Ten Questions With Sage Canaday – The Olympic Trials, UTMB, And Sage In Real Life


Over the last couple of years, runner Sage Canaday has gone from training for road marathons with the elite Hansons-Brooks Distance Project team to dominating the ultra and mountain trail running scene. After winning and setting course records at Speed Goat 50K (2013 and 2014) in Utah, Tarawera 100K (2013 and 2014) in New Zealand, Mt. Washington Hill Climb (2012) in New Hampshire, Pikes Peak Ascent (2014) in Colorado, and other races Sage has set his sights on qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials. On top of that, Sage will be running the famed Comrades Marathon in South Africa at the end of May as well as the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in the Alpes in late August.

In the midst of preparing for this year’s stacked calendar of races, I was able to get Sage to answer ten questions about his preparation for the Olympic Trials, how he will then transition into training for Comrades and then UTMB, and what he considers one of his bad habits. Pinning Sage down to answer some questions is no easy task – he is often volunteering at events, coaching athletes, and putting in the miles and hard work. To drive this home, Sage sent me the edits to these questions at 12:34 in the middle of the night. I want to thank Sage for taking the time and wish him the best at this year’s races.

Training for the Olympic Trials

Peter: Although you used to be focused on the marathon distance, over the last couple of years you have focused on running MUT (mountain, ultra, trail) races, from the 50K up to the 100K distance. Later this year you are going to attempt your first 100 mile race – the UTMB. Right now, however, you are aiming for an Olympic Marathon qualifying time at the upcoming L.A. Marathon. Tell us why you decided to go back to fast road running and how that process has been going?

Sage: When I was in high school (circa 2004) I had decided that one of my life-long goals in running would be trying to qualify for the US Olympic Trials. By then I had already figured out that I was probably too slow at the 5km and 10km so I knew I had to move up in distance to even stand a chance at qualifying! A couple years later I convinced my college coach that 2007 was going to be my year, so I ran a marathon while I was a junior at Cornell and qualified by the skin of my teeth. Four years later I qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials Marathon with a little more time to spare. I guess mainly I want to be there again in 2016 to keep the streak alive!

I also value variety in training and racing. I believe that changing things up strategically leads to future super compensation and ultimately longevity as a runner. The “speed” training for road marathons is beneficial for climbing mountains and racing longer distances. I’d burn out or get injured if I just did ultras all the time.

Peter: Your ongoing Olympic Trials training series on Youtube – part of your Vo2max Productions – seems to be drawing a lot of views and people are really responding to it. What was your reasoning for documenting your training efforts like this? People already follow your Strava channel, where you post all your workouts.

Sage: I was one of those little kids that always asked for the family camcorder growing up. Video (and basically any creative visual art) has always been something that has inspired me. I figured that combing film with my other main passion (running) would be fun! I’ve used my YouTube channel “Vo2max Productions” as a platform to communicate with fellow runners around the world. I also try to share as much training theory and other lessons I’ve learned over the years from the sport through my channel. Hopefully it helps some runners get more enjoyment out of the sport that has given me so much over the years.

Peter: Your training seems to be going very well. Last week you had a phenomenal workout at the reservoir where you put in 24 miles with 3 minute surges during the second half, all under 5:40/mile pace. How do you feel going in to the race?

Sage: That Long Run workout was a huge confidence builder. It reminded me that all this ultra-marathon stuff makes one strong! However, I’m not resting on my laurels because distance running is a fickle sport. You can overtrain 1% and totally shoot yourself in the foot. This was one of those workouts where it can really be a double-edged sword.

With the Olympic Trials qualifying standard being the fastest it’s ever been in US history, I basically have no margin for error. Getting my leg-turnover back has been a bit of a challenge coming down from 50-mile trail and mountain races (everything feels like a sprint), but I like where I stand now.

Peter: If you don’t mind (don’t give away any secrets!), walk us through your plans for race day from waking up to crossing the finish line.

Sage: I’ll wake up about 4 hours before the start. I usually eat a bagel and a half or so with some almond butter and a couple cups of coffee. I’ll also hydrate with plenty of water as well. After probably too many unnecessary bathroom breaks I will nervously toe the starting line. When the gun goes off I’ll start my Garmin 910XT and try to dial into 5:15 mile pace. I’ll have to judge how the “Hollywood hills” in the first half will affect my mile splits, but generally I’ll try to run an even effort. I’ll totally ignore the other runners around me and make note of how my Garmin mile splits will not match up exactly with the actual mile marker signs on the road.

Once every 5 miles I’ll take a Vfuel gel. At the hydration stops I’ll have a custom bottle filled with electrolyte drink where I’ll try to swig 12-15oz of fluid each time. If it is warm and sunny I’ll grab extra cups of water to dump on my head.

