Sage Canaday is one of the four previous The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships men’s winners who will racing the 2016 edition. In this interview, Sage gives feedback on how he think his 2016 season has gone, if he will continue to race with the same diversity as he has the last couple of years, who he thinks will be in the podium mix this weekend, and how he sees the race playing out.
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Sage Canaday Pre-2016 The North Face EC 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here in Mill Valley, California. It’s Thursday, two days before the 2016 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. I’m with Sage Canaday. You’ve just arrived, just got off the plane, negotiated some traffic, and now you’re here.
Sage Canaday: Yeah, smooth trip.
iRunFar: This is not your first time to the Marin Headlands.
Canaday: No, I’ve been doing this stuff for a long time—fourth time out here, but in general, mountain-ultra-trail running for five years now. Coming up on five years?
iRunFar: Isn’t that crazy?
Canaday: Yeah, and then running, I’ve been running 18 years now year around, non-stop. It’s just been a blast. I owe a lot to my parents and Sandi [Nypaver] and my sponsors, but the running community, you really feel it in big events like this, coming together and being supportive. I’ve been thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had out here—DNFs, getting lost, getting sick, and then finally winning two years ago. It’s been a collective effort. I just want to keep going for more decades. The people that inspire me are the people that are 50, 60, 70, 80 years old and still crushing it.
iRunFar: Still motoring.
Canaday: I want to be like them when I grow up.
iRunFar: Talk to me about your relationship with this race because it is a relationship with extreme highs and extreme lows. You’re coming back on a good note. Last time you were here, you were the champion.
Canaday: Yeah, I love smooth runnable trails, and 50 miles is always a fun distance to do. I’ve king of failed miserably at 100 miles in the past year with two DNFs and Western States, which I don’t regret. Yeah, 50 miles is cool, and I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so I’m kind of used to this climate. I was telling you that every time I’ve run here it’s been really, really muddy. 2012 was my first time here, and I dropped out. I was slipping around in the mud, but I also got epically lost, and I didn’t know until 20 miles later. It was me and Adam Campbell, and Jeremy Wolf who got epically lost that year, and I just lost it. The only time I finished this course was in 2014.
iRunFar: Give us a little refresher on the 2014 race, how that played out for you.
Canaday: It was a mud year, so they changed the course a little bit. I think there was slightly less climbing than traditional, maybe 800 feet less climbing? But I think the course was a little bit longer. I think I had 51.5 miles that year. Usually it’s 49.5 miles, but who’s counting?
iRunFar: Man, you’ve raced a lot, and you’ve got a good memory.
Canaday: Yeah, Zach Miller was in the race, but he was tired from just running the [IAU] 100k World Championships on the roads two weeks before, so he wasn’t full strength at all. We had a good pack going with him and Mike Aish, Dakota Jones, Rob Krar… pretty big pack of guys. We went out pretty steady. Then at mile 16 up Cardiac hill, I made a move there to open up the field a little bit. I was able to hold a lead of maybe two or three minutes maybe until after Stinson Beach. We did Steep Ravine that year, which is also different. After that I had stomach issues, and I was puking all over the place around mile 35. I had to stop and puke. I wish I could be like those guys who are tough like Bob Kempainen who could run a 2:10 marathon and be puking at 5:00 min/mile pace. I had to stop. It was like Western States this year. I was stopping and hunched over and puking. So Dakota Jones catches up to me. We’re coming down Cardiac…
iRunFar: Okay, this is coming back to me now.
Canaday: He passed me right before Muir Beach. I was like, Oh, well, he’s looking really strong. I’m puking. This is going to be really bad. Everyone is hurting at that point in the race, 38 miles in. Then he peeled off into the bushes, too. I passed him back. Well, I don’t know what’s going on behind me, but I’ll keep pushing. I made a really hard move up Muir Beach hill, but I could see Dakota right there in contact. Even coming into Tennessee Valley at mile 45, Dakota was 45 seconds behind me. It wasn’t until that final climb that I was able to put a little distance on him. I was looking over my shoulder with a quarter mile to go because you don’t know until the end. It’s close racing. It’s a really fine margin. It was a painful race, but I’m proud of it.
iRunFar: I can remember you coming into Tennessee Valley that year sort of grunting and focused and just trying to barrel through it.
Canaday: Yeah, I was hurting a lot. I always am.
iRunFar: So, talk to me for a minute. We’ve had Sage Canaday in trail and ultrarunning for five years now. We’ve had you doing everything—short distance, long distance. We’ve had you go back to run the marathon and come back. We’ve had you try 100 milers now. Is this sort of par for the course for what we’re going to see of you future forward to you dipping your toes in anything you can?
