Training for Trail Races and Ultra Runs: Interview with 2012 USA Mountain Running Champion Sage Canaday

Sage Canday trail running tipsIf you’ve ever contemplated running an ultra race or trail run, than you’re going to love this week’s Run to the Top podcast. On this week’s show, we’re interviewing ultra and trail runner Sage Canaday.

Sage has an incredible running resume. He is a 2:16 marathoner, two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, American Record holder at the Mt. Washington Road Race, and was the 2012 USA Mountain Running Champ…phew!

Talk about learning from one of the best! Here’s a brief summary of some of the great nuggets of wisdom we got from this interview:

  • How Sage transitioned from “traditional” races and training to trail/ultra running and how you can do the same if you have the same goal in 2013.
  • The importance of logistical preparation for trail events. How to select the right shoes, train to the demands of the course, and fuel properly.
  • The key workouts and long runs that help Sage know he’s fit and ready to run fast.
  • Sage’s take on fueling, pacing, and the lessons he’s learned along the way.

As always, let us know in the comments section if there were any questions we missed or if you have follow-ups. Even better, if you want to ask your own questions to our future guests, follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We will post opportunities for questions as soon as we schedule the interview.

Watch this week’s show now

Download the podcast version here

Links and resources mentioned in this interview:

Sage’s company: VO2Max Productions

Sage’s book: Running for the Hansons

Follow Sage on Facebook and Twitter

Scott Sports:

Drymax Socks:

Flora Health/Udo’s Oil:

Smith Optics:

Read the Transcript

Coach Jeff:      Hi, everybody welcome back to the Run to the Top podcast.  Today on our show, we have our guest Sage Canaday.  Sage is on our show today to talk about trail running and ultra running and he has quite the experience not only in that, but as a traditional runner in marathon [inaudible 00:00:17].

Just to give you a little bit of a background, Sage is a 2:16 marathoner and he’s qualified for the last two Olympic Trials and I believe in the first time he qualified in New York City, he was the youngest qualifier in that Olympic Trials for the marathon.  Since then, he’s decided to move to ultra running and trail running and so far, he’s had tremendous success.  He’s the American record holder at the Mt. Washington Hill Climb and he’s also the 2012 USA Mountain Running champion.

So as we talk today, if you want to visit the resources that we mentioned on this podcast or you want to know more about Sage, you can visit and that will give you all the details on this podcast.  And one more thing, if you like this podcast, please visit iTunes and gives us a rating and vote for us and tell us that you like us.  It will help other people find the podcast.  And with all that, let’s get started and welcome, Sage.  Hi, Sage welcome to the show.

Sage:               Oh, thanks for having me.

Coach Jeff:      Awesome!  Well, we really appreciate you coming here today and sharing your experience with ultra running and trail running and also the experience that you have with transitioning from kind of a more traditional runner.  I did a brief introduction with some of your major accomplishments, but let’s give our audience a little bit more in-depth picture of who you are and how you’ve kind of evolved to this sport from training probably in high school and then through now doing a lot of ultra running and trail running.

Sage:               Yeah, basically, I started running pretty seriously actually in middle school, I was doing track and then a lot of times during high school, I was doing cross country in the fall and I really always enjoyed running on the trails.  I grew up in Oregon so there are a lot of opportunities to run out in the woods, run up in down hills and that’s good training for cross country, but I also did the traditional track route and I went to Cornell University where I ran for Coach Robert Johnson.

I always was probably more competitive at cross country.  It seem like we’re running 8K cross country races and I was beating guys that would crash me at 10K even on the track.  So, I always like the hills and I always like the challenges of being on an uneven terrain I guess.

Coach Jeff:      But it was a comment from the beginning.

Sage:               Yeah.  Well, I don’t know.  I like running fast too, but the hills are always — I think I’m better at running uphill than flag or downhill for sure.  So I slowly built my mileage up over those years.  I was training year-round and that’s when I first got over hundred miles a week, which is pretty high volume even for Division I college and we did more marathon type training because I convinced my coach to run the marathon that year when I was 21 years old when I qualified for the first trials and then —

Coach Jeff:      So just from the clarity of this, you qualified for the Olympic Trials in the marathon in 2008 when you were still in college?

Sage:               Yeah, it’s actually 2007, yeah.

Coach Jeff:      I see.  Right.

Sage:               I ran my first marathon at Houston over winter break that year and I missed the standard by 21 seconds and so I was devastated at first, but then, I decided I’d run Grandma’s Marathon in June right after track season.  It was really hot that year, but I was able to hold on and qualify with 17 seconds to spare so that was barely making it.

Coach Jeff:      Nice.  Let me interrupt there for a second, how did your training look that spring when you were — I’m assuming trying to do an NCAA track season, which involves a lot of speed work, 10K is the longest distance and then how did you go and run the marathon in June?  What did that training look like?