At about mile 22 I’ll know exactly where I stand. Usually if I’m still fending off the dreaded wall at that point things are going to be good and I can probably move up in position. If that is the case then I will try to accelerate and run a faster time as well.

If I am hitting the wall hard at that point then I will crawl towards my special bottle of coke at that aid station and try to salvage my race by ingesting an inordinate amount of sugar. That will likely be too little too late and I will end up jog-walking the last 5km hoping not to pass out and give myself a concussion from my head hitting the pavement.

Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB)

Peter: After the L.A. Marathon, you have roughly four months to prepare for your first 100 mile race, the UTMB. This is a huge race – some consider it to be one of the biggest, most competitive, hardest mountain ultras in the world. What are your plans for preparing for the race?

Sage: Well first off I’m going to do the actual largest ultra in the world: Comrades in South Africa. That’s at the end of the May and it’s a 89km road race. Depending on how my race and recovery at LA goes I’ll likely try to ramp up my mileage in the 130-140 mile a week range to prepare for Comrades. I think the high mileage will also help build strength for UTMB.
After Comrades I’ll get back into full-on mountain training mode by racing the Speedgoat 50km in Utah at the end of July. Immediately after that my girlfriend and I are heading straight to Chamonix, France to hike and explore the whole UTMB course for 1 month.

Peter: UTMB is characterized by very steep climbs and descents. It is also run through the night – last years winner took 20 hours to complete the course. You have never run at night, and although your OT Trials training has set you up with a good base, how do you think you will handle the course, conditions, and nighttime?

Sage: It could be an epic disaster. I could very well end up in a fetal position around mile 60 in middle of the night during a cold rainstorm trying to eat mud.
The race has around 30,000’ of climbing which is totally ridiculous so I think I’ll take a page out of Dick Beardsley’s book and start punching my quads to toughen them up!
But really, I think I’ll practice running at night and I’ll plan [to] cover the whole course in training a month prior to the event. There are a lot of things that can go exponentially wrong in such a long race and mountain environment… I just know one thing for sure: it’ll be an adventure!

Peter: You are going to deserve a nice long rest after UTMB; I hope you get to hang around in Europe for a bit after and enjoy yourself. However, everyone will want to know, what is the next challenge you have in mind?

Sage: It depends on whether or not I get an Olympic Trials Qualifier in LA. Ideally, I’ll have my qualifier and I can kick my feet up and drink a lot of Avery beer and eat pizza everyday for a month and gain about 10 pounds of solid fat. I might try to target a November marathon if I still need the sub 2:18 time – otherwise I’ll gear up for The North Face 50-mile Championships in December.

Sage in Real Life

Peter: You’ve really opened yourself up to all of your supporters and fellow runners by putting out the videos, posting your workouts on Strava, and now, with the launch of your new website – Sage Running: Athlete Empowerment – you are offering even more, such as training plans and coaching. Can you give us a little bit about why you are so open, welcoming, and transparent?

Sage: I’ve been really fortunate over the years to have the support network of family/friends, sponsorship and health to do what I love: run, coach and make videos. I really get a kick out of helping coach an athlete to a new personal best and/or get more enjoyment out of the sport. The running community is such a great group to be involved with.

My girlfriend Sandi Nypaver (who is also a coach and ultra runner) and I launched SageRunning.com with the goal of empowering athletes. We wanted to provide some training advice and plans to make running more accessible to those that couldn’t afford (or didn’t have time for) our individualized monthly coaching options. We felt that we could reach a broader audience of runners (from half marathoners to 100-milers and beginner runners to seasoned veterans) through the site

Peter: Alright, it is pretty clear that you train hard, eat well, and try and live a balanced life. But really, you have got to have at least one bad habit. Too much coffee? Lots of beer?

Sage: I stay up way too late (probably because I drink a lot of coffee). I’m a total night owl and I also like to indulge in sweets (as well as beer) late at night. This is probably not ideal for my sleep/recovery… but I do some of my best video editing around this time!

Peter: Thanks so much for spending the time, it has been a pleasure. One last question: if you could point out one thing that almost everyone does, but really holds them back in their running, what would it be?

Sage: I think for most people (including myself) it’s really hard to see the big picture of how a long training and racing year/season is periodized. We like to focus too much on single, specific workouts and the immediate rewards/gratification of our next race so much that we don’t plan for a sustainable future of fitness months down the line. This can lead to injury, illness, overtraining and/or very inconsistent race performances. It’s a tough balancing act and it’s easy to totally lose perspective if one isn’t patient!

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