Sage Canaday won the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in 2013 and took third at the race a year later. This year, he’s back to make another go at the win. In the following interview, Sage talks about how his season has started off, where he went wrong in the prior year and a half, and how he thinks the race will go this weekend.
Sage Canaday Pre-2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Sage Canaday before the 2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. How are you, Sage?
Sage Canaday: I’m doing great. I’m healthy and happy to be here. It’s always fun to come to California to race.
iRunFar: This is the first time we’ve chatted this season, but you’re a couple races in. How did Vibram Hong Kong 100k go?
Canaday: It was solid. It was solid. There were a lot of stairs—thousands of stairs. It was a stacked field. Over winter break after a tough go at The North Face, I needed to reestablish base, but I didn’t have very much time. So I just put in easy base mileage trying to run over the holidays. Then I looked at the starting list—Didrik [Hermansen], Tim Tollefson… so many guys… Seth Swanson. It was a tough race but good Hoka representation. It’s solid to be on the podium, but I’m always trying to win.
iRunFar: But it’s also January.
Canaday: Yeah, early season, and I hate stairs. I have trouble walking up stairs, so…
iRunFar: Then that is not in your wheelhouse. You’re not exaggerating when you’re saying there are thousands of stairs.
Canaday: No, that’s not an exaggeration.
iRunFar: In March, you ran Chuckanut 50k again, and you placed third there behind Max King and Hayden Hawks. They had a great race, and you had a pretty strong race yourself.
Canaday: Yeah, it was solid. It was hard to compare times for me because in 2012 when I did that race I fell and got stitches, and Max and I got lost. I was trying to extrapolate and it was just… it was sloppy that year, too. Running against those guys, they’re such fast runners. Hayden trained really hard. Max was in really good form tuning up with a lot of 50ks. They had that speed. Coming down after Chinscraper, This is not going to be good for me. Usually, running against pure mountain guys, I like the flat road. Max King and Hayden Hawks, who are faster flat runners, I did not like that. I kind of rigged up hard in the last 10k. They ran great there. Fun competition still.
iRunFar: Do you think you had a good effort?
Canaday: It was solid. It could have been a lot worse. I’ve had a tough last year-and-a-half of some inconsistent races, so it’s good to be back on the podium again especially in really competitive races. I actually signed up for this race before I signed up for Chuckanut. I was like, Oh, I should do a tune-up 50k before my 50 miler here. Then I saw Max entered and Hayden, and Man, this is going to be a really competitive race. I’ve got to taper a lot for Chuckanut. I treat every race as an A-race, so bring it.
iRunFar: You just made the point that in the last year-and-a-half you’ve had some inconsistent results. Has that been just chance, a mental block, or have you had some physical problems? Do you have any reasons for that?
Canaday: My mantra is, “Any surface, any distance.” I love that, but what I’ve learned in the last two years is that basically I can’t transition as fast as I think I can. Two years ago I did the Boston Marathon trying to get an Olympic Trials qualifier.
iRunFar: You tried and tried a couple times.
Canaday: Then I did Comrades and Speedgoat and UTMB that year. Of course, I got injured at UTMB and couldn’t finish. It was hard to get my mountain legs back. Then I tried to qualify for the Olympic Trials again a couple months later at CIM [California International Marathon], and the switching back and forth between my mountain legs and my flat road legs within a few months kind of sold me short a bit on the roads. I didn’t quite get my flat speed back and missed the Trials qualifier by 12 seconds. Then when I transitioned back to the mountains, you need to put in a solid training block of four or five months of a lot of climbing and a lot of trail running versus a lot of track and speedwork. So I need to give myself more time to make that transition. I think that was probably a key to it was the variable running economy.
iRunFar: Do you think that focus is there and starting to happen right now? Do you have enough solid trail training to be in top form for this race?
Canaday: That’s the whole goal—applying your failures in the past and the lessons you’ve learned to any surface, any distance and trying to put it into this year in perspective, so this year I decided I wanted this to be my mountain year. I just want it to be a mountain year. This race and Chuckanut and my flattest and fastest, most runnable trail races of the whole year. After that it will be all mountain focus. My number-one goal is to try to do well at UTMB—try to compete for the win there, at least podium, or at least finish as that’s always the first goal. So, I’m not going to mess around with any really fast runnable stuff. If it’s a tough choice because I wanted to do Comrades. I was about to sign up for Comrades. It’s an up year. I love Comrades. I want to go back to Comrades. Then I was like, Wait a second. This is your mountain year. You can’t be doing Comrades and road marathons and then do UTMB two months later. Likewise, even if I get top two on Saturday, I’m not going to do Western States.
iRunFar: That temptation is not going to draw you aside?
Canaday: Well, it’s a hard choice, but I think you’ve got to pick and choose your battles at the top level. Western States is not like UTMB at all in terms of how it runs. It’s a net downhill. UTMB is a mountain course, and the turnaround is just really tight. Last summer I tried to do two 100s in a summer, and it was a disaster.
iRunFar: People can finish two, but to try to compete at the top level…
Canaday: Yeah, I think if I did Western, it would hurt my chances at UTMB. Then to knock it out of the park at both of them I think would be really, really hard to do. They’re such different courses. I respect the 100-mile distance. It’s been really fickle for me. I just want to focus on that. I want to do mountain racing. After this it’s going to be Mont Blanc Marathon, Mt. Washington, probably Speedgoat, and then UTMB.
iRunFar: So, fast races in there.