Sage:               I mean, basically, Robert Johnson at Cornell, his training was more based on marathon type training, even for the 5K and 10K on the track, so I have that kind of going for me.  We still did a lot of track workouts traditional, Vo2max workouts even like 200s and 400s for like turnover, but I always kept my mileage pretty high and I was doing some two-hour long runs fully, but nothing extremely long for marathon specific.  But basically, I ran the 10K at conference.  I had five weeks until the marathon and in those first couple of weeks, I just ramped my mileage up to like 120.  I started doing 20-mile long runs, 22-mile long runs, pretty hard.  I did some back to back workouts that would get my legs callused for the extra distance to go 26.2.  So that was the main thing I had to change right away.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah, now, that’s actually probably a pretty good time period, that five-week period where you can do some marathon specific works.  So it makes sense.  I was just curious if there was anything really interesting that you did because I’m sure there are some people that come off either doing shorter type races and then want to move to the marathon.  So quite it’s — they can see that it’s possible and obviously to be successful even on a tough day.

Sage:               Yeah, I mean generally, like it seemed like when I moved up and race distance so I got better so I just kind of — I knew I had the speed to run the marathon qualifying time.  I just needed to get that specific endurance and some people will do it the other way.  They’ll build the endurance first, then add a little bit of speed.  I think you can do both ways and then it will work out and then you get that mix of training stimulus in there.

Coach Jeff:      Right, so after college, where did your running career take you?

Sage:               I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the Hansons Brooks Distance Running Project, which I’m sure you’re familiar with.

Coach Jeff:      A little bit.

Sage:               I’m from there. I have really cool guys to run with.  Actually, Brian Sell was still on the team when I joined so I guess I kind of picked his brain.  Clint Verran was still out there.  A lot of them were mature guys that had actually run under 2:15 in the marathon.  So that was a different training stimulus for me too because the overall intensity was a lot higher and the mileage was consistently higher and just having so many fast guys that push you everyday was a lot different.  But I think it helps me eventually become a stronger runner as I’m assured, but it definitely figured a couple of years to kind of kick in.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah, there’s definitely — a long process there sometimes when in terms of why you get adapted and you’re not just dog-tired everyday and racing tired.  It’s tough, but once you adapt, it definitely obviously helps.  So you were in 2:16 while a member of the Hansons’ team?

Sage:               I did.  Yeah, it was my second year there 2011 at the Rock n’ Roll San Diego Marathon.  I ran at — it’s 2:16:52 so —

Coach Jeff:      It’s 2:16 in my book.

Sage:               Yeah, it’s closer to 2:17, but I also ran a 1:04:32 in the Half Marathon before that, which honestly, was probably my best performance while I was there.  And I also ran Olympic Trials in 2012 for them and that was right before — that was my last race as a Hansons Brooks athlete.

Coach Jeff:      Okay, so kind of moving into the next phase, you’re — and I kind of know from your background that that’s when you started doing more of kind of the trail racing and ultra running.  Because you obviously were having a lot of success in the shorter distance, well “shorter distances” the Half Marathon, the Marathon, what made you kind of make the jump to doing something trail running and ultra running?

Sage:               I mean it was always in the back of my mind after having fun in cross country in college, I still want to go back to the roads and try to qualify for the trials again in 2016.  So it’s not like I’m saying no more to [inaudible 00:08:02] at all.  I’d even tried to go back and get a 10K here on the track.  I don’t know.  I think the mix is good and just in training. It’s good to have a variety to change things up every couple of years.  It’s a great break mentally.  It’s a totally different mindset when you were running out in some of the trails.  The courses and extra challenge just surviving the course, surviving the extra long distance beyond 26.2 I think will really help me be a stronger runner overall.  So I guess the challenge drew me in and I just want to see how it stacked up and what it felt like.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah, well, I mean and obviously, you’ve had success in it so it was definitely a good decision obviously in terms of even competitively, you’re definitely competitive in that space.  When you first transitioned, how did the training came from what you were doing in the marathon to what you’re doing to prepare for some of your first ultra race and trail races?

Sage:               Less of a focus on speed work, I haven’t touched the track all year.  It’s some hard — some pretty hard like Vo2max efforts, but it involves more like trying to run as fast as I can up a mountain.  Anyone in the Boulder area knows of Green Mountain.  I’ve been basically racing up that as some of my harder workouts.  So I run 20 or 30 minutes straight uphill at 85% maximum heart rate to 100% basically at the end and that’s what I consider speed work now.  I also have extended my long runs a little bit.  When I was at Hansons, we were limited to just going 20 miles for a long run and I always felt like I kind of want to go farther because I have before in college, I did some longer runs and I like the idea of building extra strength by doing like over distance type of a training.  So I extend my long run up to 28 miles, I got in a good 28 miler for my first 50K trail run and that was back in March at the Chuckanut.