Canaday: Yes, any surface, any distance—that’s my motto. I came from a shorter distance background with running on the track in college and cross country and the roads. The roads are kind of boring. I love trails. I love short distance trail running especially net uphill courses like Mt. Washington and Pikes Peak. I like to mix it up. I definitely want to try to do well at 100 miles. I feel like I’ve miserably failed at 100 miles. Part of it is like UTMB was a freak accident. I’m clumsy. I tripped and fell. That was a no-choice DNF. Western States was reckless. I was running… I had no business being 10 minutes under course-record pace halfway through. I bit it hard because I was pushing so hard. I knew that was a risk going in. I finished. That’s my only finish. This summer I did Run Rabbit Run—tried to—and I was just wrecked. I don’t think I recovered from Western as well as I thought I did, and then I think I overtrained a bit. Yeah, 100 miles, I definitely want to keep trying those, but I love running fast on a road. I love short-distance mountain running. I love races like Speedgoat 50k. I want to try more road ultras. I want to go back to Comrades. If the Olympic [Marathon] Trials standard doesn’t change for 2020, I still want to try to get my Olympic Trials qualifier for 2020 because that’s just a big goal of mine. Yeah, I love mixing it up. It’s exciting, and it’s challenging always.
iRunFar: This fall, you had your Run Rabbit Run experience, and then just three weeks ago, I saw you when I was volunteering at the Moab Trail Marathon where you had quite a strong day. You came in second overall just seconds behind the winner, but you ended up the USATF 50k Trail National Champion. You ran a fast time on a tough course. Where are you at physically now after Run Rabbit Run and now Moab Trail Marathon?
Canaday: Hopefully on the right page. Moab was a big confidence booster. Sandi helps consult with my own training schedule, my girlfriend, Sandi Nypaver. She sees things that I don’t see when I get too caught up in my training. We’ve done some more hill-rep workouts. We’ve done more balance things whereas before Run Rabbit I felt like I was kind of winging it. So I feel very fit. I’ve been healthy, so I’ve been lucky. You never know until you’re in the thick of the race sometimes if you’re overtrained or if you’re tapered too much. Moab was a big confidence builder for this. I almost didn’t include it in the schedule because I’m a little worried about racing too much before a big race. I don’t always have to do a big tune-up. Sometimes I burn myself out doing my own long runs too hard in training. Running hard in Moab for 26.2 miles in the slickrock and technical stuff at 6:50-mile pace with 4,000 feet of climbing, that was a hard effort. I had to respect the recovery after that because I hate overtraining. I’m one of those guys that like… I don’t get hurt—well, not yet at least, overuse injury, like really hurt—but I just over train so my muscle fibers are totally exhausted, and I’ll just come out flat. It’s happened before. It happened at Run Rabbit. It happened at Les Templiers. It’s happened in other races where my legs just come out flat. I’ve experimented. I’ve run up to 150 miles per week in college before. I’ve put in a lot of 130, 140 miles per week after college. I’ve kind of found my sweet spot is like 120 to even only 100 miles per week if I’m doing some intense workouts in there. It’s all a mix, and it’s a little bit of individualized training, but Sandi’s got me working on some extra hip-mobility stuff. That’s the thing that happens when you get older. My hips start going.
iRunFar: You start losing your efficiency millimeter by millimeter, don’t you?
Canaday: Yeah, making sure you have good form in your running, and you’re not going to get an overuse injury hopefully.
iRunFar: Talk to me about the men’s competition this weekend. The last couple years of this race we’ve seen an interesting mix of what people would call sort of youth and age or experience and newbies. What do you see in the field this weekend?
Canaday: It seems like it’s pretty consistent with what it’s always been actually. You mean with new people?
iRunFar: Yeah, it feels like the volume of new faces or people who have a small or literally negligible experience with ultramarathoning giving 50 miles a shot.
Canaday: Yeah, I guess there’s been an influx of that. I probably don’t know the full list like you do.
iRunFar: You seem like a person who would be studying.
