For the second year in a row, Sage Canaday took third place at the Transvulcania Ultramarathon. He did so in a remarkably similar fashion both years, by running off the front early. In the following interview, Sage talks about why he employed the same strategy both years, where he was caught, what it will take for him to beat the likes of Luis Alberto Hernando and Kilian Jornet, and where we’ll see him race next.
For a full recap and links to additional post-race interviews, check out our 2014 Transvulcania results article.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Sage Canaday Post-2014 Transvulcania Ultramarathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Sage Canaday after his third-place finish at the 2014 Transvulcania Ultramarathon. How’s it going, Sage?
Sage Canaday: It’s going great.
iRunFar: How are you doing today?
Canaday: I’m a little banged up. Pretty much every muscle in my body hurts. I’ve got a little chafe-age under my armpit.
iRunFar: Is that a new one?
Canaday: No, it happens a lot. I’m just trying to stay hydrated now and bounce back as fast as I can.
iRunFar: How are the quads and the legs doing?
Canaday: They’re totally beat up. My quads, calves, everything is just beat to a pulp. It’s going to hurt.
iRunFar: You raced here last year. You were third as well. It appeared that you were using the same exact strategy. Were you trying to go out even harder this year? Were you trying to get away from the group even more? Last year Kilian [Jornet] and Luis Alberto [Hernando] caught you and made up a lot of time on the descent.
Canaday: Yeah, on paper this race played out like last year basically. I even had my splits from last year written on my arm so I was using that as a benchmark. I think going in that’s my best strategy is to try to take the lead on the climbs. If I’m not in the lead at the top, I have no chance of winning. It wasn’t even close, but I figured that’s my best race strategy even to get away from fourth place, I think that was the best thing to do. I think I was a little faster than last year through 13 miles.
iRunFar: Did you have to work really hard to get that lead?
Canaday: I probably should have gone out a little more conservatively. I totally blew a gasket at about 22 miles I would say. I had my visor and sunglasses down and I started seeing stars flickering. I was like, This is bad. This is going to be nasty. I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it to the top. So I just pounded three VFuel gels all at once to try to pull out of that. That helped, but Luis and Kilian still caught me in the same section of trail…
iRunFar: Within a couple hundred meters?
Canaday: Yeah, within 400 meters of where they passed me last year on the trail. I remember the spot. They were super strong when they passed me this year. Last year I could kind of hang with them for a couple kilometers, and I could keep them in sight. This year, I couldn’t even see them when I got to the top. Honestly, I felt so bad I was going to drop out at the top, but I was still in third and everyone was so encouraging there and they kind of just push you out of the aid station. I looked back and I didn’t see fourth. I was like, You know what? You’ve got to try to hold on.
iRunFar: So did you just struggle the whole way to the finish or did you pick back up and feel better at some point?
Canaday: No, I didn’t feel better. I felt better on the final stretch of road, the last 400 meters. No, it got really hot. I think it was a little warmer than last year even on the descent. I was really, really dehydrated. All I craved was salt, and I actually had salt pills in my Ultimate Direction pack, and I guess they fell out somehow. Usually that never happens. The guys behind me said they saw this pack of S!Caps and electrolytes tablets on the trail. I feel bad. I had no idea that happened. I reached into my pocket on the descent and said, I need my salt. No salt. No electrolyte tabs. So then I’m grabbing sandwiches. I got this ham sandwich at the aid station.
iRunFar: You got a ham sandwich?
Canaday: Peeled off the ham. I’m a vegetarian, so I peeled off the ham and started stuffing the bread in my mouth. I really craved pasta. I really craved something salty. I grabbed a couple bananas and carried them with me. Yeah, I was glad to hold on because I don’t think I was taking that descent very fast.
iRunFar: No. I know you’ve tried to work some on descending. Is there anything else you think you can do to improve that part of your game? Do you think you are a better descender than last year?
Canaday: I’ll have to look at the Strava split on that segment. No, I think it’s a learned skill on technical descents, but the main problem was I was dizzy from dehydration. You’re bonking. Everything is failing. It wasn’t really a matter of navigating the rocks; it was more a matter of staying upright and not worrying about falling over and just trying to keep moving really.
iRunFar: How was the change in the course? From Tazacorte up there was a definite shift from the road to trail.
Canaday: It was not favorable for me. Just the last two kilometers which was fairly flat, but I think it was a slight uphill. We were running up this rocky river bed. So it meant more sand running and more rocks to navigate. I almost tripped a couple times. I was pretty tired there. Opposed to running on the paved road, that definitely slowed me down a lot more. I was thinking about it, too, as I was coming down. Fourth place is close behind me. I don’t want it to come down to that. It could. I would get caught.
iRunFar: You had the last couple kilometers on the road, though. That would have made for an interesting race.
