When Sabrina Stanley discovered long distance trail running, she had found her calling and wanted to be the best at it. From the jump she made it a goal to tackle the most competitive mountain 100-mile races in the world. Her first 100-mile finish was at the Leadville 100 where she came in 4th place. She followed that with a 2nd place finish at the Sean O’Brien 100K, earning herself a Golden Ticket and a spot in Western States. Western States was her second 100-mile finish, she was 3rd female and 21st overall. Since then Sabrina has had several top finishes. The last ten ultras she has lined up at, she walked away with the win. Most notably she is the 2018 Hardrock 100 Champion, and the first American to win Diagonal Des Fous, the world’s largest 100-mile race.
After all that you've accomplished, what drives you to continue running?
I’m not the best trail runner in the world. That’s the one and only goal that matters. All the accomplishments are just steppingstones to a much bigger dream.
How do you motivate yourself on days when you don't feel like running?
I think back to how bad I wanted the career I have now, when all I had under my name was one Leadville 100 DNF. I skipped a lot of training runs when I was going into that race, I can’t afford mentally for that type of failure to happen again, so I get out for my runs. On particularly challenging days, I ask my boyfriend Avery to run with me or at least have him give me a pep talk to get out the door.
What are your goals for the upcoming year?
2017 and 2018 I was just getting into the sport, I wanted to race competitively and signed up for one or two races that I thought fit the bill. 2019 I only raced races that I knew would have at least 50-finishers and made more of an effort to do training races with a higher level of recognition than I had in previous years. 2020 my goal is to do more international racing while increasing my speed in ultras under 100K. Hopefully making a name for myself on the world scale as a threat at any start line.
What's it like to finish top 3 in a race like Western States?
When I finished 3rd at Western it was only my 2nd 100-mile finish. It left me thinking what can I accomplish in the future? I will be back to win Western. My training leading into Western was a nightmare. I know I am capable of so much more on that course, and plan on proving it in time.
Would you ever consider running the Barkley's marathon?
Barkley is a different race. The race distance isn’t known. I find it hard to believe that Gary Robbins can’t finish 60-hours, if it is a true 100. From speculation it’s closer to 130+. It involves navigating and a scavenger hunt. It’s a game, not a 100-mile race. I specialize in 100-mile mountain races. With that being said I love a good challenge. If I did Barkley, I would move to Tennessee and train on course for at least 6-months. I’d do the race on repeat until I completed it. If I didn’t finish the first time, I couldn’t mentally move on until I did complete it. This could mean I’m living in Tennessee for years. I can’t do that at this point in my career, it doesn’t help advance any of my goals in the sport of ultra-racing.
Would you prefer an easy course with terrible weather or a hard course with perfect weather?
Is hard course with terrible weather an option? The tougher the better. I want to find my breaking point again. With my lack of quality miles and naivety, I found it at Leadville 100 during my first attempt, but I haven’t found it since then. Now my knowledge of in race nutrition, pacing, and quality training force that breaking point farther and farther away. The intoxicating feeling of pushing your body to it’s breaking point for 24+ hours is something I am constantly in search off. I know that I can run Western, Leadville, Hardrock. I long to find that race that breaks me. Maybe Hardrock with an insane blizzard? I’ve had my eye on TOR, and I think that’s the only race that could deliver what I am in search off. Yet, I can’t find it in me to pull the trigger. The fear of taking 6+ months off to recover after the race is something I am not willing to commit to at this time.
What has been your most memorable race to date?
Leadville 100 in 2015. It was my first attempt at 100-miles and I missed the time cut-off at mile 87, after a hellish 6 hours of hallucinating and dealing with levels of pain I’d never encountered, that led me to try crawling (which only made it worse). I learned so many lessons from that race, the most important being; I will never allow myself to fail another race in my life. The memory of that race is a constant presence in my running and pushes me while training. I learned firsthand what happens when you show up to a race unprepared and I refuse to let it happen again.
What does your weight training consist of and which exercise do you feel helps your running the most?
In the Winter I typically incorporate five days of lifting. Although the immediate effects of leg day have a negative impact on my running, the long-term gains are worth it. My leg days consist of weighted squats, weighted lunges, leg press, leg extensions, and leg curls. This year that will change since the closest gym is an hour away over a mountain pass. I’ll be incorporating more body weight exercises that can be done at home.
What's the weirdest or funniest thing that ever happened to you while running?
Avery and I were out on a Spring trail run on the back side of Emerald Mountain in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. A ptarmigan came out of the brush and started chasing us. Shocked, we stopped to shoo him off, but he wasn’t scared and started pecking at our ankles. We sprinted down the trail trying to lose him, every time we thought we were finally safe, we’d turn around and there he was coming around the corner chasing us again. This scene played out for 20 to 30 minutes. He was persistent. I thought he was protecting a nest, but the amount of terrain he was patrolling was absurd. Eventually we crossed to the front side of the mountain and outran him.
