By Ben • Ben Schorzman • 

A year later, Canaday thriving in thin air of ultra running

Submitted photoSage Canaday, a Newberg High graduate, powers up Mt. Washington (N.H.) in 2012 during the 2012 U.S. Mountain Running Championships. Canaday won the race in record time and has continued to find success running in ultra-marathons.
Submitted photo
Sage Canaday, a Newberg High graduate, powers up Mt. Washington (N.H.) in 2012 during the 2012 U.S. Mountain Running Championships. Canaday won the race in record time and has continued to find success running in ultra-marathons.

Canaday, twice a qualifier for the U.S. Olympic trials in the marathon (2008, 2012), thought he had found his distance on the road. But after failing twice to make the U.S. Olympic team, he turned to mountain running and going longer than the traditional 26.2 miles of the marathon to find an edge.

With a year of results to look back on, it’s safe to say he’s found his calling. Since running in the Chuckanut 50K in Washington early in 2012 (second place), Canaday has run nine ultra-marathons and a handful of other mountain races. The lowest he’s finished is third, and he’s been able to travel the world doing it.

In March, two months after winning the 100K USATF National Trail Championships in Texas, Canaday traveled to New Zealand and won the Tarawera 100K. In April, Canaday set a course-record at the Lake Sonoma 50 Miler in California.

May found Canaday in the Canary Islands, racing in the Transvulcania. The race was 51.8 miles, included 14,000 feet of elevation gain and meandered up the side of a volcano.

“Probably the most exotic race I’ve done,” Canaday said. “You have a spectacular view of the volcano and beach from the trail. … It’s absolutely brutal.”

Canaday finished third in 7 hours, 9 minutes.

After recovering from that race, Canaday traveled to Ithaca, N.Y. to run in the Cayuga Trails 50 Miler. For Canaday, it was a sort of homecoming. He raced for Cornell University, which is in Ithaca. Canaday won the race, picking up a modest amount of prize money as well.

During Cayuga, Canaday fell in an especially difficult part of the race while crossing a small stream. He hurt his knee enough where he wondered if he could finish the race. Even though he did gut it out to the finish line, a week later he tried to defend his U.S. Mountain Running championship at Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. A year before, he burst onto the mountain running scene by setting the American record on the course. This year, he finished third.

To wrap up his exploits to date, Canaday recently won the Speedgoat 50k in Utah. The race has been described by a couple of ultra-running bloggers as the “toughest 50K in America,” and Canaday can attest to its difficulty. There is 11,400 feet of elevation gain, and the entire race is run above elevations of 7,600 feet.

Canaday won in 5:08:07 and said there were many places where he had to walk, the degree of the slope was so steep.

“It’s actually impossible (to run up hills that steep),” Canaday said. “If you could run, you would be slower than if you power hiked.

“Basically you’re crawling up a mountain.”

Because of his finishes in the Transvulcania and Speedgoat, Canaday is now second in the 2013 Ultra Skymarathon Series rankings with one race left in the series. He plans on running Sept. 28 at the Ultra Roc 100K in Colorado, which was chosen this year as the Skymarathon Series finale.

Through all of Canaday’s success in his first full year competing on the trails, he has still maintained the goal of trying to qualify for the marathon at the 2016 Olympic trials. He said USATF is this month opening its trials qualification period. He has from now until 30 days before the 2016 trials to run a 2:18 marathon to earn the “B” standard. A time of 2:15 would earn him the “A” standard.

“I plan on running one this winter, probably,” Canaday said. “I want to get under the time and get it out of the way.”

Running races that are double and much hillier than the traditional road marathon has also changed Canaday’s perspective. He said completing a 100K race has expanded his boundaries as to what type of mileage he can complete, and a 100-mile race is already on his mind.

He even has a new way of thinking about the marathon.

“I think of the marathon more as a short sprint race now,” he said with a chuckle.

Canaday said he has enjoyed the places ultra-running has taken him. He’s enjoyed a wide variety of landscapes in varying parts of the globe, and he’s even realized he’s pretty good at going extreme distances.

“I want to be as competitive as I can on the world scene,” he said.

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