Sage Canaday hasn’t yet had luck on his side at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. In 2012, he was a DNF after getting off course, and, in 2013, he didn’t start due to the flu. In the following interview, Sage reviews his experiences with the race as well as his 2014 of running, talks about some of the lessons he’s learned through his very long season, and describes his eagerness for doing this race right.
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Sage Canaday Pre-2014 TNF EC 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here with Sage Canaday. It’s a day and a half before the 2014 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. Hi.
Sage Canaday: Hi. I think this is the first time you’ve interviewed me.
iRunFar: I’m pretty excited to interview you.
Canaday: Looking forward to it.
iRunFar: You are fresh off the plane, literally.
Canaday: I am, yes, drove straight here.
iRunFar: Just arrived. This is not your first time to the Marin Headlands. This is going to be your third time trying to run this race.
Canaday: Try, yes.
iRunFar: Let’s talk about your history with The North Face Endurance Challenge Championships. 2012 was your first year. That was the year of the rain, mud, and course reroute.
Canaday: Yes it was. I got lost with Adam Campbell. I was not leading. I am directionally challenged, but…
iRunFar: I’d like to qualify that immediately.
Canaday: We all went off course together. We didn’t even know we went off course because it was foggy and dark and raining. There were maybe some marking issues. Bryon Powell told me at mile 30, “I think you cut the course.” Then I put it together, Well, I’m pretty far in the lead, maybe I did cut the course. It was a slippery, muddy mess. I was wearing the road racing flats from SCOTT and I kept falling. It was really discouraging and frustrating, and I DNFed.
iRunFar: That was 2012. 2013, you came back or tried to come back more fortified than ever, but unfortunately there was another blockade to last year right?
Canaday: Yeah, I was pretty fit, I think. You never know at this time of year after racing all year. I’ve pretty much raced every month the last two years. I could have been tired last year, too, but I got the flu two days before the race and I decided not to start. I could have probably gutted it out, but it would have been horrible and I didn’t want to give myself pneumonia. So, I pulled the plug on that. I think it was a good choice.
iRunFar: You were here, and you kind of saw how everything went down.
Canaday: Yeah, I was watching and filming a bit.
iRunFar: Now you’re back. You’re healthy. You’ve probably studied the course maps just about as closely as you can?
Canaday: A little bit—there’s a lot of turns.
iRunFar: Are you feeling pretty ready for this year?
Canaday: I am. I’m amped about this race. This is always a big focus. I always like to have this on the calendar. I think I’ll like the course. I haven’t run the full course, but generally I like these types of more runnable trails. Rolling hills, I think, are better. I like two-mile sustained climbs. It’s a lot different from doing a Skyrunning race where it’s rocky and high altitude, steep, powerhiking stuff. It’s even from Lake Sonoma a little bit because the climbs are more sustained. At Lake Sonoma it’s more fast rollers, and that’s a really unique course. I’m looking forward to it. I honestly don’t want it to be that muddy, but we’ll see how it is.
iRunFar: You had quite a year. Has there been a month you didn’t race in 2014?
Canaday: February, I just did some snowshoe races in between Carlsbad Marathon and Tarawera. This past month, November, I don’t think I had a race in November. Les Templiers was at the end of October and that was five weeks ago. Yeah, this vicious cycle, it’s self-induced, so I’m not complaining.
iRunFar: It’s an interesting question, the motivation factor. Your season started in January, let’s just say, and now it’s December. Are you going to take an off season after this or are you transitioning straight to 2015 adventures?
Canaday: It really started a year before that in January because I just ran straight through two years of pretty straight racing. It will go into 2015. I’m signed up for Houston Marathon. I’m going to try and run an Olympic Trials qualifying standard in six weeks. Then I’ll go straight into Tarawera 100k in February. Then after that, I’m going to take a break.
iRunFar: Will you?
Canaday: If I make it that far. If I make it that far. I know it’s a horrible idea… it’s not sustainable to race as frequently as I do especially since these races are so competitive now. You can’t show up and expect to podium on tired legs or if you don’t train specifically for an event. Skyrunning and The Rut or Pikes Peak is a lot different than the Carlsbad Marathon, Lake Sonoma, or Transvulcania or this race. I think I need to allow myself more time to focus and specialize. So next year it’s about holding back and saying, “No,” as lucrative as it is sometimes.
iRunFar: Is it going to be about that?
Canaday: I hope so. I’ll get either burned out or injured probably.
iRunFar: Your 2014, as I look at it, it’s both diverse and pretty successful. You’ve been on the podium in some big races in the world and near to the podium on some others. You’ve also raced the Pikes Peak Ascent, a short, relatively fast, all uphill race, and then something like this with a load of runnable climbing but 50 miles. Are you finding after this being sort of your second full year of experiencing ultramarathons, are you finding preferences or are you finding your preference is diversity?
