It took 50 miles of hard work, but Sage Canaday won the 2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, his second win and third podium finish at this race. In this interview, Sage talks about the lead pack of five’s hot pace in the first 25 miles, how he and second place Dakota Jones dueled in the race’s second half, and how he hammered the race’s last couple miles while bonking in order to win.
For more post-race interviews and details on how the whole race went down, check out our Lake Sonoma results article.
Sage Canaday, 2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here at the finish line of the 2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. We’re up above the lake itself. I’m with men’s champion, Sage Canaday. Congratulations.
Sage Canaday: Thank you.
iRunFar: Is this your first well-earned, well-deserved beer, or are we on more than one?
Canaday: This is my first one, but it’s an Avery Maharaja, so it’s quite a beer. I should probably get in some more calories before I finish this.
iRunFar: I understand you rolled across the finish in full bonk mode, so hopefully you’ve had a few calories before you’re taking this on.
Canaday: A couple, yeah.
iRunFar: The men’s race was a stacked race. It also went out flipping fast. Can you talk about the journey around the lake the first time? I think you ran in a pack of four or five together for quite some time?
Canaday: Yeah, there was a pack of five of us—Jared Hazen, Pat Smyth, Ryan Bak, Dakota Jones, and myself. We were all together through 18 miles. Yeah, that aid station at 11.7, we split 1:18 which usually I’ve never split under 1:20 there. I think Jim [Walmsley] went out in 1:22 or 1:23 last year? I knew we were flying. We had a 5:40 [mile] on the road. Then, we hit the detour and that definitely slowed us down with the steep grade. Then, we were hitting some pretty big patches of mud, as well. It was the muddiest I’ve ever seen these trails. Factoring all those in, it was a very quick pace, very aggressive, and it hurt.
iRunFar: Talk about the course conditions a little because this region had an incredible winter of storms and even the last week have several inches of rain. Compared to previous years you’ve been here, did you find the course to run slower?
Canaday: I think so. There was the mudslide, and they added that section.
iRunFar: The mountain goat section?
Canaday: Yeah, it was 20% grade power hiking steep and it was all uneven and the clay was sticking to your shoes. Most of the mud wasn’t sticking to your shoes, but it tried to suck your shoes off in a couple spots. Yeah, that added a couple tenths of a mile, so that definitely slowed us down. Yeah, just the foot traffic coming back on the second half, you could tell the trail was pretty muddy. We’re lucky it wasn’t rainy today and it was dry yesterday, so that helped a little bit, but yeah, you definitely couldn’t get by with road flats today.
iRunFar: You guys split about three hours flat to the turnaround, is that correct?
Canaday: Pat Smyth came in first at I think 2:56. I was behind him at 2:56-2:57, which is the fastest I’ve ever split at the half, as well. Then, Dakota came in maybe 2:58, and Ryan Bak was right there, as well. I knew we were going quick. At the mile 30.9, I think I was 3:39 or maybe 3:30, which is ten minutes faster than I’ve ever been at mile 30. Oh, maybe I can run a fast time! After that it was everyone slowing down, me trying not to epically bonk, and just a sufferfest. Yeah, we slowed down a lot in the last 20 miles.
iRunFar: I want to ask you, one of your learning lessons of 2016 was to run your own race a little bit. I heard you say that after Western States. I heard you say that with reference to UTMB. Did you feel at all today like you were not running your own race, or did you feel within yourself?
Canaday: I don’t necessarily feel within myself. It hurt. It hurt. I knew that when the pack went, those top-five guys, I knew the winner was probably going to come out of that pack, so you have to make a choice.
iRunFar: You felt like you needed to be there?
Canaday: Yeah, it’s not like… if Zach Miller goes out, you have to go with him, too though, because he could win easily. It wasn’t… I knew we were going fast, but I knew it wasn’t unreasonable. I also don’t always time trial. I’m not racing for time. I knew that even if we all die the second half—which we did—even if we all positively split, as long as you don’t epically bonk, it’s a race of attrition then, a race of suffering. Part of that is gauging your own breathing, how your stomach feels, how you’re taking in calories, how your legs feel. I do try to play it by ear. I try to look for strengths and weaknesses in different runners. I know Pat Smyth is a good climber; he’s very fast especially in those first hills at mile 20 and 25. That’s where he really opened up and took the lead. Dakota is a faster downhill runner. I try to make a move on the uphill, l because uphill is my strength more, but it was hard. Dakota was catching me the whole second half. We were battling back and forth, and I was looking over my shoulder the whole time scared… running scared.
iRunFar: The course makes this loop around Lake Sonoma. You go around the south side first, then you come around the north side and then you reverse course. On the north side of the lake coming back in, you seemed to be gaining time on Dakota. Way over on the west end of the lake, you had a 3:45 lead, but a lot of that was lost or he gained back a lot of those minutes between mile 38 and 45. The two of you saw each other at the little out and back to the final aid station. Can you talk about what happened there?