Canaday: I do study. I love looking up people’s names and stuff and stalk. Like people said, there’s this speed influence in mountain-ultra-trail running with people who come straight from track or straight from the roads, but I’ve always seen that like happening over the last six or seven years. Guys like Max King have been doing this since college. I look up to Max because he’s a fellow Cornell grad and Oregonian. I see Max mixing it up in ultras and running a 2:14 marathon. Man, he’s going to crush this 50 miler. I remember reading about this race seven years ago. I want to do that one. I mean, every year you hear about new people doing this race. I think part of it is the timing. There are not very many races in the U.S. that are really competitive… they don’t compete with the same date. In the summer, it’s really thick with all these races and international races. This one, it’s in California, it’s a fair race. It’s 50 miles with 10,000 feet of climbing, but it’s not super technical, it’s not super gnarly, and it’s not an insane amount of climbing. So I think you get a lot of crossover with people fresh on the scene who want to see where they line up with a bunch of other people. They’re not scared away because it’s not too remote or ‘Skyrunning crazy technical hurt yourself.’ Then, it’s $10,000 to win. I think that’s pretty lucrative prize money for a big ultra. It definitely is. I think that’s probably part of the draw with competitive depth. I’m not sure I answered your question.
iRunFar: You did. I don’t think I articulated myself well. I think what I feel like we’re seeing is kids, not kids, but young people coming straight from college where the more traditional thing is to run DI or DII, try road running, and then boom, come to trails kind of like you did, kind of like Max did, kind of like the late-20s generation we have in the sport now. Now we’ve got 22, 23, 24 year olds who are coming fresh from their last year of eligibility into trail ultras. We probably have five guys in the race this weekend who are fresh collegiate.
Canaday: The roads beat you up. Road running is hard. Road marathoning is hard. I ran US championships 20k and a lot of half marathons. It’s fun. It’s exhilarating. I really respect those big races as they’re really competitive. Even if you’re running a major marathon in major city, it’s 26 miles of pavement and it’s hard, and it hurts, and it’s always pretty flat. Whereas after you move to the trails, you’re like, Man, I really love hills. I love running up mountains and soft surfaces and beautiful scenery. Maybe they see that and go, I could go back to the roads maybe and change it up. I never liked the track in college. It was too flat. I didn’t want to run in circles. I liked cross country better. Maybe they see that. Trail running is fun.
iRunFar: Last question for you. I’m going to put you on the spot. Can you call a men’s podium for this weekend?
Canaday: I can maybe list some people that I think have a good shot at a podium, I guess. Zach Miller is always pretty consistent, and he’s the defending champ, so you’ve got to respect that. It’s interesting because he’ll go out fast. I’ve raced him five times. He’s always gone out in the lead pack at a pretty fast pace, but I don’t think it’s always totally reckless. I think he tries to manage it so he’s time trialing and he’s just thinking, I’m going to try to get to the finish line as fast as possible, in the fastest time possible, but he doesn’t want to go out and blow up—well, you’ll have to talk to him—but he doesn’t want to break a course record necessarily. He wants to run to his best potential which I really respect. I love that strategy. That’s probably his best strategy given his strengths and weaknesses. Whereas, there are other guys in the field like my Hoka teammate, Hayden Hawks, who I think it’s his first 50 miler, but he’s a 28-minute track 10k guy. Zach is maybe about 31 minutes flat for 10k. Then people like Jim [Walmsley] and I are 29-minute 10k runners. Hayden is a 28-minute 10k runner, but we also know that speed is not everything, and it’s his first 50 miler. But, he won Speedgoat this year, which mean he can climb really well because Speedgoat has 12,000 feet of climbing. I’d put Hayden up in the mix. I know he’s been training really hard for this. Cody Reed, he’s new and one of the younger fast guys. I think he ran for Northern Arizona, so he has the track speed. He won the 50k out here. I think he’ll be up in the mix. Miguel Heras has always done well out here.
iRunFar: A dangerous guy anytime he shows up.
Canaday: He won in 2012. He’ll be good. A couple more international guys… gosh, I’m leaving someone off the list. I feel bad.
iRunFar: No, it’s all good. Where are you going to put yourself?
Canaday: I’d hopefully put myself in the mix. I’m going to try and do myself and be competitive. I like to compare times on courses, but they always change the course out here, so I don’t think we can compare times. I know I ran 6:07 last time in the mud, but I know it had less climbing… but it was longer… maybe… but we don’t know how long it’s going to be this year, so there’s that. In terms of strategy, I think it’s going to go out fast, and I think it’s… you have to make a calculated risk and a calculated choice with what you think you can manage and what might make you implode and then just run with your heart and guts because it’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt. I think it will be a really close finish. A lot of races before, there are huge gaps. In this race, the density of the top-ten is relatively tight. I know last time racing Zach Miller and Rob Krar, well, Rob is not in this race, but that one year at Lake Sonoma, there were three of us within 90 seconds of each other. It was that tight of a margin. If you’re just a fraction of a percent off, it could be the difference between making the podium or not making it, so you really have to bring your A-game. It will be tough.
iRunFar: Fighting for seconds.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you this weekend. We look forward to seeing you out there.
Canaday: Thank you. Thank you. Awesome.