Canaday: Yeah. It would have. I was looking over my shoulder the whole time. I thought I saw someone. I think it was a spectator or some fan or whatever in their running clothes. They were running up the hill. It was the top of the climb, the last 1,000 feet climb you have to do. I was looking back and I was like, That’s fourth place and he’s 200 meters behind me. Oh, crap. I’ve got to like… and I gave it everything I had to get to the top of that hill. I think last year I probably powerhiked half of it, this year maybe 20%. I was happy with that.
iRunFar: You were moving pretty strong into the finish as well.
Canaday: Yeah, well, the crowd always excites you and you’ve got to high five people.
iRunFar: What is it like? A lot of the Americans come from a trail running background maybe, more exclusively that way. You’ve run the big-city marathons and that sort of thing. How does it compare finishing at a huge U.S. city marathon versus here in La Palma?
Canaday: The people here are just so passionate, even the non-runners. The local crowd—it’s like one big festival. You feel really special. It’s a really cool feeling to have a unique experience like that. I guess you feel like a rock star. They’re playing loud music. Everyone is just really pumped up and excited. It’s like that at the start, too. The start and finish are just crazy. They’re blaring AC/DC. They give you this giant bottle of champagne when you cross the finish line. I just shook that thing up, and that was the first thing I drank after crossing the finish.
iRunFar: Enjoyed some Cava?
iRunFar: What do you think it’s going to take for you to beat the likes of Luis Alberto and Kilian on a course like this?
Canaday: I think it would take a lot of work for me. I think I have to log more vertical. Coming off Lake Sonoma was really hard. Lake Sonoma was not like this at all. It was just four weeks ago. So basically I take five days off, pretty much a whole down week after Lake Sonoma. Then I have a week and a half to really train hard which is nothing. I’m logging maybe 14,000 feet of vertical per week at my best. So for this race, yeah, you need to have some crazy, crazy vertical strength. They were so strong on this course. They were 10 to 12 minutes ahead of me. I don’t know. I’d have to have a huge lead at the top. My goal became just to get to the top before them, and I couldn’t even do that. I think it would take a different course for me to be closer to them.
iRunFar: Yeah, do you think you will come back and give this another go?
Canaday: I’d love to come back and improve on my time or place, hopefully both.
iRunFar: You are transitioning back to the roads and back to another style of race. Are you going to Mount Washington next?
iRunFar: How are you feeling for that? You’re the only American still to go under an hour there, correct?
Canaday: No, Rickey Gates cracked an hour. Last year Eric Blake won and cracked an hour, too.
iRunFar: So there’s now a couple of you. Do you think you’re in fitness and specifically road-climbing fitness to get back under that?
Canaday: No. The climbing here is different from Mount Washington because of the footing. I think I have enough time. Five weeks isn’t ideal, but I’ll be in better shape for Mount Washington than I was last year. Last year I did Cayuga Trails 50 the week before, and it totally killed me.
iRunFar: What will you be shooting for there?
Canaday: To compete to win hopefully. I think to do that it will take a sub-60 minute. We’ll see how my fitness progresses. It would be great to improve and PR and go after that 58-minute barrier. I don’t know. I’ll have to get in my speedwork again and do some VO2 Max stuff.
iRunFar: Jonathan Wyatt was here. He’s the course-record holder of Mount Washington. Did you guys chat at all?
Canaday: Oh, yeah. Jono is a legend. I love talking to that guy and trying to pick his brain. I was trying to convince him to jump into this race. He was like, “Oh, I need to build some more base before I do an ultra.” He’s done all the short-distance mountain races and just dominated. He’s a two-time Olympian. It’s just great to see an uphill monster like that.
iRunFar: Well, congratulations on your third place here at Transvulcania. Good luck at Mount Washington.
Canaday: Thank you.
iRunFar: No beer this time.
Canaday: No beer.
iRunFar: Sage, bonus question for you. You’re a vegetarian. How many bananas have you eaten here in La Palma?
Canaday: Probably about seven, I’d say. Three during the race.
iRunFar: Three during the race?
Canaday: Three during the race. I usually don’t eat that many bananas, but it’s such a part of the islands’ identity. They have all the plantations here. It’s part of the culture. I think they’re great for you. It was good hydration. It was good potassium. I definitely needed something during the race. Yeah, it worked out well. I think helped my stomach not get upset. That was good.
iRunFar: Do you normally eat solid food during a race?
iRunFar: So this was an exception?
Canaday: Yeah. This was, yeah. I was just getting desperate and grabbing at whatever I could find.
iRunFar: They’re self-contained. Are you going to bring some down to the beach this afternoon?
Canaday: The bananas? No, I’m going to take an Avery beer.
iRunFar: Nice. Well, enjoy. Have fun here in La Palma.