Canaday: Yeah, I was suffering. The last 12 miles here have always been rough for me. I had a really low point around mile 42. I was walking—Oh, this is not going to be good. I fell going into the last aid station. I tumbled around in the grass and mud, and there was mud splattered on my face. I almost hurt myself. I was too fast through that aid station. I didn’t grab enough calories. I saw Dakota in the trees a minute behind me a mile before that, so I knew he was going to see me at the turnaround. When you’re in the lead, you don’t know the splits. I came into mile 38 aid station, and I was asking Sandi [Nypaver] and my parents, “What was my lead at the aid station at mile 30?” “Oh, I had a minute?” But I didn’t know I had three minutes. But it doesn’t really matter, because I’m just running hard and running scared. I was just assuming people were chasing me. I figured it probably was Dakota, because he was the last person I saw behind me. You don’t want someone like that stalking you. It made me think back to the last time I ran this race and Rob Krar was stalking me, and I saw him at the same mile 45 out and back turnaround to the aid station, and, then, Rob caught me with a mile to go. I was fearing that. Dakota and I eyed each other, and I had to give it my all in the final climb and the last four miles. I was looking over my shoulder with a quarter mile to go still. It was tough.
iRunFar: You were still kind of in bonk mode then, so you were just totally grunting.
Canaday: Yeah, I was rigging up pretty hard. I didn’t have enough calories. I was out of my Spring Energy. I thought I filled my bottle with more coke than it had because it was all fizzed up. I drank that, and with three miles to go I realized I didn’t have any calories left. I was starting to get dizzy, and I wasn’t moving very well on the uphills. Yeah, it was scary.
iRunFar: Ultimately, you said it was a race of attrition, and you atrophied less than everyone else, I guess.
Canaday: Yeah, barely. It was a close race. It was good.
iRunFar: This must feel like a good start to 2017 for you?
Canaday: Yeah, I’ve had a couple third place finishes now, but I always try to race my best and race for the win if I think I have a chance for the win. I was really happy to actually be able to pull it off today in a competitive field. It definitely feels good to come back here and place first even though it was my slowest time on this course.
iRunFar: Yeah, but I think time just doesn’t matter today. There were so many other factors there. You guys ran hard the first bit, but I think the course was in rougher shape than usual, as well.
Canaday: Yeah, definitely. Just with the course changes, I’d say that’s two minutes…
iRunFar: Each way.
Canaday: Yeah, and the mud is hard to say. I wish I could hold the fast… you go out sub-three hours and think, Yeah, I’ll just easily come back. If I just come back in 3:05, I’m going to run close to six hours flat. But didn’t happen today. You try.
iRunFar: Using this as a launch pad to the rest of your season, what are things going to look like for you in the next couple weeks to recover from this and then looking forward to your next goal?
Canaday: I’m going to take probably my biggest break of the whole year right now just, because I’ve been going nonstop since The North Face [Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships] in December
iRunFar: Your Strava has shown just a ton of training.
Canaday: Actually, I wish I had more high mileage weeks going into this. I had to taper really aggressively before Chuckanut when I realized how competitive it was going to be at Chuckanut which was only four weeks ago. Then, because I had to run so hard behind Max King and Hayden Hawks, it took me forever to recover from that. I actually wasn’t happy with how my last four weeks were in terms of volume, but it was necessary. I had to do it to recover from such a hard race. I’m all about recovery. Coming off [the Vibram] Hong Kong [100k], I didn’t have a whole lot of time to train for Chuckanut. Going back even farther in December, I was coming off a really rough race at The North Face in San Francisco. I’ve been going hard for awhile. It’s time to reset the system and take a longer break and then go pure mountain mode. This is my mountain year. Enough of these flat, fast, runnable courses.
iRunFar: “Runnable 50 milers with 10,000 feet climbing, it’s just too flat for me.”
Canaday: They’re hard. It was hard in the mud today. I always respect any surface, any distance. I’m going to try to get my mountain legs back and do shorter mountain races all in a build up for UTMB which is the ultimate goal of the summer—to try to win UTMB, which is a really tall order. To finish UTMB is the first goal, then try to place well and try to run as best I can basically.
iRunFar: Z through A goals.
Canaday: Yeah, always a big set of goals for every race basically.
iRunFar: Congratulations to you. It was fun to watch you race your ass off around the lake and back. See you around the races this summer, if not before, then at UTMB.
Canaday: Yeah, sounds good. Looking forward to it. Thank you.