Sage Canaday: Running Up Mount Olympus
By: Cait Chock
There's a shift occurring in the world of running and Sage Canaday (http://sagecanaday.com/) is playing a key role. Sometimes change is gradual, other times it's with an epic ascent. Leave it to trail running to go with the latter.
The world of trail and ultra running has exploded in the last few years. In sheer numbers, in recognition, in sponsorship opportunities, you name it. "It's exciting," Canaday speaks of the shift, the emotion palpable through the phone. "I recognized the sport when I left Hansons, saw the opportunity...but didn't think it'd be growing so much. I'm really grateful to be a part of it." He's being modest, he's more than just a part.
Canaday first made waves in lining up at the 2008 Olympic Marathon trials as the youngest in the field. At only 21 that meant he was fitting marathon training in between his college cross country and track seasons. It took a bit of convincing his coach at Cornell at first, but soon both realized Canaday's strengths lay in the longer distances. Things worked out well for Cornell too, "after that I had my best year of running in college, in the twelve months after that [Olympic Trials] marathon...I won the Ivy League conference in the 10k in track and I got second in cross country and qualified for Nationals."
Sage Canaday: a selfie from his FB site
Graduating, Canaday moved to Michigan to run professionally, training with the Hansons-Brooks Distance team. He stayed for two and a half years, but parted ways after the 2012 Olympic Marathon trials. He wasn't thrilled with his performance there and he also wanted to start implementing different training stimuli. He wanted to run longer and he also wanted to train at altitude. Canaday moved to Boulder, Colorado.
Eventually the runner was initiated into the ultra world at the 2012 Chuckanut 50k in Washington. His first race set the tone of this brave new territory. "It was a pretty good experience," Canaday says without a hint of sarcasm in his voice. "I ran an extra mile, got lost, slipped and fell and slammed my knee onto a rock and ended up getting five stitches right at the finish line because my knee was all bloody. They had to stitch me up on the spot." Perhaps other runners would have stepped away with a different impression, but not Canaday. "It was a good introduction into how rough trail running was."
Not for the Faint of Heart
In the running realm, ultras and trail running has previously flown below the radar. A starting line a collected few souls in worn shoes, setting the tone for a lot of lonely miles between themselves and the finish line. The stark contrast of today isn't only in numbers, advanced technology, but also notoriety. Other runners now know the names of these top ultra runners, the anonymity is gone.
The world knows who Sage Canaday is. Between that first Chuckanut ultra and his latest win at the 2014 Speedgoat 50k lie a 2012 USA Mountain Running Championship title, 2013 USTAF 100k Ultra Trail National Championship title, a myriad of course records shattered, and countless wins spanning the continents.
Visiting his parents in Oregon recovering after winning the Speedgoat 50k, Canaday hasn't run a step for four days. He's antsy. Much is the way, addicted to the grind. Capitalizing on the extra time, quite incredible the large chunk of time that is thrust upon a runner not training, Canaday is finishing up his pet project. A film project that won funding on Kickstarter, MUT Runner (for Mountain/Ultra/Trail), is a film documenting this epic shift. "Show[ing] the evolution of how the sport's growing, how there's new sponsorship opportunities for top runners, what it's like to travel around the world, see how these top runners are changing the dynamic of the sport, breaking course records and making a living off of prize money. "A collection of interviews from his fellow top ultra runners and action footage across the globe: New Zealand, the Swiss Alps, and Colorado, Canaday lets us all enter the world of the ultra. For 25 minutes we can take a part of the evolution of a sport.
Canaday's no stranger to being behind the camera or in front of it, he's built a deep library of YouTube videos (https://www.youtube.com/user/Vo2maxProductions) filled with training tips and informative running topics. Not short on personality or a sense of humor, the videos are still entertaining while teaching.
In conversation, Canaday instantly puts you at ease, his relaxed tone hardly matches the ferocity in which he races and is anything but an intimidating running hero. He's still one to be idolized yet, never to be deemed unreachable. "Training videos on my YouTube channel, it's a passion of mine. I like to give back to the sport that's given me so much...if I can help someone out with their running because of something I said on my channel, that's really satisfying for me." He may be a running god but he doesn't distance himself from the mortals.
Since splitting with Hansons, Canaday's been self-coached. An eager student of the sport from a young age, in just 7th grade he was reading Jack Daniels' Daniels Distance Running Formula, pouring through over 20 training books. This intense interest in the training aspect resulted in his online coaching business (http://vo2maxproductions.com/), which he and his girlfriend, Sandi, run together. All coming back to building up that community of runners. Shared knowledge, shared passion.
Canaday won't elevate himself above that of his fellow runners, but this writer will. He's different, he's at the top and this means he's at the forefront of running innovation. The higher numbers and more energy for the sport gave birth to new brands and products; companies are now willing to actually invest in trail and ultra running. "Seeing new prototypes and new innovations...to be able to support these brands that are just making it onto the market is pretty awesome and a dream come true for me, as clichéd as that sounds." One of his biggest sponsors, HOKA, is a pioneer in the shoe industry. Everything from sunglasses, fuel belts, nutritional supplements, and headlights, "I always wanted to be the one testing new products and giving feedback and helping marketing efforts as an athlete, and I feel like I finally get to do that now and I'm very grateful or that." Canaday's providing the field research necessary to bring you better and more responsive gear. Out of the lab and onto the trail.
Sage Canaday, on the way to Mount Olympus, photo from Sage's FB site
Just as trail and ultra running is riding an ascent, so is this young harrier's career. Only 28 his best years are still stretched out before him, leaving one to only wonder what incredible heights he has yet to climb. The most immediate will be Pike's Peak Ascent August 16th running on behalf of Team USA in the World Mountain Running Association Long Distance Challenge.
From there, Mount Olympus awaits.
Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004 and previously ran for Nike. A freelance writer, artist, and designer she writes about all things running and founded Ezzere, her own line of running shirts (www.ezzere.com). You can read more, see her running comics, and her shirts at her website.