Sage Canaday is the Speedgoat 50k defending champ and course-record holder. He returns this year to defend his title against a passel of fast men. In the following interview, Sage talks about how he’s feeling about his season and fitness, what the implications are for his diverse race calendar, and who he thinks he’ll be racing for the win on Saturday.
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Sage Canaday Pre-2014 Speedgoat 50k Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Sage Canaday before the 2014 Speedgoat 50k. Sage, you’re the defending champ. Welcome back.
Sage Canaday: Thank you. Glad to be back. I don’t take it for granted.
iRunFar: You won last year. You set a course record. Was it 5:08?
Canaday: Yes, 5:08.
iRunFar: How are you feeling in comparison this year?
Canaday: I feel pretty good, knock on wood. There’s a tree back there. I don’t have any niggles or overuse injury type of pain. My fitness is pretty similar to last year probably. I’ve had a similar schedule. I actually ran a little faster at Mount Washington this year. It wasn’t the race I wanted, but I think my climbing is there. I’ve done some altitude stuff in the high country a little bit in Colorado. I feel pretty good.
iRunFar: After winning Tarawera, you took third at Sonoma, Transvulcania, and Mount Washington. None of those were wins, but you were on the podium in three great races. How do you feel? I know you want to win whatever you’re in, but how do you feel about that set of performances?
Canaday: It was okay. I am a very competitive guy. I’m not going to lie. A lot of these races I think I can win, I’m going to try to go for the win. I don’t take the podium for granted at all especially like at Transvulcania. I just felt lucky that I was able to hold it together considering how bad I felt 20 miles into the race. But I want to try to take a jump up and take that next step in fitness and show that I’ve actually improved. I feel almost like this year is sub-par to last year even though I ran a little faster at Sonoma. I’ve definitely been overracing, I’d say. It’s hard to mix up all these different distances and different course profiles and excel in them. Okay, four weeks after Lake Sonoma, I have Transvulcania. Lake Sonoma, Transvulcania—a little bit different.
iRunFar: It is totally different, and then you had Mount Washington.
Canaday: Yeah, I did Costa Rica in between actually. The North Face Costa Rica—a tune-up 50k. Then yeah, you’re bouncing around every four weeks doing an ultra. The profile means everything to me. It’s hard to rest the week after the race. I usually take a down week. I have two weeks to really train hard. Then I have to taper. It’s not ideal, and I know that.
iRunFar: How do you think you might work around it? Might you make some races a little lower effort so you can taper and recover less or is that not your style?
Canaday: If I’m going to show up at a race, I’m going to bring my A-game. Every race I do I pretty much show up to race. But I think in the future, to be sustainable in the sport—which I want to be—to not burn myself out, to not risk an overuse injury, to not jack up my endocrine system, I’m going to have to start cutting back and picking and choosing my battles. The same thing goes with how competitive these races are getting now. You can’t just show up, I think Max King said this when I interviewed him for my film, you can’t just show up every weekend and expect to win now. You’ve got to taper. You’ve got to prepare specifically for the course. You’ve got to get out on the course maybe a month or two beforehand and really do a long build-up to reach that 100% level to reach your potential. I think I’ll have to pick and choose my battles.
iRunFar: It’s interesting you choose Max as an example because you’re sort of in the same boat as he is. In a given year, he’s racing a steeplechase, a road marathon, a short trail race, and a long trail race. You’re not doing the steeplechase but sort of have almost as big of variety. Is there going to be some point where you just have to say, this year I’m concentrating on this area or that area?
Canaday: Yeah, I mean, I just like to mix it up because it’s fun. It’s a good variety. I’m still trying to figure out what type of course in the mountain-ultrarunning scene suits me best. I don’t view myself as a mountain runner yet just because I’ve only been in Colorado for two years. I come from a road background. I come from more of a smooth trail running background like the Pacific Northwest trails and that type of deal. I’ve never done a fast 50k. Chuckanut is probably the fastest 50k race I’ve ever done. I haven’t done the Way Too Cool. I haven’t done JFK 50 Mile. I’d like to do those. I’m tempted to jump on the track and do a fast 50.
iRunFar: I can see you throwing out and trying to make the World 100k team.
Canaday: Yeah, but then the mountain running is glamorous. You go to the Europe and it’s the Skyrunning scene. You’ve got the Alps, the Dolomites, you’ve got here, the Rockies and Wasatch. It’s fun to mix it up, but I’ll definitely need to specialize. So, this fall I’m thinking about jumping back into the marathon, the Chicago Marathon, to try to get my Trials qualifier, but I don’t know if I can mix it up after doing all this steep uphill stuff with the flat road running. The mechanics are just so different. The way you’ve developed your musculature and even your metabolism is just totally different.
iRunFar: Totally. It’s a good point about the musculature. At the very top of your game, you’re developing weight where you don’t need it and not developing it where you do, the muscle. You’re almost not only not benefiting yourself, in some ways you’re hindering your performance on the other.
