Transvulcania Race Report (2014)

May 14, 2014 | By | 41 Replies More




“When you get to the top of The Volcano you can stop.”

These words became my mantra as I struggled to negotiate the technical rocks of La Palma’s GR-131 trail route. I had ascended about 11,000 feet of vertical in the past 24 miles and had accumulated a significant amount of fatigue. It was a journey that started level with the crashing waves of the Atlantic at the Fuencaliente Lighthouse up through pine tree forests and 20-30% grade slopes that resembled giant anthills of slippery sand…a lot of sand. And then there was the stunning sunrise view, whose first rays of light illuminated an expansive panoramic of the horizon framed by the majestic mountain of nearby island Tenerife: A 3000m peak that seemingly floated on a mythical sea of mist above an ocean blanket of clouds that inevitably blurred with the actual ocean. I was in paradise but my body felt like Hell.


Opening up a gap on the most runnable and fastest section of trail. Photo Credit: James McCormac

Opening up a gap on the most runnable and fastest section of trail. Photo Credit: James McCormac


“This is the end, my race is over…”

I came to terms with what I rationalized would be a logical DNF. Just like last year, I seemingly ‘blew a gasket’ at nearly the exact same point just over halfway into the 45-mile Transvulcania Ultra Marathon. My lead on eventual champion Luis Alberto and runner-up Killian Jornet had diminished from 4 minutes to 40 seconds in a matter of 10km. Perhaps out of sheer stupidity and stubbornness and I had tried to climb hard like a bat out of hell after taking the lead 4.5 miles into the race. So far I had bested my aid-station splits from the previous year by a couple minutes. It was a risky strategy that I knew had a high potential to backfire, but I reasoned that if I had flown halfway around the world I wasn’t going to run a conservative race! In my mind distance running is about pushing the envelope of preconceived “limits,” and sometimes that involves erratic pacing tactics.

The some views on the initial volcanic rock climbs that take your breath away. Photo Credit: Nico Schefer

The some views on the initial volcanic rock climbs that take your breath away. (We ran this a couple days before the race: L to R: Florian, Ryan Ghelfi, Me, Nico Schefer, David Laney
Photo Credit: Nico Schefer





wish I had this much energy during the race!

wish I had this much energy during the race!

I first knew something was amiss when I started seeing the fuzzy outline of flashing “stars” appearing in the middle of my sunglasses A sudden wave of disorientation and despair accompanied this hallucination as it manifested itself with a narrowing and darkening of peripheral vision…a phenomenon that I usually experience right before fainting. I was deep in the pain cave and the thought of finishing became an incomprehensible challenge.


“Just make it to the top, then you can sit in a chair in the air conditioned pasta tent and drink an ice cold beer. You can get a ride back down to the finish line and become a spectator. That wouldn’t be so bad, would it?”

I formed a plan in my mind with how I would orchestrate my DNF. Aside from the inevitable “shame” and disappointment of letting down loved ones and sponsors (as well as the loss of points in the SkyRunning Ultra World Series) it seemed quite justifiable: I was still recovering from Lake Sonoma 4 weeks prior; I hadn’t arrived a week early on the island to acclimate and train on the course; I had barely done more climbing in a single week than what the course was about to dish out in less than a quarter of a day! The excuses accumulated faster than the irritable grains of sand in my Hokas. Considering I still had a gnarly technical descent of 8,000 feet and 20 miles to go before the finish in Los Llanos it would be silly to risk falling and shredding my skin (or worse breaking a leg!), RIGHT?

Out of sheer desperation I pounded 3 Vfuel gels all at once. Luis and Killian came flying past me like I was standing still. It was on a solid, runnable uphill section of trail (my favorite!). I was amazed at the speed in which they gapped me while climbing at a seemingly impossible intensity. Usually when people pass you on an uphill they go by slowly!  Unlike last year where I maintained a brief amount of contact for several kilometers they were quickly out of sight within minutes this time. I was alone with my thoughts, waiting to be gobbled up by the other competitors.

I had no idea at the time, but it turned out that my biggest opponent for the next 3 hours would be myself.

The energy from my blast of gels started kicking in along with the heat of the day. As I negotiated more rolling technical rock sections before the final push up to the 8,000+ foot summit I desperately craved salt and pasta. I reached into my fuel belt for salt pills and much to my dismay found them missing! [Many runners later told me that they saw my bag full of salt pills, a gin-gin and my electrolyte tablets in the middle of the trail as they had presumably fallen out of my velcro-sealed belt pocket]. This was another tremendous mental blow for me as physically salt was the number one thing I craved. I grabbed a large cookie at the next aid station in desperation…it was quite sweet but I was breathing too hard to get it all down. I ran with that giant cookie for a good kilometer though!

