably worries me the most. Mentally, I try to take the mental component out of it actually. I try to make it all physical even though those kind of things manifest together. I know it’s going to hurt like crazy. There’s going to be a lot of points where there’s despair and agony and wanting to drop out and things like that that you have to work through. Every race I’ve done, even if it’s a 5k on the track, I’ve always wanted to drop out at some point even if it’s going well. I know that’s going to happen in this race. Running all night really scares me because I haven’t run in the dark that long. Yeah, it could be… I might have to make some decisions during the race that could really determine the outcome of the race in terms of how competitive I want to be and what other guys are doing as well.
iRunFar: I want to break down some of those components and talk about them because this is your first 100 miler, and you are a close study of this sport. I know you’ve probably been applying that style to every aspect of getting ready for this race. First of all, like many of the top competitors, you’ve been here a couple weeks. You came here about three weeks ago?
Canaday: Yeah, three weeks ago.
iRunFar: The three-week window—was one of the goals to get here, do some training, and then taper?
Canaday: Yeah, pretty much. These mountains are so much different than the Rockies or any of the mountains I’ve encountered in the U.S., just the nature of the trails. You could run a 1,000 feet of vertical and think, Wow, I did 1,000 feet today, or I did 4,000 feet or 5,000 feet. Just getting the legs used to that. I really only had probably that first week to make that adjustment, but then mentally knowing the lay of the land a little bit, getting used to the time change. It’s pretty rough coming over from the States because it takes a week to get over the jetlag, at least it did for me. Yeah, just dialing things in. Then a big taper—I’ve tapered more conservatively for this race than I ever have before. This week and even last week I’ve hardly been doing anything. It’s been really lame. I’ve been running flat on the pavement in town just to avoid all the epic mountain trails you could do because I know I need to rest my legs because all the vertical tires me out. I want to make sure I’m not overtrained for this race, so I’ve been really conservative with the taper.
iRunFar: Is that a hard thing to do? You’re here in the Chamonix valley and there are a couple-hundred miles of singletrack that just spider right out of here. We’re looking at singletrack in every direction. Has it been pretty hard to sit up and look at it?
Canaday: Yeah, no, definitely, especially on a day like this. When it was raining I was just like, I’ll just sit back and have a coffee and not go outside. It has been hard sometimes to turn down adventures, but I came here to race and be competitive. I love the mountains and I love the track. The track here is really cool and there are trails all over, so yeah, I had to hold myself back but remember the goal of coming here.
iRunFar: The night start, the Friday night start, is a fascinating component. In addition to having the night start, you have the fact that you’re coming from eight time zones away. I think that’s something that can really throw off North Americans coming here to race. Have you been resetting your body clock to prepare for that night start in any way?
Canaday: Yeah, I’ve been sleeping in. I like sleeping in anyway. I’m usually a night owl and I like sleeping late. Since I’ve been here for three weeks, I’m adjusted to this time zone really well. I’m excited about the night start. When I raced in track, we raced at night a lot, like a 10 p.m. 10k on the track. You do it. So I’m excited to get the night component over with early on in the race. So if I’m 14 hours into the race and the sun’s coming up, that might be a good boost to have at that point, I just have a feeling. I’m excited that we’ll get the night pretty fast, and then it will be all night. It will be good I think.
iRunFar: This is an all-night-and-then-a-better-part-of-the-next-day race. What’s the longest number of hours you’ve raced so far?
Canaday: About 12 hours, or just shy of 12 hours at UROC in 2013 which was a horrible disaster, the worst race of my life, so I don’t like to think about that. That was the longest time I was on my feet. This will be a lot longer.
iRunFar: So you’re adding eight hours?
Canaday: At least.
iRunFar: Your journey with ultrarunning and trail running has been, compared to many people, you’ve been pretty conservative about it. You’ve jumped up in even increments. That’s not quite an even incremental jump, is it? How do you wrap your head around it?
Canaday: It’s the next logical jump. After the 100k, there aren’t very many races that are 75 miles. My motto this year, I’ve been trying to do the experiment “any surface, any distance.” Running road marathons, running even races on the track or doing shorter mountain races, 50 mile trail races in the U.S. versus this 100 mile, I like the variety. I like the challenge of it. It’s fun. I think the challenge is there. This race as a 100-mile race takes a lot longer than other 100-mile races that I could have picked. People are like, “Why didn’t you do 100 miles on the track? That would have been a very controlled environment. You could do it many hours faster maybe, hopefully?” Even a course like Western States is considered faster, a much faster course than this. I like the idea that there’s so much vertical and such a relatively extreme mountain race. It’s tough to wrap my head around that time frame. I’m not going to listen to music or anything either because I don’t do that. Hopefully I can be mentally strong the whole time and have that be a constant, and hopefully things click physically because that can really make or break your performance.
iRunFar: This course is pretty interesting. There’s a ton of vertical, but it’s a fairly non-technical vertical. These are, in general, well-developed trails. They’ve been around for hundreds of years. The rocks have been pulled out of them. They’re steep, but they’re not too technical. Adding to that the fact that you come in and out of several towns, so there is some pavement running. You put together—I don’t know, what is it—probably 15 or so miles of pavement running throughout the race. How are you breaking that up? Are you breaking it up crew station to crew station, from climb to descent to flat, or how are you going mentally visualize the journey?