Canaday: I like the diversity. It keeps things interesting. It’s always good to change a variable in your training. I wouldn’t advocate racing as frequently as I do. It’s a horrible idea. I think the variety is good to get your leg speed back. I think it could be beneficial to periodize your training so you’re doing faster stuff. I’ve found that it takes longer to get the speed back. I did Carlsbad Marathon. I did 2:22. It was a hilly course with 1000 feet of climbing which is hilly for a marathon. I wasn’t really sharp for it just because I’d had the flu that month. It takes awhile to get the speed back. I’ve found that transition to be harder. The transition from Mount Washington to The Rut 50k or a different race like that or a 100k at Tarawera, it takes longer than I thought to re-energize your legs and get them in a good climbing mode or a good descending mode versus flat or fast. I thought maybe I could do it every couple months. Now it’s like, well maybe it takes more like three or four months to specialize, or maybe even years. I don’t know. It’s kind of uncharted territory. That’s what I like about mountain, ultra, trail running; it’s so diverse. You’ve got mountains, could be a vertical k or a Skyrunning race. Ultras could be on the road or track—you could run 100 miles at Comrades or the 100k Champs or you could run it on a runnable, smooth trail like this or anything in between. It’s really great variety. I want to try to do all the biggest races in the different parts of the sport.
iRunFar: One thing it seems from observing you for the last couple of years is you seem to be a pretty durable human being. You haven’t really succumbed to any major injuries. I know you complained about your hip flexors after Les Templiers, but yeah, pretty durable?
Canaday: Is there some wood to knock on here? I don’t run very high mileage because I’ve raced so much the last two years. I’ve always been pretty durable, I guess, in high school and college, but I’m also kind of a wuss when it comes to feeling any pain. If I have any pain, I’ll take a day off. After any race I always take five days off. I never run a day or after a race. I can’t. I can barely walk. I usually take a down week. I’m usually tired for two weeks after a race. I train hard for two weeks, and then I taper for the next race. So this year in ultrarunning I’ve been running—you can look at it on Strava, it’s all there—80 to 90 miles per week. I cracked 100 miles per week twice this year maybe. When I was in college I ran 150 miles per week training for 8k cross country. My sweet spot was 120 for the road marathon for sure.
iRunFar: So maybe there is a little something to racing so often? It keeps you from getting your mileage too high too often?
Canaday: It could be a blessing in disguise, I guess. I think ideally 120 is still my sweet spot because it was for road marathons and I think that you get so much leg strength just from doing that. That’s really the limiting factor for me in this race is, Are my hips going to give out? As long as you’re eating, as long as you’re pacing yourself okay, you’re not going to be accumulating lactic acid on the hills. The hills don’t get me out of breath. I’m not breathing hard. It’s, Are you going to have sheer muscle failure? I think when you run 120 miles per week with 15,000 feet of vertical (that’s a lot for me), your legs get really calloused and hardened from that type of effort. I think that probably would be the wise thing to do. That’s what I want to do in the future more. I also want to do flat, fast races.
iRunFar: You’ve seen this race go down for a couple years. You were here watching it last year. You know it’s about as stacked as it’s going to be in the men’s field. It’s far more competitive than two years ago and a bit more competitive than last year. There’s going to be some dynamic interplay of you guys out in front of the race early on, middle way through, towards the end. Have you thought about strategy? Have you thought about how you’re going to approach the actual race versus what’s going on with the other guys around you?
Canaday: Yeah, a bit. It might be the most competitive trail race in the U.S. ever. Would you say that maybe?
iRunFar: Possibly. Definitely the men’s side. The women’s side has lost a couple headliners in the last week or so, but definitely on the men’s side.
Canaday: That’s true. That’s unfortunate. It’s more competitive than Western States in my book. You’ve got all the champions here. I guess we’re missing Max King.
iRunFar: Darn, Max. Where are you? Oh, you’re sitting on your couch hopefully.
Canaday: Hi, Max. I’ve never run in a pack for very long. I think this race has potential for pack running maybe for the first 20 miles, but I think after that it will get spread out. Rob [Krar] won by 10 minutes last year. It wasn’t really that close. I think it will be closer this year. I said that going into Lake Sonoma this year, “Ah, it’s never close. Everyone always wins by five or 10 minutes.” It was really close.
iRunFar: It was really close.
Canaday: You can’t stop and go to the bathroom anymore. Yeah, I think I’ll try to take advantage… well, I don’t want to get lost. That’s the first thing. I don’t know if it’s wise to follow people. You’re in the dark for almost two hours. I don’t want to get lost, so there’s that. Zach [Miller] goes off the front which I predict he probably will. How much of a gap can you let somebody take a lead on you, and are you willing to take that risk and say, “Oh, they’ll come back?” At Lake Sonoma, I didn’t respect Zach’s move there and he won. That’s a lesson learned there.
iRunFar: He didn’t come back. He started to come back, but he didn’t come back all the way.
Canaday: He didn’t. He made it just in time and he got Rob, too. It will be interesting with that dynamic. I think it will be exciting.
iRunFar: Is there anybody in particular that you’re looking forward to racing and seeing how you match up against?
Canaday: I’ve raced everyone in this field, maybe not on this course or at this… actually, maybe some of the European guys I haven’t raced, but I think everyone I’ve pretty much run against in a road marathon or in college or at an ultra. It’s always fun to just line up with really competitive guys and have a crack at it.
iRunFar: Last question for you. Did you bring any beer?
Canaday: I brought an Avery. I’m not sure if it broke in my suitcase because I checked it in the bag, but I’ve got a 22-ounce bomber, the DuganA.
iRunFar: For a little post-race?
Canaday: Hopefully I’ll be enjoying that. If I make it through the whole course this year and finish, hopefully I’ll have that out at the finish line there. I’ll share some, too.
iRunFar: Best of luck out there this weekend.
Canaday: Thank you.
iRunFar: Probably the most luck that you need is, instead of the luck of running, is the luck of being able to follow the flagging.
Canaday: Yeah, and my hips not giving out.
iRunFar: Okay, and the luck of the hips. Best of luck to you out there.
Canaday: Thank you.