Less emphasis on high intensity paces.  So like you’re out on the trail running a long run, it’s very specific you’re trail running.  You don’t really have to worry about what pace you’re running if you go more by your effort and kind of just counting more time on your feet rather than hitting certain miles less because the course changes so much.  If so many knows you get discouraged if you’re always looking at your GPS.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah, so that makes sense.  So even in the training, you’re probably doing more mileage overall and a lot of it is a lot easier I’m assuming.  There’s probably maybe one key workout or two key workouts a week.

Sage:               Yeah, I actually even say the mileage isn’t higher or just takes longer to get in because I’ll run 90 miles a week still maybe.  But it takes just as long as when I was running a 110 or 115 miles a week on the road just because you’re running maybe a minute a mile slower out on the trails.  But, as long as you’re putting in the time, you’re still training your aerobic system for 90 minutes or two hours and I think there’s a lot of value in that so you don’t get too caught up in the numbers, kind of — it’s more relaxing actually I think.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah.  So, I mean, that’s what I kind of imagined.  So pretty much all the running that you do is on the trail.  Is that because you — I mean, it might be both, but is it because you enjoy it more or is it because that you’re trying to be as specific as possible to the race that you’re trying to train for?

Sage:               Definitely both.  I’m really fortunate now that I live in Boulder so there’s a whole network of trails.  It wasn’t quite the same in Michigan, but also, the fact that a lot of trails are — it’s just softer on your joints.  So if you’re running 100% your miles on the road, it could really beat you up and you want to kind of change out your routine I guess.  So I’ll mix it up still.  I’ll go to the roads if I want to do some sort of tempo run, but it’s kind of rare these days for me to do that.  There are so many different trails.  I mean, you’re like — it’s usually, I’m making up my mind whether or not I want to go up a really big hill or mountain or stay on relatively flat trails, I’ll see what I can do.  But yeah, I think it’s better to train specifically for the type of race you’re doing.  So you’re doing in trail ultra, you’ve got to spend some time on the trails.

Coach Jeff:      So what about — how do you handle the hills and the training?  Like you said, sometimes you choose route space on a hill or a flat PR, but honestly, you’re going up and down a lot.  How does that factor into not only the intensity and recovery, but in terms of the overall planning, like how often do you try to specifically incorporate hills into your training?

Sage:               Pretty often, it does depend on the race that I’m focusing on.  So like a lot of ultra races, I’ll study the elevation map and I’ll say, “Okay, this is a 50-mile race. Its 10,000 feet vertical,” like that’s a decent amount of up and down.  So in that case, I’m going to be putting in more hilly long runs.  I’ll do — probably at least a 20-mile every weekend that has quite a bit of hills in it, maybe not 5,000 feet vertical, that’s really hard to get in, but I’ll do some several thousand feet probably of change and I’ll map it out on like Google Earth or something.

Yeah, I tried — try to get that in at least once a week in just around Boulder, I mean, it’s so hilly.  It’s hard not to [inaudible 00:13:36] on hills, but I think hills are speed training in disguise basically and you even go in down hills, it works your quads in a different way.  So I think doing hills more frequently is actually beneficial to a lot of runners even people running on the road.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah, so how do you handle the down hills?  Because I can imagine, like the way I picture it and again, I don’t have the ton of experience with trail running, but I just picture it being a scary freefall when you’re kind of going down especially on a trail where the footing might not be great.  How do you handle it physically?  Are there any tricks that you use?  And also mentally, how do you kind of get over the fact that you might fall in your ass?

Sage:               Yeah, oh definitely.  I mean, it depends how technical the trail is because some trails will be like really rocky, like running down Pikes Peak for example.  A lot of people fall on that because you trip on a rock when you’re getting tired.  I generally don’t like the down hills.  I’m more of an uphill runner, but you definitely have to let loose, you have to take some risks, a lot of it comes down to how much of a risk you’re willing to take, how much blood you want to leave down the course.

Sometimes depending on what stage, at what point you are in the race, you don’t necessarily want to fly on the down hills because that might come back later and bite you.  Like a lot of people who’ve ran the Boston Marathon for example knows that you don’t go as fast as you can on the first 10K downhill because it will beat up your quads.  It’s not always about speed on the downhills, it’s about being consistent and steady, not falling.  In my first [inaudible 00:15:12], I ended up getting five stitches from falling.  So it’s definitely a risky thing that keeps going your toes.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah, do you feel like you’ve improved overtime because I guess I see it the way you just described it as probably like the two [inaudible 00:15:26] guys when — I watched them on TV.  I’m like, “Those guys are nuts.”  When they go down the hills, they’re just flying and taking those corners, but you guys obviously have years of experience and do you feel like at this point, you’ve kind of developed that experience over time and with patience?

