The former Newberg High School cross-country standout is an emerging star in the ultra-marathon and mountain trail running world
Already an all-state cross-country runner at Newberg High School, an Ivy League 10,000-meter champion at Cornell and a two-time U.S. Olympic trials marathon competitor, Sage Canaday decided to give ultra-marathons and trail running a try in 2012.
Canaday saw immediate success, placing second in his ultra debut at the Chuckanut 50K in Washington in March and winning the Mt. Washington Road Race an all-uphill race in New Hampshire in an American record time (58:27) in June.
Canaday continued to impress the rest of the year, including a 12th-place finish at the World Mountain Running Championships in Italy and a runner-up showing in his 100K debut at the Ultra Race of Champions in Virginia, but almost unbelievably, he has been even busier and better in 2013.
Racing about once a month on tougher courses and even better competition, Canaday is racking up more wins and still breaking records as he ascends toward the pinnacle of the sport.
Ive kind of thrown myself full force into it and tried to get in as many experiences as possible and travel as much as possible, Canaday said. Ive been trying to train and recover and rest up for each race. Its a pretty vicious cycle, but Im pretty addicted to it now.
Not surprisingly, Canaday kicked off the year with a win, setting a new course record (8:13:49) at the USATF 100K ultra trail championships in Bandera, Texas, in January.
Embracing the international challenge, Canaday then won the 100K Tarawera Ultramarathon in New Zealand in March.
After returning to win the Lake Sonoma 50-mile in April again in course-record time (6:14) Canaday stepped up another level, entering his first-ever Skyrunner World Series event at the Tansvulcania Ultra-Marathon in the Canary Islands. In what he called a good learning experience, Canaday placed third in 7:09:57 against one of the strongest fields in the world, including event winner and 2012 Skyrunner World Series champions Kilian Jornet, who is universally recognized as the top athlete in the sport.
Canaday got back into the win column at the Cayuga Trails 50, a 50-mile race in Ithica, N.Y., in June, then picked up one of the biggest wins of his career July 27 at the Speedgoat 50K in Snowbird, Utah.
Although the conditions were more favorable for Canaday, he broke Journets record to win the event, which featured 11,000 feet in climb and tops out at 11,000 feet in elevation, in 5:08:07.
The steepness of the climb, a lot of the time it was 30 percent uphill grade, so you were basically hands on knees using your arms to try to crawl up the mountain, Canaday said. That made it a lot different. It was a lot more extreme than what Im used to and a lot longer. My pace was slower. It was a good experience with an extra-challenging race.
It was not only the biggest payday of his career, netting $2,500 for the win and $1,000 bonuses for being the first to the top of the first climb and setting the course record, but one of the most memorable.
About four miles into the event, Canaday turned the corner on a dirt road and came face to face with a pair of moose. Unsure of what to do, Canaday stepped to the side of the road. Shortly after, competitor Max King passed, scaring the moose with a yell and wave of his trekking poles, allowing Canaday to follow.
I lost the lead and I lost about 20 seconds because of that, Canaday said. That was a first.
The win gave Canaday a boost of confidence heading into his next race, the Sierre Zinal in Switzerland on Saturday, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary and is considered by many Europeans to be the toughest mountain race in the world.
In race previews, a lot of people predicted that I wouldnt be able to win, so that felt good to show that I could compete on a course with such extreme up-and-down and technical trails, Canaday said. I think it shows my training has been going in the right direction and that I can compete with the best in the world in a variety of different skyrunning events.
Canadays main focus the rest of the year will be on two main events, beginning with the Ultimate Race of Champions, which will take place in his back yard of Colorado, between Breckenridge and Vail in September. It will be his third Skyrunner World Series event, meaning that he will earn an international ranking for the first time.
He plans to finish the year at the North Face 50-mile national championship in December. It features on of the biggest prize purses in the sport, with $10,000 going to the winner, but proved to be a nightmare last year.
Canaday and some in the lead group took a wrong turn early on in the race and slick and muddy conditions eventually led to several falls, forcing him to withdraw.
It not only offers the chance at redemption, but with the big purse and exposure, success there could go a long way in helping him continue to live out his dream of being a full-time runner.