Canaday: Originally I was going to cover the whole course before the race. I didn’t have time to do that. I probably covered maybe 40% of the course, maybe 40 miles. I’ve seen the descent down into Courmayeur which I know is probably a critical one. Mentally I think, when you start going up, usually you’re going up 4,000 feet over at least an hour of all uphill and maybe some little dips. So I’ll get the trekking poles out and just start going up the hill and just mentally think, I’m going up the hill for an hour or an hour-and-a-half. When you start going down, you’re going down 4,000 feet into the next town, so you tuck the trekking poles and just start going down. I did that last 10 miles on the course, I think that’s pretty technical. Maybe the Europeans don’t think that’s technical over here, but from Vallorcine over here, it’s rocky up there.
iRunFar: That is a brutal descent.
Canaday: It’s technical, just along the ridgeline there. I did it when it was all pouring down rain and slippery, but for the most part, I think, I really like the style of trails. I like the big climbs. I like sustained climbs. Sustained descents, I don’t know so much, but we’ll see.
iRunFar: We’ll see what you say afterwards.
Canaday: Yeah, that will be the big challenge, I think.
iRunFar: Okay, so the competition—this is probably the most competitive ultra race that you will have attended. Is that fair to say?
Canaday: Mountain ultra, I’d say. I’d say Comrades, that’s a different category.
iRunFar: Yeah, yeah.
Canaday: Just because of the spread of the top 10. Yeah, for trail and mountain ultra…
iRunFar: Excepting Comrades, yeah.
Canaday: This is for sure. The line-up here is incredible.
iRunFar: For this being a race in late summer, there hasn’t been too much attrition due to injury. We did lose Rob Krar from the line-up in the last week or so. The field is pretty stout. You’ve seen a few of these guys before. A lot of them are going to be new. Who are you looking forward to racing against?
Canaday: There are tons of guys. I think most of the, at least in your preview, the top guys, I think I’ve actually raced all of them before. Luis [Alberto Hernando] is really strong. He was at Transvulcania the last three years. So I’ve seen him, not the last Transvulcania but the two previous ones, where he beat me handily I should say. Then Tòfol [Castanyer], I’ve raced him at Sierre-Zinal, and I’ve raced him at The North Face. Some of the local guys, local French guys, I’ve maybe raced at Transvulcania. I’ve seen them, but not on this style of course, and not on this distance. A lot of them have done very well here—made the podium or have been second or third here, have experience on the course, and also kind of train in this type of environment. They’re going to come out firing. They’re going to come out super strong. It will be a battle.
iRunFar: There are tons of different racing styles, yeah, tons of different racing styles. What’s going to be yours?
Canaday: Give away my secrets here. I know the start is pretty fast, and I’ve run the first 20 miles of the course. So I know it goes out at pretty fast, breakneck speed considering what you have to do later on. I’ll try not to get too caught up in that. I don’t mind going out a little faster on a flat trail or flat road part just because I feel like, from my marathon background, I’m pretty efficient at that. I obviously don’t want to be too aggressive because it’s my first 100 miler, but at the same time I don’t think it costs me as much energy compared to the pure mountain guys. I’ll probably play it by ear depending on what the other guys do and how I feel. Generally, I like to be competitive and not lose sight of the lead pack and not slip too far behind, but I will run my own race to some extent, yeah.
iRunFar: Last question for you before you go out and compete. You’ve been here in France for the last three weeks. You’ve enjoyed some trails, enjoyed some good weather and some bad weather, and have enjoyed some French food. Favorite food or drink over the last couple weeks?
Canaday: Wow, that’s a tough one. There’s been a lot. Sandi [Nypaver] and I got a couple crepes from this dessert place downtown. It was the first time I’d had French crepes in awhile. They were just delicious. I had one filled with Nutella/bananas. Then the other one was filled with just chocolate. They just melted in my mouth. That was delicious.
iRunFar: Maybe some more of those after the race?
Canaday: For sure. Then fondue, raclette—I’d love that after the race. More beer, too.
iRunFar: Always the beer.
Canaday: Beer and wine. I like wine, too, actually.
iRunFar: Awesome. Best of luck to you.
Canaday: Thanks, I’ll need it.
iRunFar: Good luck on your first 100 mile and your journey around the Mont Blanc massif.
Canaday: Yeah, it will be a long one.
iRunFar: Thanks, Sage.