Canaday: Shorter races but pure mountain.
iRunFar: Mt. Washington…
Canaday: That one is a little… yeah… I just love that race.
iRunFar: You’re going to go do it because you love it. You’re not going to change your training a ton?
Canaday: Well, I periodized my training so after this I can take a break. Then it’s going to be big mountain focus with a lot of vertical and all uphill stuff. Yeah, the intensity there for Mt. Washington is a lot different. It’s more like a half marathon versus a 100, but I like starting small, starting short, with shorter races and faster races and gradually moving up in distance over the summer. It always worked for me in college and track doing 3ks and 5ks and then moving up to the 10k and the half marathon or doing a bunch of half marathons before the marathon. I kind of like that more speed and intensity first and then extending the stamina and endurance… but a lot of climbing, a lot of climbing. I’ve got to get my mountain legs back. I’m still working on that.
iRunFar: This weekend, you’ve won this race before, and there’s a pretty solid field with a bunch of guys you’ve raced against in the past. Obviously you want to go for the win, but who do you think will be up there challenging on Saturday morning?
Canaday: A lot of guys—you guys previewed—like Chris Mocko who has been training hard and is a local on the scene. Ryan Bak has been second here before and third at The North Face. Pat Smyth is a great runner; he’s a 1:02 half marathoner. You look at Ryan Bak’s and Pat Smythe’s PRs and they’re like 13:30 or 13:36 5k and 1:02 half marathon and 2:14 and 2:15 marathon—a lot of speed. I’ve raced those guys at the Olympic Trials, and they’re always way ahead of me. USA Cross Country [Championships]—they’re way ahead of me. But at 50 miles with 10,000 feet of climbing, I think they could be vulnerable. It will be interesting to see. I don’t know. It’s Pat’s first 50 miler. Chris Mocko has been on the scene, but he’s been training a lot more. You can see on Strava that he’s putting in 140 miles per week or maybe 150.
iRunFar: With pretty good intensity, too.
Canaday: Yeah, and 20,000 feet of vert, so that makes your legs strong. That’s serious. These guys all have a high VO2Max based on their track times so, are your legs going to hold up over the full distance with the climbing? I don’t know what the course conditions will be like exactly, so it’s hard to predict times. I heard there was a little reroute, too, with some added climbing and distance?
iRunFar: A small one, yes.
Canaday: It’s hard to say with the mud and the dynamic. I don’t always time trial, so it will just be a race of attrition. There will be guaranteed pain.
iRunFar: There will be. Having just listed off some of those guys PRs and knowing how some people race here, it’s going to go out quick.
Canaday: Yeah, I don’t see it going out slow. I don’t want it to go out super slow because against those guys I don’t want it to be a sit and kick race. That being said, I don’t always want to be pushing the pace, but you play it by feel and take into account how you feel. There’s strategy involved. There’s Strava analysis involved with splits on my arm and stuff like that.
iRunFar: Do you think you’ll have any particular strength versus that field as it stacks up on Saturday? You have more experience than… outside of maybe Dakota Jones who is also racing.
Canaday: Oh, yeah, he’ll be up there, too. I left out so many people
iRunFar: I know. Yeah. You have more experience in that last 25 miles of the race as opposed to the people you’ll be racing out there. Do you think that’s an advantage?
Canaday: Definitely. I know the way the course runs having done it twice. That definitely helps. I always like to try and improve my own time, too. I compare times to the past. It’s definitely an advantage to know how you should be feeling at halfway and what hills and how it feels in the last 12 miles and like that. Yeah, definitely.
iRunFar: So far, every year this race has been run—it’s been run eight times—every year the men’s course record had been broken. This year it stands at 6:00:52. Do you think anybody is going to go under six hours?
Canaday: No, that’s a really stout time on this course. It was interesting because last time I raced here we had this waterfall finish with Zach Miller, Rob Krar, and myself. We were chasing Zach, and we didn’t know we were gaining on him in the last four miles, but we were. I was in second with a mile to go, and then Rob comes flying up behind me. We all finished within 90 seconds or maybe 1:40 of each other—waterfall finish. At the time, Zach was 6:11 or 6:10, and that was the course record. The next year, Alex Varner lowered it to 6:09. Man, it’s getting tight with these little, tiny marginal improvements. My best time was 6:13 or 6:14, and when I won it was 6:15 which was the course record four or five years ago. Man, I’m getting old.
iRunFar: Four years ago.
Canday: Yeah, but to go six flat, that’s a totally different level. I think it might be on the warmer side, but I’m not sure. If it’s in the 60s, that’s not bad, but it’s not ideal. Then if it’s muddy and with the reroutes, that’s not in our favor. Maybe someone can knock it out of the park, but that’s a tall order, I think.
iRunFar: Good luck and enjoy the race!
Canaday: Thanks. I’ll need it.