What's your favorite types of fuel before a race?
It changes with time, but today the answer is scrambled eggs and potatoes. It’s tested and true. I feel full but not too full, and I know my stomach reacts to it well.
What's your favorite cheat food & drink?
I love desserts, but if I had a wish it would be that I could indulge in beverages with alcohol more often. Not for any crazy reason, but a glass of wine occasionally would be nice. When I’m training, I notice the effects of just one beer or one mixed drink, the next day or two while running. Due to this I rarely sit back with a glass of beer/wine.
What trail has been your favorite to race at?
Diagonal Des Fous 100-miler takes the cake, without question. The steepness and technicality of the trails is unmatched. Ultra-running is a popular sport on the island and everyone follows the race. The love the locals show for the race is something I have never experienced in trail running, they are true fans of the sport. I wish the race was easier to travel to, so I could squeeze it into my race schedule more often.
Have you ever ran an ultra uncrewed?
I’ve done a couple 50K's uncrewed and one 100K.
What was the biggest difficulty you had to overcome?
The 100K was Sean O’Brien and crew's weren’t allowed. It was one of the best races I’ve had. I was racing to get to the finish and see my “crew”. I didn’t want them waiting on me too long and wanted to surprise them with an abnormally fast finish. I ended up getting a Golden Ticket and finished 2nd. The biggest challenge was, I thought I would have my crew at certain aid stations spectating. Every time I ran into an aid, I was looking for familiar faces, but there were none. I’d race to the next aid eager to see them, but each time I was disappointed. The goal then became to get to the next aid station as fast as possible, and hopefully they would be there, but it never happened. It was a blessing in disguise, because it gave me a push to complete each section faster than I maybe would have if I was focused on my pacing.
Do you like ice baths?
I have used them, but not too frequently. Some people swear by them and others don’t notice a difference. From the research I’ve done, an extremely hot bath or sauna session can work just as well as an ice bath. I find the heat methods much more enjoyable, so I tend to go that route when given the option.
In your free time when you’re not running, what other hobby’s do you enjoy?
Reading is a hobby that has always been a big passion of mine. The amount of time I spend doing it waxes and wanes depending on the season, but a good book is always a welcomed friend to me. I enjoy writing but don’t do it nearly as much as I’d like. I ski occasionally in the winter, again, this is only a small handful of times each season. I wouldn’t classify my running a hobby. It is my life’s work. If I am not running, I am reading about it, coaching it, writing about it, or studying it. Others may not understand the drive or my passion for the sport, but to be where I want to be, there is no option to cut corners.
What's the most important tip you like to give new runners?
Your mind is lying to you. You aren’t in pain.
When it comes to running, what would you say is your biggest strength and weakness?
Strength: I’m driven. I’m hyper-focused and know exactly where I want to be tomorrow, next month, in a year, 5 years…you get the point. This isn’t just a fun passion of mine. It’s something I want more than anything in the world. Nothing is an accident or luck. I put a ton of time into planning my race schedule, my training, and my strategy during the race. I don’t race for kicks; I race to win. There is no other acceptable outcome. Weakness: haha…what kind of competitor would I be if I just put my weaknesses on display? Nope. If someone wants that information, they need to start studying my races.
Who is someone you look up to in the sport?
I like to focus on my own goals, and training. I try not to follow other runners in the sport. When I did follow other competitive runners, it put unnecessary stress in my life. I was constantly analyzing if I should be racing as much as so and so, if I should be targeting FKT’s, should my workouts be more intense, or less intense. It’s so easy to slip into a mindset that you should be accomplishing X, Y and Z because others are. That’s not healthy. I prefer one goal that I fully indulge in, and not let all the fluff on the internet distract me.
Who is one of your favorite athletes to train with?
I really love training alone. I do run with Avery from time to time depending on where we each are in our respective training blocks. It’s nice to have that one person to run with who can push you out the door on days when you aren’t 100% on board with putting in the miles.
If you could compete in one non ultra race, which would it be?
NYC Marathon and Boston are both on my list. I am not sure when those races will happen or if they ever will. I can’t see myself taking the time to train for a road marathon, nor do I want to run a road marathon if I am not in top marathon form. While I am able to compete in ultras, I plan on putting everything I can into being successful in my sport. Focusing on a road marathon would only take away from what I am trying to accomplish in ultras.
What can you tell us about Power Couple Coaching?
Avery Collins and I started Power Couple Coaching to work with athletes who want to test their limits in the ultra-distance. We take on a small handful of runners each year and make personalized training plans to help them accomplish their goals.
What's next for Sabrina Stanley?
There are so many amazing races I want to do in 2020. As of right now I am only signed up for Hardrock, but I am flirting with the idea of doing Transvulcania and CCC. We shall see!
Click the links below to keep up with Sabrina Stanley
Published November 22, 2019