Interview: Sage Canaday

Sage Canaday has a rather interesting and varied background in running. He’s raced, and won, on track, road and trail.  Furthermore, he was the youngest qualifier for the 2008 Team USA Olympic Marathon Trials and also competed in the Olympic Marathon Trials for the London 2012 team.

Sage was also part of the innovative Hansons-Brooks Distance Project after graduating from Cornell University and has recently transitioned from predominantly road marathoning to ultra-distance and mountain running.

This year, 2012, has been pretty good for the newest member of the United States Mountain Running Team! Having finished 1st in the grueling Mount Washington Road race, he qualified for a spot on USMRT to compete at this year’s World Mountain Running Championships where he finished a respectable 12th position. Oh and let’s not forget his 5th placed finish at the Jungfrau Marathon which helped Team USA to a collective team Silver at the Long Distance World Mountain Running Championships held only one week after his appearance at the World Mountain Running Championships!

When did you start running and did you have any particular reasons for starting?

I started running when I was 12 years old because I thought athletics might be a fun sport to do. At the time I was playing soccer and my coach mentioned to me that I was “better off without the ball” at my feet. He told me to just run up and down the soccer field to be a decoy. The very next year I quit soccer to focus on my running and started training year-round. I had some early success (4:47 for 1500m that year at age 13) and I realized that I should try to maximize my potential in running. In High School I started cross country and ran 16:23 for 5k at the age of 14. I felt like I had some natural ability in the sport and was willing to work hard through the pain of distance workouts to see how far I could take things.

If you could run with and/or race anyone, anywhere who would it be and where? Over what distance and on which surface? 

I’d like to go for a training run with Jonathan Wyatt on the trails in his home country of New Zealand. I’ve heard the trails and hills there are rather spectacular so that would be a nice place to travel for a run. Also, since Wyatt is one of the “kings” of mountain running I’d like to hear some advice from him on what it takes to become a more competitive mountain runner and a 2:13 marathoner. I don’t think I’d want to run in a race against him though as he is still quite fast!

I haven’t traveled enough in the world to know where I’d really like to go and race! I’d definitely like to come back to Europe and run in the UK, Spain and France for the first time. In terms of race distance and course I’m still figuring that out as well. Most likely I would go for a strong, net uphill race with a grade of at least 10% and a good distance of 20k to 50k. I don’t mind if the surface is grass, dirt or roads as long as it has some good uphill stretches. I haven’t really run a technical course so it is hard to say how I would do in the mud and rocks. So far this year my best two races have been the Mt. Washington Road race (road surface, 7.6 miles, 12% average uphill grade) and the White River 50 (trail/soft dirt surface, 50 miles, 19,000+ feet of vertical change) so I’m still trying to figure out what my best kind of race would be as those are very different races with different physical demands.

Running wise, who do you look up to and who has inspired you?

A couple of my running idols: Brian Sell and Max King. Brian ran in the Olympic Marathon in 2008 and was my teammate at the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project in Michigan where I went after College. He worked really hard as a runner and trained at 150-165 miles a week to run a 2:10 in the marathon. He was a really nice guy and he gave me a lot of advice on running experiences and what it takes to be one of the best.

I look up to Max King because he races on all surfaces at a variety of distances. His win at the 2011 Mountain Running Championships was inspiring and made me want to try trail and mountain running. I knew Max because he also graduated from Cornell University and ran marathons on the road in the US Olympic Trials.

I’d also say my parents have inspired me because they just started running for health in the past couple of years and they have supported my athletic endeavours for a long time.

What are your favourite training conditions and are they the same as your favourite racing conditions?

I like training on trails with nice natural views. Running in the mountains that start off with wooded trails and then transition to open spaces with a good look down are always nice. In terms of weather I also like the sun to be out and for there not to be very much wind! I’m not a big fan of running in the snow or cold but every winter I’ve trained in the last 8 years has had a lot of those days.

When it comes to racing I almost prefer hot and dry conditions because I feel like I can be more competitive. If I’m going for a fast time on the roads or track though I prefer more mild conditions!

What is your fondest memory of running and, conversely, your worst?

One of my fondest memories of running would be winning the Mt. Washington Road race this year by over 2 minutes. It was a very much unexpected victory for me and I didn’t expect to become the fastest American in race history for that course. I didn’t win very many races in College or on the roads so it was a rare experience for me. Furthermore, since the race was the US Mountain Running Championship I was able to qualify for the World Mountain Running Team with that performance.

One of my worst memories in running was the last 10k of the 2008 New York City Marathon because I bonked really bad and had to start walking. I was running 5:20 a mile for the first 20 miles and looking for a 2:20, but I ran out of energy and slowed to a 10:00 min/mile a couple times. I was in a lot of pain during those final few miles and it was a struggle just to finish. I couldn’t think very straight, but I remember having to worry about falling and hitting my head on the pavement because I was so dizzy.

I think Paula Radcliffe beat me by a good 5 minutes in that race.

Where do you see yourself in six years?

In 6 years I’d hope to still be running at some level. I’m not sure how long I can sustain putting off a family and work career, but I’d like to keep running and traveling more and more in the next few years at least. Right now I’m looking to apply to an MBA program so I can study business as well as run so by the time 2018 rolls around I can hopefully be working for a shoe company in marketing.  

I know for at least the next couple years I’d like to do some more European mountain racing, try some more ultra-marathon trail races in the 50k to 50 mile distance range, and qualify for my 3rd Olympic trials in the marathon with a goal of running a sub 2:15 time.

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