Returning to the rockpile: Sage Canaday talks about defending his title at Mount Washington

Sage Canaday at the 2012 Mount Washington Road Race

Sage Canaday on his way to winning the 2012 Mount Washington Road Race.
Photo courtesy of Dennis Coughlin.

The lead runners at the Mount Washington Road Race are usually pretty familiar faces. But at mile two of last year’s race, even the race officials had to ask for help to identify the second-place runner. Soon after passing the two-mile mark, that runner—Sage Canaday—took the lead, which he held for the rest of the race, finishing in a blistering 58:27.

Over the past year, Canaday has continued to top leaderboards around the world. Already this year he has won the Bandera 100k in Texas, the Lake Sonoma 50 in California, and the Tarawera 100k in New Zealand, and he placed third against some of the toughest competition in the world at the Transvulcania Ultramarathon on the Atlantic island of La Palma. And just last Saturday, Canaday won the inaugural Cayuga Trails 50 in a time of 6:47:48.

This week, Canaday returns to northern New Hampshire to defend his title at the Mount Washington Road Race. I asked him a few questions about his experiences over the past year and how he has trained for this year’s race.

You ran the Cayuga Trails 50 last weekend and you are running Mount Washington just one week later. How do you train for such different races at the same time?

Preparing for a 50-mile trail race and a 7.6-mile race requires some totally different workouts. However, I think both the Cayuga Trails 50 and the Mount Washington Road Race come down to a matter of strength rather than speed. My pace (per mile) running up Mount Washington last year was almost the same as it was in my 50-mile ultra debut at the White River 50 last summer, so the velocity really doesn’t change. That being said, I’ve been working on running up and down mountains a lot training for both events—so logging a lot of vertical each week as well as high mileage. I do tempo run efforts uphill and push the pain envelope as much as possible.

You won Mount Washington last year and set an American record. What brings you back this year? Did you learn anything last year that changed how you’ve prepared this year or how you will run the race this year?

I think I got lucky with the weather last year as the temperature was fairly comfortable and the wind wasn’t strong. It was a pleasant surprise for me to pull off the win last year and run a good time. It’s such a unique and challenging race that will always have a special place in my heart because of my positive experience last year. Honestly, I feel a little less prepared this year because I haven’t done any uphill treadmill workouts and I know my legs will be tired from racing the Cayuga Trails 50. I’ll monitor my mile splits just like I did last year and try to gauge my effort so I don’t slow down too much in the final miles of the climb.

Sage Canaday, of Boulder, raises his hands in victory, after winning the 52nd running of The Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race, with an official time of 58:27, in Pinkham Notch, NH, on June 16th, 2012. 1,200 runners raced up the 7.6 mile M

Canaday finished with the third-fastest time ever run at Mount Washington.
Photo courtesy of Dennis Coughlin.

Last year you took the lead around mile two and never lost it. Do you like to pick a pace and stick with it, or do you wait and see how others are running?

Since it was my first time on the mountain last year I went out conservative—however, since it was the U.S. Mountain Running Championships and I wanted to make the U.S. Mountain Running Team by placing in the top six, I made sure to keep the lead pack close. I kept monitoring my pace and effort and it eventually took me to the front. I didn’t expect to be taking the lead, but at that point it became part of my strategy.

You wrote on your website that last year’s Mount Washington race was the first race you’d won since a Turkey Trot 10k in Detroit. Since then you’ve had incredible success in ultra and mountain races. Have you been surprised at all at the course of events over the past year? Any most memorable moments?

Yes. It’s been a really great experience so far. Traveling to New Zealand and then La Palma this year has been a dream come true for me. I’m doing what I love and having the good fortune of being able to travel to exotic places. I never thought I’d be able to cobble together a living by using my legs and lungs. I got really lucky.

You’ve been quoted as saying it takes a lot of “self-discipline and intrinsic motivation” to compete at a high level as a distance runner. Can you talk a little bit about mental discipline and motivation during a race like Mount Washington? What are you thinking? How do you keep yourself pushing harder when you have the lead?

Honestly, last year I was thinking a lot about rent money. I had just moved to a new apartment in Boulder and I had some pressure to perform for some cash. When I took the lead I realized I was on sub-60-minute pace and that it would net me an extra $500. I was also very excited about the prospects of making the U.S. Mountain Running team and earning a trip to compete internationally at the World Mountain Running Championships in Italy. I like to put a lot of pressure on myself before the race, although during the race I try to gain confidence by breaking the race into mile-by-mile segments and just focusing on the moment and working through the pain. I remind myself that I’ve trained hard and just have to execute a solid pace and get the most out of my body that I can on that day.

One of your sponsors is Avery Brewing. Honestly, how much beer can you really drink given how much you train?

Depends if it is pre or post-race! I usually drink one to two beers every night, and I won’t hesitate to have a beer the night before a race. My favorites are the Avery IPAs, and I think people have said that hops help reduce inflammation. I love the taste of a good brew and the social aspect of kicking back after a race or long run with a fellow runner is always a favorite pastime of mine. I feel very fortunate to have Avery Brewing as a sponsor!

Want to know more about Sage Canaday? You can read about his adventures on his website, learn more about his background as a runner in this article from iRunFar, and even get coaching tips and tag along with Canaday on some of his adventures on his production channel.

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  1. […] Here’s an quick interview with Sage Canaday where he discusses his insane Mt. Washington record, running for rent money, and the anti-inflamation properties of hops.  Here’s our podcast with him. […]