Sage:               Definitely a little bit, I’m still learning a lot especially about technical trails and downhill, but it’s definitely a skill that I think that with the more experience you have, the better you get at it.  There is some natural ability involved like I think I’m naturally better in going uphill rather than downhill and it’s going (cross talking 00:16:00), but it’s definitely something that if you work on it, you could improve a lot both ups and downs and the technical trail aspect and having proper footwear also helps I found, too.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah, you know what, let’s actually get into that.  So we had some user questions and for those listening, we post on our social media on our Facebook and Twitter.  You can follow us.  We post and we have guest — so we had actually some guests or some of our audience members post some questions and a lot of them were actually focused around shoes and what you’re trying to choose to wear.  So let’s talk about that a little bit.  When you’re approaching a race, how do you decide what shoe to wear and actually we can probably tell your story of what happened recently because I think it’s a — at your last race because I think it’s a good lesson that you’ve learned and that you can probably teach your audience.

Sage:               Yeah, I definitely recommend — trail shoes are usually quite a bit different from road shoes, but I’ll take a couple of different shoes to a race and depending on whether or not I’ve seen the course ahead of time, I’ll make a decision there and shoe selection is really important.

So I was in San Francisco at the North Face 50 this weekend and it was — there was a big storm coming in.  It was raining at least like an inch an hour at times and we were running on these fire roads that I thought drained pretty well, but I found out in the second half of the race that everyone’s footprints had made it pretty muddy, it got flooded, it was like a slip and slide going up and down the hills.  Unfortunately, I chose to wear my lightweight road racing flats.  I’m fortunate to be sponsored by Scott’s Sports and I was wearing this pretty lightweight, 6.5 ounce road racing flat basically.

It’s great on the roads, it would be great for marathon, it was great for the first 20 miles of the race, but once I hit those muddy hills, I was slipping all over the place and it’s really unfortunate because actually, Scott has just sent me this new trail shoe, the TC2 and it has pretty good [inaudible 00:18:08] on the bottom.  It’s a really good traction and I have these with me and they’re all muddy because I was wearing them around at start.  It was my mistake, it’s kind of a bad error on my part to choose to not go with this shoe and then stick — go with my road racing flat.  I think it cost me a lot of energy of course and I definitely fell a lot and was bleeding a lot.

So your choice of shoes is critical and it’s good to give yourself options.  Try to study the course.  Ideally, you’d know kind of what the most technical parts the course are because that’s a huge factor in ultra races.  It’s — you know what if there are rocks or if there’s mud or if it’s — you have water crossings maybe or what the hills are like.  Sometimes it’s hard to gauge.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah, so I guess I had two follow-up questions.  I guess the first, would you say it’s fair to say that the lesson that you learned is maybe more — error on the side of wearing a trail shoe as opposed to a more traditional running shoe?  Would you say that might be the lesson you learned or maybe not, maybe I’m off?

Sage:               Definitely, error on the side of sacrificing a little bit of weight maybe for extra traction.  That was the main thing.  Lighter is not always better because if you’re losing traction, you’re already kind of — that energy cost has already come back to get you.  So, yeah, it’s always better to have something that has better traction than something that doesn’t, and usually, the shoes are better tractioned. You weigh a little bit more, but it’s something you had to experiment around with and I didn’t put in the time.  [Inaudible 00:19:49] is kind of last minute things so you definitely want to do your research on that.

Coach Jeff:      Okay, I mean, I don’t have quite as much experience, but I’m relating it to cross country when you choose your Spike Size before the race when you say like, “Oh, am I going to go with the short spike or the long spike?”  Sometimes you make a mistake and pick the short one and the course is really muddy and it doesn’t work out, but it’s not 15 miles so it’s over where it really gets bad.

Sage:               Yeah, everything gets magnified.

Coach Jeff:      I guess actually the second question is I was curious about this and somebody asked about this is, do you ever have an option where you’ll carry another extra pair of shoes with you?  So for example at this race, the first 20 miles were relatively easy or better terrain and then switching to a more traditional trail shoe, have you ever tried that or know people that have?

Sage:               Oh, definitely.  Yeah, that’s actually a great strategy.  In a lot of ultras, they call them — you’re having a drop bag so at some of the aid stations in the middle of the race, you could have a bag set aside with your number, your name on it and you’ll throw in an extra jacket, you’ll throw in an extra pair of shoes.  So a lot of people stop at aid stations and they’ll be able to switch shoes, which is honestly I should have done.  I actually had some help of — my parents were there watching, they could have — I could have changed, but I didn’t think about it at that time.  I was really trying to open up a gap on the field and every minute was critical so I didn’t stop and do that, but when I look back on it now, I definitely should have and I definitely should have gotten my jacket out too because it’s starting getting really cold.