When I finally reached the highest point on the course at Roque de los Muchachos my plan to stop racing seemingly dissolved. The excitement from all the spectators cheering me onwards, my local running shop crew support from Riverol Running Store on La Palma (via sponsor Compressport) made it impossible for me to justify quitting just then. I glanced back downwards at the ridge line, anticipating a pack of runners hungry to gobble me up at any moment but was shocked to see just the stillness of the rocks along the rolling horizon. Still in search of salt I demolished a ham and cheese sandwich (pulling out the ham since I am vegetarian) as I left the aid station. I figured I could at least continue to stumble downhill to the next aid station before dropping out…


“Don’t fall and hold onto the final podium spot!”

The plummet down to sea level from 8,000 feet happened mostly in about 8 miles. There were technical rocky sections that made me shudder with trepidation. Despite my earlier thoughts of despair and the fact that the heat of the sun intensified, I grew more confident that I could actually reach the finish! The rest was a blur of dehydration, too many glances back to see where 4th place might be, and carrying a banana up a dried up river bed (this new, 2km section of the course was quite sandy and technical as it replaced the paved road from prior years). The craving for salt and water was almost too debilitating, but the sight of the ocean below became a target that I could extract positive energy from.


The last few hundred feet of descent into the last aid station at Tazacorte. It was hot! Photo Credit: Nico Schefer

The last few hundred feet of descent into the last aid station at Tazacorte. It was hot! Photo Credit: Nico Schefer

“I can’t believe I made it!”

As always the final 1000 foot climb during the last 2.5 miles to the finish line was brutal. I glanced back in fear and saw (what I thought was the 4th place runner) gaining on me. Remembering the pain of Rob Krar passing me in the final mile of Lake Sonoma, I was determined to not relinquish my final podium spot so late in the race! During the final kilometer on the roads a motorcycle cop with flashing lights and a siren escorted me along, but I still kept glancing back over my shoulder in fear. Finally, with 400m to go I enjoyed the energy of the crowd by clipping my handheld to my chest and extending my arms to give simultaneous high-fives to the hundreds of cheering spectators that lined the finishing stretch on both sides of the road. The island of La Palma is always so welcoming and the atmosphere at the finish is electrifying. When I crossed the finish line in 3rd place, the announcer of the event, Depa handed me a large bottle of champagne which I quickly opened and started guzzling. Luis and Killian were still hanging around the finish area and we took some pictures together and congratulated one another. It took a moment before I could register the physical toil of such an intense 7-hour effort. I have a strong feeling that this race will stay with me for life.

Photo Credit: Ian Coreless.

Photo Credit: Ian Coreless.

In closing, I’d like to thank the island and people of La Palma for being so friendly, energetic and welcoming. I think this bodes well for the future health of the sport. The local organizing committee (including Depa and Angel), race aid station volunteers and SkyRunning all made this a very special experience for me as well. Finally, I’d like to thank my sponsors, my girlfriend Sandi and my family, and people like YOU for supporting me to be able to make such trips possible!


beautiful towns and scenery on this island!

beautiful towns and scenery on this island!

relaxing on the beach with some ice cold Avery beers!

relaxing on the beach with some ice cold Avery beers!



Podium for the ultra. Photo Credit: Jose Fernandez Arozena

Podium for the ultra. Photo Credit: Jose Fernandez Arozena: 



Thanks for reading and see you on the trails,



Gear-used and sponsor plugs:

Shoes: HOKA One One Huakas (to be released in July 2014)

Nutrition: Flora Health “7 sources” (recovery and general health), Ugo Bars (energy bars for recovery and pre-race), Vfuel gels during race (about 20 peach cobbler).

Calf sleeves and compression for racing and recovery: Compressport

Fluid bottles, belt and pack: Ultimate Direction handhelds, Jurek Essential, and AK Race Vest. 

Socks: Drymax Socks: Max Protection Running (the orange ones)

Shades: Smith Optics Pivlock V2

GPS watch and data/training tracking:

Post Race Celebration: Avery Brewing beers

Recovery, Flexibility and Body work (massage): Jeff Paulson at RallySport in Boulder

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Category: blog

About the Author ()

2-time Olympic Trials Qualifier, Mountain runner, Author of "Running For The Hansons," trail runner, videos for Vo2max Productioins, LLC.

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  1. FlandriaRuns says:

    Lots of awesomeness in this report…that’s victory in itself. Congrats!

