Will a third time be Sage Canaday’s charm at the 2016 Transvulcania Ultramarathon? Sage returns to Saturday’s race with two third places under his Transvulcania belt, in 2013 and 2014. He also returns, as we see in this interview, hungry for more. In this interview, Sage also talks about his diverse year of racing and what he’s learned from it as well as how he will strategically approach this weekend’s race.
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Sage Canaday Pre-2016 Transvulcania Ultramarathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here on the island of La Palma a couple days before the 2016 Transvulcania Ultramarathon. I’m with Sage Canaday. Hi, how’s it going?
Sage Canaday: Hi. It’s great to be back here. I love this island.
iRunFar: This is your third time here. What keeps bringing you back?
Canaday: Lots of things—the course, the people, the culture. It’s an amazing island, especially coming from Colorado, to be in a tropical…
iRunFar: At this time of year…?
Canaday: Yeah, it was still snowing in Boulder a day or two ago.
iRunFar: Yeah, yesterday. Sorry, Boulder.
Canaday: Yeah, the island is so diverse, too. Sandy [Nypaver] and I came out a week ago, and we’ve seen the different climates—the pine-tree forests, the volcanic rock. Being on top, you’re at altitude at 8,000 feet, and then you’re down on a beach. It’s a great mix. Then the excitement—you don’t get any… the people here are just amazing. There’s amazing crowd support.
iRunFar: It’s certainly a niche of a niche of a niche here on the island. The fan frenzy and the trail running culture are just super emphasized, isn’t it?
Canaday: It is. You meet people from all over the world. The race is organized really well. I’ve only done the Speedgoat 50k three times. This is only other race I’m going to try to do three times. It’s definitely a favorite to do a race three times in the last four years. It tops my list.
iRunFar: Two times here previous; two times on the podium. What kind of goals do you bring back this time?
Canaday: Always to improve. There are always three things I see, three challenges going into any race. The first challenge is the course, trying to tackle the course. You’ve got 14,000 feet of climbing and crazy terrain over 45 miles. The second challenge is trying to place well and improve your rank, win your age group, maybe go after your personal time goal. The third major challenge is competing against yourself. How far can you go into feeling a lot of pain and suffering and willing yourself to push harder and faster than you’ve ever gone before. Those kind of all tie together, but I think all those challenges… I’d like to improve my time. I think you’ can compare time on the course. I’d like to try and crack seven hours. Then I’d like to try and improve place and be better than third. That’s what I’ve been the last two times.
iRunFar: Third and third.
Canaday: It’s always a challenge. Then just finish and survive the course without falling and hurting myself.
iRunFar: This course is hugely diverse. You sort of start on this stark volcanic pumice and you climb up through the rain forest of the tropics. Then you top out onto another volcanic wasteland of sorts, and then you repeat the whole thing over again. What part of this course do you really like?
Canaday: The climbing.
iRunFar: I knew you were going to say that.
Canaday: It’s very specific on the climbs. I was thinking about it in terms of efficiency, in terms of running economy, and I think, based on Speedgoat and other races I’ve done well in, it’s runnable climbs but still steep climbs. I like solid footing, and I like 15% grade uphill. That’s what I’ve narrowed it down to.
iRunFar: “Here’s my window of enjoyment and success.”
Canaday: Exactly. It’s a very narrow window and very specific. You get everything in this course, so it is a big challenge for the technical descents and also the loose footing on the volcanic rock. I’m not as efficient powerhiking. I’m not as efficient if I’m slipping around a lot. I hate snow. Snow running is the worst. It’s a huge challenge. You’re ascending a lot and through varying grades, but you also have that big technical descent and a lot of descents in the middle as well. I think it’s a fair course. It’s a true Skyrunning style of course. It’s very technical. People always think I like the road section. I ran the road section the other day, and I don’t like it. I want it to be steeper. I don’t want it to be a flat road. I want it to be 15% grade uphill.
iRunFar: You’re kind of changing a little bit in that you’re starting to prefer the more mountainy-type climate. When you first converted over, it was the runnable stuff you really gravitated toward or did the best on?
Canaday: I think I’ve done so many different types of MUT running events now that I’ve kind of… I know I like Speedgoat, but there’s so much to try. You don’t know. Experimenting with different training backgrounds, it does change, I think. Going into this race, the past two times I did this race, I was coming off Lake Sonoma which is four weeks before this which is not ideal. It’s a bad idea. I’ve always felt like I shortchanged myself here at this race a little bit because I was beat up from Lake Sonoma. At the same time, when I was planning my schedule, I knew I was doing Lake Sonoma before this race. Lake Sonoma, I did more runnable stuff and so never did enough climbing for this race. Hopefully I can do better this year because I didn’t do Lake Sonoma. It’s the polar opposite in the spectrum. Lake Sonoma is the most buttery smooth single track you can get in the U.S., so I focused more on the climbing and Skyrunning style the last couple months.
iRunFar: Your goal is to improve positions and go faster. You know this course pretty well at this point. What’s that going to take? What kind of changes will you make out there?