Yeah, you know, when you get a drop bag, you definitely take advantage of it, put extra clothes, extra shoes, even extra food, gels in it too because it could make a huge difference later on.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah, so in that sense, it sounds like with the trail running and ultra running that you’re doing, it sounds like the preparation and kind of getting all the details right is definitely a lot more important and something you have to put a lot more time into than in normal race.  Are there any lesson or I guess strategies that you picked up over the last couple of months of things that can help you like the drop bag, those types of things?

Sage:               Oh yeah, definitely.  You’ve got to study like the race will come out the list of what they provide at the aid stations.  So for example, at this race, they weren’t handing out any gels, which are rare, because usually they hand out gels at aid stations.  So I knew that I had to stuff a bunch more in my pockets basically.  But they also had other things like candy bars and potato chips and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  So you’ve got to kind of figure out what you’re going to eat out there on the course, what works well for you and you could do that in training on your long runs ahead of time, figure out whether you like to eat potato chips during your run or you want to take salt tablets instead.

And also studying the elevation map of the course I think is really critical because that will determine how I do my long runs, how I do my hill training so it’s got a lot of up and down and you have to be ready for that or your legs are going to protest a lot when you’re out there.  So studying the course map too I’d say like a lot of these trail runs, I’ve had the misfortune of getting lost, which isn’t good.  So it’s good to study the map too and see where the major turns are, kind of figure out where you’re going in the race.

Coach Jeff:      I have a question and for those who don’t know, Sage was talking about the race that he ran last weekend and you happen to go off course at one point.  Did you feel like you adequately looked at the trail map before the race or were you kind of — did you feel like that was a mistake that you made?

Sage:               Well, in this case, it was kind of a special circumstance because of the weather. They actually changed the course the day before the race.  So I’ve been studying this trail now for weeks and weeks and weeks because of all the flooding, they had to totally read you the course and so they came up with a map the day before, which I did study, but this race also started in the dark.  It started at 5 a.m. and the part where we got lost was about an hour and a half in and it was still basically pitch-black out.  I was in the lead with two other guys, actually no, I was in second place with two other guys.

Honestly, we didn’t even see — there was a fork in the trail, but we didn’t even look off to see the fork.  It was just — it was a proper way that course overlaps and it was kind of confusing.  When you’re in the dark, it’s really hard.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah, I like to imagine.

Sage:               So that was kind of a special pace I think.  Usually, it’s not like that.  Usually, it’s not raining really hard and dark and if you’re in the lead, it’s sometimes harder to route find because I think there’s supposed to be a volunteer at that intersection and they hadn’t gotten there yet.  So that was kind of part of the problem, but yeah, you definitely want to study the map ahead of time and hope they don’t change it the last minute.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah.  Well, I think that’s probably part of the extra challenge that goes along with these types of races is — those types of things can happen.  They’re not going to change a marathon course too much at least and you never know I guess what could happen.  Let’s actually move on to something that you talked about just previously with kind of the feeling and that type of thing.  Obviously, you’re running for a significantly longer time than you would for even a marathon.  How does your approach to feeling change at that point when you’re going to be out there for probably twice as long as a marathon, maybe longer than that?

Sage:               It changes a lot.  You have to eat a lot more.  One of my friends says, “Fifty miles looks just like a — it’s like an eating contest — miles.”  Because he basically — you want to take in quite a bit of carbs and you also want to take in some electrolytes, some sodium to help kind of worn off the cramps.  So depending on the weather, depending on how much you’re sweating, that could also change a lot, but general rule of thumb, you’re going to start eating probably about 200, maybe 300 calories an hour out there, which is a lot.

Coach Jeff:      That is a lot.

Sage:               Yeah, I’ll be taking three gels an hour, sometimes more and then sometimes they’ll switch from drinking Gatorade to just drinking straight Coke at the aid stations.  It’s really critical in [inaudible 00:26:22] because if you bunk, it’s going to get really bad.  If you have 10 or 20 miles to go and you’re bunking, then, it’s hard to pull out of that and see — try to keep your blood sugar as level as possible.  If you didn’t take anything, it would be like running a marathon and you’d be hitting the wall between 20 and 25 miles and just the energy cost of going uphills too, you have to take into account, too.  So a lot of people take a lot of gels, some people eat solid bars.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah, so you say you still do the gels.  I would feel personally that taking three gels an hour like I would start getting pretty sick of them after just an hour and I have three or four more hours to go, but the gels kind of work for you or?