  2. Shelby says:

    This was such an enjoyable race report, Sage. I like getting the play-by-play drama of having salt pills missing, planning a DNF and then going for the finish and seeing the beauty of your surroundings in the midst of the pain cave. It’s great to see someone push their limits, take big risks and not wallow in self-pity when it doesn’t play out as well as they’d hoped. It’s funny to me that a bad day for you elites means a top-10 finish; for me, it’s stressing about cutoffs!

    You “lose” well and are still very inspirational! Proud of you for gutting it out, Champ!

  3. SageCanaday says:

    Hey thanks so much!

  4. SageCanaday says:

    Hey thanks Shelby! There wasn’t much play-by-play when I discovered my salt pills missing. It was like: 1. crap, 2. another excuse to DNF, 3. Wait, what can I do about this? 4. I’m going to try eating solid food. I went into the aid stations saying “salto” which I thought meant salt at the time (I think it means “jump” though?). My plan was simple: Finish as best I could! Thanks for the support

  5. Vern Lovic says:

    I don’t know… after that tough a race, I’d probably have started licking the sweat off runners coming by just to get some salt in my body. I know the craving, and it’s maddening!

    Excellent run Sage. Loved reading about how you persevere through the downtime and make it through the entire race in spite of a mindset that is providing you with everything you need to quit. Somehow, in a few seconds, the entire situation changes. This happens often with me on runs up my local trails (Thailand).

    Cheers man! Best of luck for the rest of 2014!

  6. Robinson says:

    Bravo! Bravîssimo! Amazing report of an amazing performance! Congrats, Sage! As you once said, consistency is the name of the game. You are getting better and better!! Go Sage!

  7. Mark Garrod (Active4Good) UK says:

    Great honest report Sage. Huge congratulations on another podium finish in the hardest Ultra of them all. Great achievement. You went for the win, and left it all out there on the course. Went for the win as all the greats do. Am sure you will come back from this even stronger.
    Was following the live updates on irunfar here in the UK, was interesting stuff.
    Well done Sage.

  8. John says:

    Great summary! Despite things not going as well as it can be, you fought like a champ. Your story is fascinating in that it reveals the mental drive and toughness you possess. A DNF was an option, but you didn’t settle for the known. Instead you pushed the limiit and seeked the unknown. A true spirit of a competitor and adventurer. Congrats on the performance. Keep up with the great work.

  9. SageCanaday says:

    Hey thanks so much Vern – yeah, that’s a common thing that us ultra runners have to fight: the self discipline to continue pushing when in pain and having doubts. It’s always nice to surprise yourself and find that your body has a bit more left than your mind! Enjoy the trails!

  10. SageCanaday says:

    Hey thank you! Yes, it is all about consistency and always learning. I’d like to think I’m making progress…slowly put surely!

  11. SageCanaday says:

    Hey thanks Mark – great to hear! It is always a tough battle when one’s emotions come to play with their physical limits. For sure, I wanted a win, but for now I’ll take a 3rd in that competitive field. Best of luck with your running as well!

  12. SageCanaday says:

    Hey thanks so much for the support! It was a battle (it always is), but I’m really glad I didn’t give up when the chips were down (And I was feeling down). I’ve Dnfed several times before…in a 3km race, a 10km race and the TNF 50 mile race. Sometimes this is the best mental test of all!

  13. Andy Reed says:

    Great report Sage! I met you and the gang briefly near El Pilar on your training run. I was the guy from Canada. Anyways, awesome effort to hang in there for third place. We hope to see you racing in Canada one if these days!

  14. Jonatan says:

    Yes, you’re right it means “jump”. XD Next time say “necesito sal” that stands for “I need salt”. You’ll be back here at Transvulcania next year?

  15. Mary Lou Guerreo says:

    I set my alarm for 4 a.m. to watch the finish! I remember your interview right after you crossed the finish line. It was a genuine thank you to the spectators, very inspiring race report! Congratulations!

  16. HeatherD says:

    Oh…my favorite race past time…listing reasons to DNF…always gets me to the next aid station. Great job to push through and maintain a podium place. I don’t know why I never thought of wearing the Jurek belt with a vest. I will have to try that because I never feel like my vest has enough space in the front pockets and that belt has a ton of space. Thanks for the Compressport tip. I bought the quadrant sleeves at the Pittsburgh expo. They are awesome for recovery.

  17. SageCanaday says:

    Hey Andy, thanks so much! Hope your race went well? Great to see you up there on the hill! Best of luck with your future racing and training – for sure I want to run in Canada one day!

  18. SageCanaday says:

    ha ha, yes I need to work on my basic Spanish…a lot! I’d love to come back and spend more time on the island training to (hopefully) race better. Thanks again for all the support!

  19. SageCanaday says:

    wow, that’s dedication! Thanks for all the support!