Canaday: I’ll monitor my splits. I’ll look at my Strava splits from last time. You’re kind of racing the clock, you’re racing your own splits, but you’re racing the competition as well. You’re responding to moves. You’re seeing how the lead pack people are feeling in different areas. You’re reading your own body cues. I don’t know how that’s going to be until I’m in the thick of it.
iRunFar: In terms of your own personal performance, though, if you look back on previous performances and say, “I nailed it in that section; I want to do that again,” but in other stuff, “I want to run that section better than I did last time.”
Canaday: There are no sections I feel I nailed on this course. I felt like I was falling apart the whole descent, I guess. Hopefully I can descend faster, I guess, and just be more consistent. It’s hard, on this course, with all the extreme changes in vertical, to say, “I paced myself well because I was going by feel.” But to run a more even effort or even pace type of race, something that yields sub-seven hours, that would be ideal. Where I pick up time—it would probably have to be in the middle somewhere to the end, to finish stronger and to place higher.
iRunFar: The kind of running you’ve been doing, if you just take the last eight or 10 months in your life—big 100-mile mountain race, marathon training which is kind of the endurance antithesis, and now medium-distance Sky-type race. You’re super all over the place with what you’ve been racing.
Canaday: I’m too all over the place probably. Any surface, any distance—that’s what I go for.
iRunFar: I take that literally.
Canaday: I did Comrades and Speedgoat last year, too. You can’t count UTMB because I didn’t finish.
iRunFar: But you trained for it.
Canaday: I did train for it, yeah, and coming off Speedgoat, that was a whole mountain summer. I was coming right off Comrades and the Boston Marathon. Yeah, I ran a lot of road marathons trying to hit the [Olympic Marathon] Trials standard and failed to do that by 12 seconds which was rough. I did run four marathons in that 10-month span and averaged 2:19:50 for those four, so I was consistent, but consistently too slow by a minute here and there. But I was proud of that road streak—16th at Boston is my best road performance. But it made the transition hard, and I guess what I learned from it is I need to be more patient with the transition. You can’t just go, “Two months later I’ll just do UTMB and get my mountain legs back.” You don’t get your mountain legs back right away just like you don’t get your road legs back right away. It depends on what level you are in the sport. Obviously, focusing as a professional road and marathon runner, it’s harder for me to make that transition back to full road speed where I was just coasting through it for the most part. It is a tough transition, but I love the challenge of any surface, any distance.
iRunFar: My last question for you is, you kind of have that experience of trying a lot of different things within a fairly short window of time. What does this season hold in store for you?
Canaday: Western States will be next. That’s a big focus. More trail ultras. No road marathons for awhile… not until the next Trials window opens. Then I’ll go for it full tilt. I’ll actually have to dedicate three or four months to just speed training for the road if the Olympic Trials standard is still the same because otherwise it’s too hard to inch out that last minute.
iRunFar: I think you’ve proven that pretty well… that last minute.
Canaday: I’d love to go back to Comrades, too. I didn’t give that race the respect it was due in terms of training on the roads for doing a road ultra. But no, I’m full tilt into doing mountain-trail stuff for at least the next year.
iRunFar: So, Western States, and then do you know what you’ll do after that?
Canaday: It’s up in the air… oh, CCC. I want to go back to Chamonix.
iRunFar: Slightly shorter distance?
Canaday: Well, I didn’t have the points for UTMB. I think being patient… hopefully if I can just finish Western States, if I can finish a 100-mile race, I’d be really proud of going the full distance finally. I don’t want to do two in a summer because I’d like to improve my longevity hopefully. I’ve got to be patient. It’s probably better that I do… CCC is already enough of a… 100k in the mountains.
iRunFar: It’s a lot of hours.
Canaday: Yeah, and it’s the part of the course I never got to, so I get to see the second half of UTMB…
iRunFar: See the rest of it.
Canaday: And try and get things in line for next year hopefully.
iRunFar: That’s kind of funny because you climbed out of Courmayeur last year with your super-bummed knee and stopped at the next refuge, right?
Canaday: I think I was hobbling with my trekking poles supporting me. I broke a trekking pole.
iRunFar: You’ll probably feel about 212% better on that climb this year.
Canaday: I hope so. No helicopter rescues. They don’t bring out the helicopter unless you’re not moving anymore.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you this weekend on your goal of better than third and faster than last time.
Canaday: Thank you. I’ll need it. Thank you.
iRunFar: Best of luck.