Sage:               Yeah, well they have — for the most part, I’ll change it up and it really depends on the race because sometimes they’ll have aid stations every four miles, sometimes it’s every eight miles and so you could load up on gels at each station, you stop there and you could take some.  When I start getting sick of the sugar because it is pretty sweet, all that — sometimes I’ll grabbing in for potato chips, which I did in a couple of races that worked that well for me.  I think having that sodium in there also helps and you get some sodium from the Coke and the Gatorade, but the chips tasted good, I could go back taste it good, but I definitely know people that take in like Max King for example.  He took a couple Hammer bars during the 100K race that we did and that seemed to really help him.

It’s a fine balance because sometimes, your stomach doesn’t feel real good, but you know you have to keep eating or you’re going to bunk.  It’s something you want to practice in your long runs and training.  A lot of people — most people carry either a handheld bottle or like a camel duck type of hydration system with them.  So I’ll carry a 20-ounce handheld in my hand and it will be full of Coke and I’ll be sipping on that between aid stations and then I’ll fill it up because you always want to get that constant flow of energy and it’s a lot more critical than a road marathon just because you’re out there for so long.

Coach Jeff:      Right, what about — you kind of mentioned briefly the potato chips, what about taking like protein and maybe even a little bit of fat?  Have you experimented or know people that have used protein and included that and how has that worked?

Sage:               Definitely, I think for the longer ultras, especially like 100K to 100 miles, it becomes even more critical to eat all sorts of things, things that have a lot of protein and fat in them.  Generally, I kind of stayed away from a whole lot of protein, I know some of the gels, I think the [inaudible 00:19:07] have some amino acids in them.  I’ve taken a lot of those.  So I think that definitely helps a little bit on.  It kind of depends how long you’re going to be out there.  Like I said, the potato chips, I’m not sure if it was the salt or the fat that tasted good, but you definitely are burning a lot of fat too and so they utilize that as a fuel that’s going to make it more efficient for your glycogens towards, too.  So probably taking in some fat is good too eventually, depending on — for the longer the race I’d say.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah.  And I know probably the answer to this question is going to be something along the lines of you are doing it, but one of the things that I’ve always wondered and I think others do as well is, how do you power through those days and those bad — those days that you don’t want to be out training?  Obviously, you have to be out there for a long run and it’s not just an hour or 90 minutes, its three hours or so.  Not only those days, but then, those bad runs that you’re just kind of like, “Man, I’m not feeling it today,” and you’ve got a long way to go.  How do you deal with those as an ultra trail runner when it’s usually significantly longer than it would be for a normal type race?

Sage:               I view it as a challenge.  It’s always good to make yourself more mentally tough and if I’m struggling and training, I’ll think about it like I would in a race and I’m going to be like, “Well, the race is going to be a challenge too, it’s going to be tough.”  There’s going to be some spots where you don’t feel good.  You just have to try to work through it and stay motivated by focusing on little goals, like little races building up to a big race or thinking about how tough the competition is going to be and how much tougher this makes me because I overcame this training run or this obstacle.  But I mean, everyone is out there working hard and training as hard as they can so you’ve got to be competitive and push yourself out of your comfort zone quite a bit.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah, that makes sense.  So let’s talk about some of your training and workouts.  What do you consider to be some of your key workouts that you enjoyed doing and that you also feel like when you’re down with them, you can say it to yourself, “I’m fit, that was a good day?”

Sage:               Mainly for ultras, it’s the long run and I’ll do usually a 28-miler. It’s my go-to distance and if I run that at a really good clip, I know I’m in shape, depending on the course.  But also just doing my efforts at Green Mountain or doing — I did a lot of treadmill workouts actually before Mt. Washington and I’ll do like the Runners World Uphill  Challenge, actually, it’s Trail Runners Uphill Challenge, which is 15 minutes at 15% incline on a treadmill and you try to go as far as you can in distance.  So you kind of set the pace, you could adjust the pace as you go, but it’s a 15% incline.

Coach Jeff:      That’s like straight up.

Sage:               (Cross talking 00:32:10) treadmill and it’s like getting like Vo2max test and I remember I did that before Mt. Washington and I did 1.99 miles, which I felt really confident after that.  So that’s a good barometer of my fitness, too.  So I’ll run on the treadmill sometimes.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah, I was curious about that actually because somebody asked that question.  They asked, “What treadmill workouts that you do in preparation for Mt. Washington,” and I actually responded.  “I don’t think that Sage runs on the treadmill, but obviously, he do,” and so that was kind of one of your key workouts before that race.

Sage:               It was, yeah, definitely, I did that three weeks before, yeah.