  20. SageCanaday says:

    Hey thanks so much Heather! Great to hear about the Compressport sleeves. Yeah, I like carrying a handheld still if I can and the pockets on the vest are great for stuffing gel wrappers and my headlamp in! This race required carrying a blanket and a cell phone as well so I threw them in the back. The belt is great for gels and usually has plenty of space. Thank you again for all the support!

  21. Ben says:

    Hey Sage, great work! Sorry it didn’t quite work out again but hey, its a podium finish right! No doubt you’ll be stacking up titles again soon. The whole DNF internal monologue made me laugh but I guess when the darkness comes we all forget the race is mostly with ourselves, haha. It must be great to be part of such an amazing event. How is champagne as a recovery drink? 🙂 Keep it coming!


  22. olivier says:

    I would like to thank you for your YouTube video about
    Running form correct technique and tips to run faster.
    I already used , generally speaking, the right techniques
    but , as in most matters, details make the difference.
    During my 10 kilometers trail this morning, I just
    had the feeling to fly – just amazing – without pushing
    my body more than usual.
    I am not a competitor, just a lonely trail runner.

    Again, thank you.

  23. Luis GBB says:

    Great inspiring report, congratulations ! Your mental strength is as solid as your physical one !!
    As a Canarian, I want to do this race, next year – even if I have to finish crawling from Tazacorte to Los Llanos 🙂
    Will you try a more conservative approach next time you participate ?

  24. Roby says:

    Hi Sage,

    I read your report and it is quite inspiring, a serious inside of what a Pro Runner like you goes through during a race and how an strong mind and will can get us out of anywhere.

    You’ve inspired us once again! You’ve showed us the way with your words and actions! Thank you for being a role model, for believe in yourself and what you’re doing and for believe in us!

    Now rest, cuz in 12 days you’ll be visiting our beautiful country and we want you ad Sandy to enjoy!!

    Happy trails coach!

    PS: We can work some spanish while you’re here!

  25. Billy Yang says:

    Glad I got to hear about the race directly from you on the show and now reading it about it greater detail. Congrats again on gutting out a tough race en route to a podium finish. You guys definitely have me wanting to do this race some time!

  26. Ryan Alberti says:

    How high up were you in that last picture? The background may be deceptive, but it started to make my palms a bit sweaty just looking at it…Amazed at your efforts and ability to hang in the pain cave for so long…provides a good reminder that all is not lost in moments of despair.

  27. SageCanaday says:

    Hey thanks Ben! I was pretty happy just to finish and not get caught by anyone else. Champagne is not a great recovery drink (I usually go with beer). But it was ice cold and I was super hot and thirsty so a couple swigs were great!

  28. SageCanaday says:

    Hey Olivier, Great to hear you like the YouTube running form video! Thanks for watching. Also, congrats on feeling better with your form on the run…it’s all about having fun and enjoying the trails!

  29. SageCanaday says:

    Thanks Luis. It is a must-do race! I’m still thinking about my approach for next year. I think spending more time training for the climb will allow me to perform better (hopefully).

  30. SageCanaday says:

    Hey thanks so much Roby! Can’t wait to meet you in Costa Rica and enjoy the trails with you there! Sandi and I both need to really work on our Spanish. Thank you again for all the support!

  31. SageCanaday says:

    hey thanks Billy! Yeah, this race a totally different challenge from Lake Sonoma

  32. SageCanaday says:

    Hey thanks! If you mean the picture over the water I’d say about 30 feet. The pictures on the trail/volcanic rock are taken right before El Pilar which is only about half way up the huge climb (still an elevation of about 6,000 feet).

  33. Jeff Dinkin says:

    Great write up! Also, I very much enjoyed the interview on GingerRunner the other night. Keep up the great work!

  34. Sean Connolly says:

    hey sage, just curious how many trail ultras are you doing this year? and how much time are you taking to train for Chicago this fall in prep for your Olympic trials qualification?

  35. Nikola says:

    Great report. Congratulations Sage!
    Cheers from Macedonia!

  36. Jes says:

    Great stuff Sage! I feel certain that you will have a great win soon!! What does your race calendar look like for the summer? Keep it up!

  37. SageCanaday says:

    Too many. It’s hard to say no to the races sometimes and I have to make some prize money! I’ve done about one every month. Right now I’m on a break from ultras but will do shorter mountain races before the Speedgoat 50km and The Rut 50km. Then i have 4 weeks to train for Chicago. It’s really not ideal. I might have to do more road and track stuff before the RUT so I can get back under 2:18 marathon shape as mountain running isn’t the same as that.

  38. SageCanaday says:

    Thanks for the support! Mt. WA this weekend, then Speedgoat 50km, maybe Pikes Peak Ascent then Rut 50km and then Chicago Marathon

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