Sage Canaday is in a duel with Kilian Jornet for the Ultra Skymarathon Series title that will be decided at The Rut 50k. In the following interview, Sage talks about his running since winning the Speedgoat 50k in July, what terrain factors really dictate his performance in trail races, and why Kilian Jornet is his benchmark on the trails.
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Sage Canaday Pre-2014 The Rut 50k Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Sage Canaday before the 2014 The Rut 50k. How are you doing, Sage?
Sage Canaday: Doing great. Finally made it here.
iRunFar: Friday afternoon—not too much time to spare.
Canaday: No, still gotta’ check in and go for a little shake-out run maybe. No vertical k’s for me.
iRunFar: No vertical k’s? C’mon, you can just hop up Lone Peak this afternoon.
Canaday: Kinda’ gnarly up there. I’ve got to save my climbing legs for tomorrow.
iRunFar: It is kind of gnarly up there.
Canaday: From what I’ve seen in pictures.
iRunFar: You get to find that out tomorrow. This course is way more technical than Speedgoat. What’s the most technical race you’ve run so far?
Canaday: Some sections on the descent at Transvulcania are right up there.
iRunFar: So this is more technical than that.
Canaday: Okay. It’s off trail then, right?
iRunFar: It’s a talus field. There’s off trail as well.
Canaday: Yeah, it will be interesting. We’ll see.
iRunFar: It will be. It’s a really interesting course in that the first third is not flat, but good trail and mountain-bike grade—pretty runnable. The last Andesite Mountain is a lot of runnable terrain. In the middle of it, you have highly technical, steep, high-altitude running. How are you going to approach that kind of race where it’s just three very different portions?
Canaday: Try to run it fast where I can, I guess. If I’ve learned anything from my very limited experience in mountain running over the last two years, it’s not the distance so much as the course profile that really makes the difference. It really is a matter what percent grade the climbs are, how steep they are, or how they come at you, what mile point you are in a race when you have a big climb or descent, and how runnable the trail is—whether it’s smooth or muddy or sandy or really techy and rocky or loose rock. Those things just really all make the difference. It could be a 50 miler or a 50k. I don’t think it matters that much. It’s the duration of running on those ups and downs that will really get you. I don’t know what percentage grade the slopes are. I know my sweet spot is 10 to 15%.
iRunFar: Still pretty steep. Some of that climbing here is going to be certainly walking with the technicality of the trail.
Canaday: Powerhiking. For sure. If I’m powerhiking, I’m getting caught… if I’m ahead. If I’m behind, I’m getting dropped.
iRunFar: The last two years at Transvulcania you’ve employed a ‘race-to-the-top’ type strategy. You’ve run well, better the second year than the first. Is that going to be your approach—just to run as fast as you can off the line in the first 10 miles?
Canaday: Well, it will be in the dark, so I’ll probably be worried about getting lost, especially in the dark with the 6 a.m. start. I don’t know. I guess there will be other guys up there. Jason Delaney is a real fast… he’s got some good turnover. I ran with him in the Boston Marathon when he ran 2:19. He’s won the Pikes Peak Ascent. I could see him being up there pushing the pace early on. I think we’ll have some company with the depth of the field here. The thing at Transvulcania that really gets me is the surface actually. The climb would be really great except it’s really, really loose sandy surface. I’m not really good in sand and snow. There’s the thing. You look at the elevation profile and you think, Sweet, this is a big climb. It’s at a good grade. It’s runnable. It’s not runnable when you hit sand and it’s at an 18% grade. That’s this year at Transvulcania, besides the gnarly descent, too.
iRunFar: Gotcha’. You had a great race at Speedgoat. You won that and set an adjusted course record there. Then you went and ran the Pikes Peak Ascent. How did that go?
Canaday: It was a great race. It was the World Mountain Running Association Long Distance Challenge (a mouthful). There were 15 different countries there with different teams—a lot of really strong mountain runners from Europe, guys that have won the Jungfrau Marathon and all sorts of races. We definitely had the home course advantage, I’d say, being on Pikes. We had a really good U.S. team. Zach Miller was on the team, Joe Gray, Eric Blake, Andy Wacker, and myself. The women’s team was really strong. They went 1-2-3 with Allie [McLaughlin], Morgan Arritola, Shannon Payne on that team. It was a good race for me. I haven’t figured out Barr Trail by any means. It’s a really fickle trail, I think, because it flattens out so much. I almost don’t like the flat parts of Barr Trail. It’s almost too flat.
iRunFar: It takes you out of your rhythm?
Canaday: It does. I’d rather be locked into a steady, hard climb. That’s the tactic I used. I came from behind and moved from third place to first place in the last mile. I kind of just had to rely on the other guys in front of me really dying because they definitely have higher VO2 Max and faster 10k PRs than I do. That’s an advantage on that course.
iRunFar: You ended up winning, so that was a great run. How has your running gone since then?
Canaday: It’s been going well. I’ve been… knock on wood… I don’t know this course, so I don’t know really how well I’ve trained for it, but I’ve tried to get up high. I’ve done a couple FKT efforts on Mount Elbert in Colorado. I’m healthy. I can’t ask for more than that.
iRunFar: So you’re feeling ready to go?
Canaday: I am. I’m looking forward to this race.
iRunFar: Anybody in particular you’re shooting for or are you going for the win?
Canaday: I’m going to push myself 100%. I think, going into the race, obviously, with it being the Skyrunning final, Kilian is probably definitely the favorite to win. He’s one guy I’ve always lost to by quite a bit. It’s always extra motivation to try to push yourself to improve and to also maybe finish closer or mix it up more with guys who are always ahead of you.
iRunFar: He’s sort of a benchmark.
Canaday: Yeah, yeah.
iRunFar: You do end up racing him a bunch over the season and years.
Canaday: Yeah, yeah, and he’s always kicked my butt.
iRunFar: Reel them in bit by bit maybe?
Canaday: Yeah, maybe he’ll be tired from the vertical k, maybe not. I don’t know. At Transvulcania, he and Luis [Alberto Hernando] definitely climbed better this year the day after doing the vertical k, and that was in the afternoon before the start of Transvulcania. It didn’t seem to affect them at all. I would be out for five days after a vertical k. My legs can’t climb hard.
iRunFar: It’s real intense.
Canaday: It sounds intense. I mean, I just know from running hard up Green Mountain in Boulder which is only 2,800 feet. It’s not even a vertical k. If I do an FKT effort up that, my legs are toast for five days. I wouldn’t do that a week before the race.
iRunFar: Well, get off your legs and rest up, Sage. Best of luck out there tomorrow.
Canaday: I will. Thank you very much.