Canaday: Exactly. For this race, you look at your VO2Max and you look at your aerobic engine. You’ve got your heart and lungs. In a lot of ultras, a lot of really fast track guys—Max King is way faster than me, or the sub-14-minute 5k guys who are in this race—they have the VO2Max like Kilian [Jornet] with a VO2Max of 90, they can go up the hill and they’re not developing lactic acid. That’s not a limiting factor. What happens gets strained for me. This happened to me at Lake Sonoma. Your skeletal musculature breaks down. All the pounding on all the ups and downs, my hips will blow out. Your muscle fibers aren’t used to powerhiking. On a course like this, I really struggle power iking because it’s not specific to what I’m used to on running faster than a seven-minute/mile clip on a smooth trail. Then you’ve got the whole metabolism issue with burning carbs versus burning fat and being able to take in nutrition on the run and keeping that all balanced.
iRunFar: What’s your take on that in terms of when you’re ultra racing, what are you aiming to do in terms of fueling and energy utilization?
Canaday: I’m still a carb guy mainly, especially for a high-altitude race. I burn it real hot at altitude. I learned that at Pikes Peak when I totally bonked and almost fell over walking up the final mile. I take a ton of VFuel. I’ll be all gels. I’ll even take a swig of Coke sometimes. I never drink soda pop or Coke at any other time (maybe airplane flights), but during a race I’ll pull that out. My parents might have potato chips if I’m getting desperate and need the salt. Then just electrolyte drink, Fizz, and just water mainly. I don’t do a low-carb diet like a lot of guys that get into the real fat burning. But part of that is being a vegetarian it’s hard to eat protein and fat when you’re not eating meat. I love beer. I’m not going to give up my beer. I’m always going to be pretty high carb. I do strategic carb depletion though, so like before some long runs I’ll kind of not eat pasta the night before or maybe not eat breakfast, just a spoonful of almond butter, go out and run with no gels, and kind of just get in that fat-burning zone, but I’m not going to give up beer.
iRunFar: It’s sort of the time of year when the next season of shoes come on the market—July 1 for Hoka and August for other companies. Are you running on anything new for this race?
Canaday: The new shoes coming out this month for Hoka are the Huaka and the Clifton. I’m wearing the Huaka. In the race, I’m wearing it. Shoe plug. Those are the new shoes from Hoka hitting the market this week pretty much for all the stores. I’ve been racing in the Huaka all year—Tarawera, Lake Sonoma, Transvulcania. It’s my go-to shoe. For the road marathon, I’d probably wear the Clifton. It’s a little bit lighter.
iRunFar: Those are still pretty light.
Canaday: 8.9 ounces with a 2mm offset. It’s a good shoe.
iRunFar: It’s definitely a change in the direction Hoka has headed before.
Canaday: Yeah, they’ve got a big variety.
iRunFar: Have you seen the track spikes yet?
Canaday: I haven’t. I got to meet with Leo Manzano at the sales meeting. He didn’t have the spikes there, but he’s been racing in them.
iRunFar: The competition is evolving as we’ve seen for this race. Who do you think will be your biggest competition out there?
Canaday: So many guys pulled out now. It could be anyone. Montana brings in a strong contingent of guys. There’s that guy you just interviewed from Air Force Academy. I probably didn’t race him in college because I’m a little bit older or he was probably just too far ahead of me. Sub-14-minute 5k runner—you’ve got to respect that. I was a 14:29 guy, so he’d blow my doors off.
iRunFar: He’s got a build that’s going to suit—he’s just a tiny guy, not height-wise, but lightweight for climbs like this.
Canaday: Yeah, he’s probably got a high VO2Max.
iRunFar: But he’s run the steeplechase, so it’s not like he’s… he’s got strength.
Canaday: Yeah, for sure, I think he’ll be up there. I was looking forward to racing Tony [Krupicka] and [Chris] Vargo, but I guess they’re out.
iRunFar: You’ve got Rickey Gates.
Canaday: Rickey, for sure Rickey. Yeah, he’s a former champion basically. He’s run fast on this course. I know he can climb hard based on his Maroon Bells splits at the Four Pass Loop. He’ll be gunning up there for sure.
iRunFar: Best of luck out there. Have fun.
Canaday: Thank you. I’ll need it.