Sage Canaday is renowned as one of the most accomplished and diverse professional runners alive. With a storied career spanning road racing, ultra mountain runs, and everything in between, Sage has competed in a staggering multitude of distances and events. However, he's famously struggled to place in the upper ranks at the 100-mile distance. While some runners might choose to play to their strengths by selecting events they're confident in, Sage has developed a propensity for facing his greatest challenges head-on.
He's returned to racing with a vengeance in 2023, setting his sights on the grueling TDS UTMB race as his top objective for the year. Covering 90 miles of highly technical trails with over 30,000 feet of elevation gain along the way, this is precisely the type of race that he's struggled with previously—but he won't let that dissuade him.
Sage has, unfortunately, had substantial practice developing his fortitude and grit in recent years. In 2021, he dealt with tremendous adversity in his personal life. After experiencing several symptoms culminating with difficulty breathing, he was diagnosed in the ER with bilateral pulmonary embolism—blood clots in both lungs. Later that same year, Sage's apartment, which he shared with partner Sandi Nypvaer, burned down in a tragic fire in downtown Boulder that destroyed 83 units.
"I think what's helped me persevere through some of these challenges and adversities: knowing that other people I've met in the endurance athletic community also have faced challenges in life," said Sage. "Everyone kind of goes through life, and there's something that comes up. Hopefully not, but everyone's fighting these different battles, so you're not alone. So knowing that, having the support of people in the community reaching out, especially after the health issues, supporting our local coaching business, or even [leaving] a comment on a Strava activity or on social media has really helped me get through the health issues."
Sage credits his fantastic support network with helping him weather these challenges. Both family and friends proved immensely supportive, and his sponsors continued supporting him through this dark period. "I know for a lot of people—something bad happens, [and they] don't necessarily have that big network of support. There's obviously a lot of atrocities going on all over the world every day."
"It kind of puts things in perspective," he continues."Knowing that perspective, like, this really sucks. This was a life-threatening illness that could have killed me. It's taken away a lot of my lung function and my competitive edge so far. But at the same time, I'm still thankful that I [can] run. I still have my legs. I'm still able to move pretty well in the mountains and do what I love."
While Sage still deals with pain and reduced lung capacity from the scarring in his lungs, how much it will impact his competitiveness remains to be seen. He started 2022 on a high note by setting a new FKT on Hawaii's Haleakala volcano in January, with a stunning round-trip time of 7h 6m 29s. This effort also included an additional FKT on the ascent route to the summit.
All Eyes on the TDS
While the TDS is one of the lesser-known races in the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) festival, it's renowned as one of the most technical trail running races in Chamonix and—by extension—the world. Sage has been training hard for the TDS by running up and down Colorado's rugged 14,000-foot mountains and taking on additional challenges like running a "SoftRock" tour on the brutal Hardrock 100 course in Silverton, Colorado. As a self-professed lover of social media, all of Sage's workouts are posted on his Strava account. While some racers are more secretive with their training, Sage shares a substantial amount of information about his workouts, including tips and adventure videos on his YouTube channel, Vo2maxProductions.
"The first goal in these long ultras is just to finish," says Sage. "The second goal, of course, is to try to finish strong. I've traditionally struggled over a hundred kilometers in race distance. I've done a lot of 100-kilometer [races], 50-milers, and 50ks and below. But the hundred-mile distance, which this race is—I think it's only 92 miles, but it's close enough," he says with a laugh. "The challenge of the distance is definitely there. There's also a lot of climbing involved."
The technical nature of the race can't be understated. "There's some rockfall danger and exposure even. So it'll be a big mountain adventure." This isn't just a hypothetical danger, either. In 2021, a racer fell on the descent of the Passeur de Pralognan and died from his injuries.
Coaching, Content Creation, and Other Endeavors
Sage is a true Renaissance man with a slew of irons in the metaphorical fire. In addition to his professional racing career, collaborations with brand sponsors like CamelBak, his YouTube channel, and a wide array of social media accounts, he also runs a coaching business with his partner Sandi Nypaver: Higher Running. And that's not all: he's had a book published in the past and written and self-published ebooks through his coaching business in recent years.
While even listing that amount of work is tiring, he doesn't seem phased by the number of responsibilities he's juggling. Instead, he loves every bit of it. However, after 25 years of running, many other racers transition from competition to other pursuits—but what's Sage's take?
"I'm 37 now," says Sage. "I'm still trying to maximize my athletic potential as much as I can, even after the pulmonary embolism. But I guess I've always realized [that] as a professional athlete, there needs to be a shift in your career as you get older. Eventually, you can't compete with guys in their twenties and thirties, maybe. So that's kind of been a hard reality for me. I think the pulmonary embolism setback made that happen maybe a little sooner than I wanted it to happen. But right now, I'm focusing on training a lot."
While Sage doesn't have any plans to give up racing just yet—as his commitment to the TDS shows—he does envision content production becoming a more significant part of his portfolio over time. "I love making content. Some of it's silly, some of it's serious training advice, some of it's all over the place. And I love all the social media platforms. So in the future, I do like shifting more to content creation." Even for the past several years, he's toed the line "between being an elite athlete that posts on social media versus being an influencer that posts on social media." Admittedly, the line continues to grow ever blurrier, but Sage has proven that it's possible to blend those two lives quite seamlessly.
"I like trying to tell stories on a different course," he continues. "We just did SoftRock last week, which is doing the Hardrock 100 course over three or four days, which was great." He also films athlete videos with his teammates, coaching advice, tips and tricks, and more.
"I think that's probably the distant future: working on the media side," he concludes.
Whatever the future holds for Sage Canaday, it's guaranteed to be exciting—we'll be watching the updates from TDS closely! If you want to keep up with all of Sage's other exploits, be sure to follow him on Strava and YouTube or find him on your social media platform of choice.