Sage Canaday and Sandi Nypaver are a power couple. Not only are they among the top trail runners and ultrarunners on the North American circuit, but they also manage a coaching business that aims to reach runners with a wide variety of goals, from five kilometers to ultramarathon distances, leaning heavily into the social media side of their business.
The year 2021 was an incredibly tough year for Sandi and Sage, as Sage battled a serious health condition and they both lost their Colorado home to a massive structural fire. However, Sage is healthy again and the couple has moved across the state to start anew — together.
Sandi and Sage met in 2012 at the Pikes Peak Marathon but didn’t really talk much at first. A few months later, Sage reached out to Sandi while he was traveling to the Grand Canyon to run rim-to-rim-to-rim with friends. When they passed through where she was living in Buena Vista, Colorado, Sandi showed them around her local trails. A few months later, they went on their first date in Leadville, Colorado, in the depths of winter.
While running drew them together, they had different journeys into the trail and ultra world.
“Sandi has more of an interesting journey to trail running than me,” said Sage, laughing.
Sandi was on summer break from college, and one morning, instead of listening to blink-182 like normal, she turned on a radio show.
“There were these two guys talking about a youth expedition they were putting on, called Impossible to Possible, taking people on a long route in northern Canada,” said Sandi. “A bunch of the guys on the trip were trail runners and ultrarunners, talking about 100-mile adventures. One guy ran across the whole Sahara Desert, and they just talked about 100 miles and further. I was hooked.”
Sandi soon quit the college basketball team, and started training, jumping in headfirst. Her first trail race was in 2010 and was a 100 miler — the Mohican 100 Mile in Ohio. She won in 21:17:26. That success has only continued over the past 12 years.
Sage had a more traditional path. “I started running seriously when I was 12. The soccer coach told me I was better without the ball.” With that non-traditional motivation he went on to run in high school and college at Cornell University. Road racing called to him too, and he ran in the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials, before he even graduated college. After a few years on the roads, he gravitated toward something longer and less monotonous, the mountain trails drawing him in like so many road runners before.
Sage and Sandi have now lived in Colorado for the past nine years, running their coaching business Higher Running, and creating YouTube videos — Sandi on her channel Running Wild and Sage on his channel Vo2maxProductions. Each of them shares similar material, but with their own personalities and styles.
“Higher Running has a wide variety of training plans, even pre-made ones, under our coaching business,” said Sandi. “I remember there was a time that I was selling my stuff to be able to make it into races, so we know it’s tough financially to have a coach full time, let alone shoes and gear. We’re trying to do our part to make the trails more equitable and accessible for everyone.”
Sage added on, saying, “We realize there are a lot of barriers to entry into the sport. I know what it’s like to be a sponsored runner, but for those who aren’t sponsored at all, we wanted to offer some guidance and community support both in person and online.”
They have offered a lot to the trail and ultra community, and this past year, they had to rely on the community to support them as well. Early in 2021, Sage wasn’t feeling well, starting to get short of breath even on short runs on a flat bike path in Boulder, Colorado, where the couple had lived and owned a condominium together for years. Doctors initially thought it was pneumonia, but he kept having trouble breathing, chest pain, and was eventually unable to walk up more than a couple flights of stairs. Over time, his condition worsened.
“One morning when I was trying to run, I had such severe chest pain. Sandi took me to the hospital. They found blood clots in my lungs,” he said.
Pulmonary emboli, or blood clots, are extremely dangerous, as they increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, abnormal heart rhythms, and more. Additionally, recovering from them means enduring long-term blood thinner treatment, which is especially difficult for a mountain runner.
“I had to take blood thinners for three months, get genetic testing and a bunch more scans. I couldn’t adventure in the mountains due to the risk of falling and hurting myself on the blood thinners. I’m finally off them, but it took months to even start running again. I still have some scar tissue in my lungs,” said Sage.
If a health struggle wasn’t enough, life hit Sage and Sandi again last fall. Overnight on October 18, 2021, a massive structural fire destroyed 81 units in the complex in which the pair owned a condo. Sandi and Sage escaped unharmed, but all their possessions were destroyed.
“We had a lot of community support, but that was our home. All our material items were a total loss,” said Sage. “It’s been a battle with insurance, but we have had support from both friends in Boulder and just random people from around the world who see our social media who have reached out in support.”
With rental and home costs sky high in Boulder and needing a new beginning, Sage and Sandi moved to Salida, three hours south and deeper into the mountains.
“I love Salida,” said Sandi. “It was [previously] home for me. I’m stoked to be here again. It’s a bit of a change of pace, it being a pretty small town, but there are more mountains here.”
The lower-key living has really allowed them to lean, not only into training, now that Sage is healthier, but their coaching business as well.
Anyone who has seen Sage’s YouTube videos can appreciate his humor and levity, as well as his musical talent: he sometimes introduces videos with a song he’s played on the guitar, mandolin, banjo, or keyboard. Sandi’s videos are equally as informative, and nicely divided up into playlists for people to navigate what they’re training for. Sandi’s channel has a great focus on strength and mobility training, and she pays special attention to sharing exercises that can be done anywhere and without special gym equipment.
Those fun-loving videos, as well as Higher Running’s themes of athlete empowerment and running on any surface and for any distance help reach an audience that might otherwise be intimidated by the sport.
“We’re really trying to connect with the running community in making new and innovative content, a fun way to connect with runners all over the world.” said Sage.
What’s next for the power couple, after a chaotic and stressful year? In 2022, they’re coming together to race again at Canyons 100k in April. Outside of training for that, they are taking every day as it comes. In the meantime, you might see them uphill skiing, on the disc golf course, making a dance video, or out on the trails.
“We’re trying to enjoy where we are, after everything that happened last year,” said Sandi. “Summer [coming up] is just one wild adventure, so we’re letting things happen … I know it looks like Sage and I had a tough year, but I think it made us even better at embracing life and wanting to make the most of it. Even when things seemed bad, we knew there was a lot to appreciate and love.”
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