Coach Jeff:      Cool!  So let’s say that somebody is one of their goals maybe for the New Year upcoming is to maybe do a trail race coming off that can traditionally training for a marathon, Half Marathon, that kind of thing.  How do you think that they should transition?  What kind of things that they should do to get prepared for that?

Sage:               It depends if they’re going like a 50K you mean?

Coach Jeff:      Yeah, I would say 50K because I would imagine that’s a pretty good introduction into ultras/trail running because going a hundred mile your first time is probably not the smartest decision.

Sage:               Yeah, I know some people that have done it.

Coach Jeff:      I’m sure there are.

Sage:               50K is good, 31 miles, it still takes a lot longer than a road marathon depending on the course.  But the main thing I’d suggest is training a lot kind of like the marathon, but with less emphasis on any track workouts, Vo2max workouts and more emphasis on the long run and more emphasis on trying to get out on the trails.  If you have some trails, you definitely want to get used to running on the trails more, get some hills in there, too.  I did some more little workouts.  But yeah, it does depend on the course, but I think hills will make you stronger just to cover extra distance.

So I’d incorporate more hilly long runs, maybe at uphill tempo runs, this is the workouts that I like to do like the treadmill workout I mentioned basically.  And then, just not worrying about crashing every easy pace run, not worrying about paces much, just kind of having that mindset that you want to spend time on your feet and then kind of dial in your nutrition plan, too.  That will be — the big difference is, maybe get some trail shoes for that.

Coach Jeff:      One of the things that I’ve done with athletes that I coach who want to do specifically the 50K distances.  One of the things that we’ll do is kind of do back to back long runs and not necessarily full long runs, not 220 mileage, but do something where they do maybe 14 on a Saturday and maybe 18 or 20 on a Sunday.  Have you ever done something like that and have you found it to be effective?

Sage:               I have actually.  I usually am too tired after like a 28 miler like go out and do a 20 the next day, but also —

Coach Jeff:      Right, the 20 and (cross talking 00:35:07).

Sage:               Yeah, I’ll still try to put in a good 15 miler maybe the next day and I’m actually really agree with that school of thought where you — especially for people that work nine to five Monday through Friday, you might as well — you want to hit it really hard on the weekend, so you get in a big weekend like maybe you put in 30 miles on a weekend over two days.  So I’m definitely then having here two hard days to be really hard and then having some easy days really easy.  So you get more of a — there’s more than extreme change between your really high mileage days and then your really easy days because maybe I’ll do a 30 miler one day, but then two days later, I’ll just do like a 5 miler to totally recover from that.  So a bigger swing in how your long runs are really long then you’re relaxed and try to recover between them.

Coach Jeff:      Right, but it makes a lot of sense and from what it sounds like, that’s actually probably the biggest difference between like probably optimal marathon training in the sense that the consistency is more important than any one or two big workouts whereas it sounds like — I mean, consistency is certainly important, but it’s a little bit easier just to say, “I’m going to get these big weekends and maybe one or two big workouts,” and just kind of fill in the rest.  Is that probably a fair assessment?

Sage:               Oh yeah, definitely.  The overall moderate intensity doesn’t need to be there as much as it doesn’t road marathoning.  But I mean generally, the higher the mileage you could average out before you’re doing an alter, too.

Coach Jeff:      Right, of course and you’re learning a lot.

Sage:               Yeah, that is the difference though for sure.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah.  So, let’s talk a little bit about kind of how you go about things.  Talk about some of the sponsors and how you’re going about to training for these races.

Sage:               Oh yeah, actually, I’ve been really fortunate.  Recently, I’ve got on board with Scott’s Sports.  It’s my major gear sponsor, shoe sponsor and they’ve really helped me out a lot.  They make a lot of shoes actually for trail runs, mountain running, it’s European based, but also for like tri-athletes and road marathons, too.  So everyone is checking them out and then —

Coach Jeff:      We’ll throw up a link on this at the end of this podcast or we’ll throw up a link again,, check it out and you’ll see the links for everything Sage is talking about here.

Sage:               Oh, that’s great and then, a local company, Ultimate Direction based out of Boulder, they’re my hydration gear sponsors so they give me a lot of my handheld 20-ounce fluid bottles and then they also have backpacks hydration vest that you could wear on these longer races that you fill up with gels.  There’s a gel pouch I have from them, really great innovative products and that always helps because you wanted cherry gels with you for sure on the run.

And then my nutrition sponsor, Flora Health/Udo’s Oil, which is actually — Udo’s Oil gives you all these omega 3s so it’s a lot of fatty acids that I mix into my salad dressing and I know Max King and others sponsored [inaudible 00:38:12] with them and he says it really helps with its fat-burning capacities.  So it’s going to burn to take in your fats.  Eat some fats, eat some omega 3s when you’re training, too.  Smith Optics for my sunglasses because it’s really sunny out here in Boulder.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah, what is it something 300 sunny days a year or something to that effect?

Sage:               Yeah, it’s sunny everyday, which is great coming from Oregon it was like raining everyday.

Coach Jeff:      Right, it’s a complete opposite, 300 days of rains.

Sage:               It’s (cross talking 00:38:41) sun for my Vitamin D synthesis.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah.  Nice, actually, before we go, let’s talk a little bit about your nutrition in training like on a daily basis, kind of how does that look?  I mean, I remember when I was training for the marathon I was eating like a [inaudible 00:38:56].  I mean, I remember when I was living in the bloomer house at Hansons, I remember waking up from a nap and I have lunch and I slept maybe from like one to two or one to three.  I got up and I had an entire box of coco pops because I was like starving and I just needed chocolate and I just ate a whole box of coco pops and then I had dinner like an hour later.  What’s kind of your nutrition look like in training?

Sage:               I do eat a lot of carbs.  I’m very carbist.  I eat a lot of pasta, a lot of pizza, but I cook for myself a lot.  I’ll make homemade pizza.  Actually, I just did the other night and pasta is always easy to make especially if you’re tired late and I’m actually — I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life.  That’s probably a little bit unusual for endurance athlete.  I know some other ultra runners that are too.  So I do have to take — I do take iron supplements and I get my blood checked to make sure I get enough iron, B12.  I’ll take B12 supplements, Vitamin D, the sun helps with that I think.

I also try after I do a long run, I’ll try to eat as soon as possible too because they say there’s that 15-minute window where you want to take in quite a bit of carbs, a little bit of protein.  I’ll start taking in more protein after a long effort because I know my muscles injury build so I eat a lot of omelettes, eggs.  I try to eat a lot of salads and fruits too just try to eat pretty healthy overall, not a whole bowl of coco pops.

I’ll (cross talking 00:40:29) some beer, maybe or ice cream every now and then so it’s always good to mix it up and you get to it quite a bit more because you do burn those calories so it’s nice.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah, it’s interesting that you said you eat a lot of carbs because one of the things that I guess maybe there’s a conception that I have of ultra runners and trail runners that they’re all along like the Paleo diet and just eating protein and natural.  How do you feel like — do you feel like you ever kind of persuaded to go that direction just because of the community that you’re a part of with the trail running?

Sage:               They’re not going to persuade me.  I’ve had to persuade myself.  I do know a lot of people — a lot of people are gluten intolerant too so they do have to stay away from so many carbs and I don’t want to always carbo load before every long run because I think there’s something to be sad about kind of going into long run empty and (cross talking 00:41:24).

Coach Jeff:      Right, absolutely.

Sage:               Burning more fats as you progress along, but now, I really like the taste of pizza and pasta.  It’s going to be hard to give that up, but I think just moderation in varieties is the key.

Coach Jeff:      Yeah, so before we let you go, I know you do two things on your own, as well you have a company Vo2max Productions.  Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Sage:               Yeah, basically, Vo2max Productions is my media outlet.  I do coaching services off of it.  It’s a platform to sell my book, Running for the Hansons, so I used it as a publisher to distribute that.  And then we also have a YouTube channel, Vo2max Productions YouTube channel, which I post a lot of videos from races, the training advice, my mountain explorations and it all helps me because I do get some income off of the ads on there and through selling my book and the coaching so yeah.

Coach Jeff:      Cool!  So we’ll throw up a link at the end of this podcast again — sorry, on the page for this podcast to check it out because I think if you’re looking into doing some ultra running, I think Sage is probably a great person to get some coaching from.  And even if you’re not, if you’re just looking for some coaching, Sage is — he knows what he’s talking about.  And also, if you’re really into trail running and ultra running, you can check out the videos that he post and he does some shoe reviews and gear reviews and things like that so definitely something to check out there.

Sage, I want to thank you for taking the time out of your day to give us such an in-depth interview and share your training and everything that you’ve learned with us.  We really appreciate it.

Sage:               Oh, thank you so much for having me on the show.  It’s an honor.

Coach Jeff:      Awesome!  Well, good luck with all your races.

Sage:               All right, thanks.

Coach Jeff:      Yup.

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2 Responses on “Training for Trail Races and Ultra Runs: Interview with 2012 USA Mountain Running Champion Sage Canaday

  1. I consider this the best interview that I have seen on running in general and especially on trail running. Sage’s answers were the most honest and clear that I have heard. Thanks, Sage.


    • Thanks, Ed! I am glad you got a lot of value from the interview. I appreciate the compliments, always love to hear those – keeps me going! Best of luck with your training and racing

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