It may be Sabrina Little’s first time racing the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, but she brings a decade of ultrarunning experience to this weekend’s starting line. In this interview, Sabrina talks about her background in trail and ultrarunning, her freak injury at February’s Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile, her preparation ahead of Lake Sonoma, and what she thinks of racing in a field as deep at this weekend’s.
Sabrina Little Pre-2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and we’re here outside of Healdsburg, California. It’s the day before the 2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. I’m with Sabrina Little. Hi, Sabrina!
Sabrina Little: Hi, thanks for talking to me.
iRunFar: I’ve stalked you online for a long time, but this is our first time meeting. It’s great to meet you.
Little: It’s great to meet you, too.
iRunFar: Lake Sonoma is a race that has drawn competition for quite a few years now, but this is the first time you’ve decided to jump in and give it a go. What brings you to Sonoma wine country?
Little: I’ve been following the race for a lot of years, and I’ve always wanted to come. This year I have my brothers in San Francisco, and I knew that some Hoka teammates were going to be here and one of my Rabbit teammates Ashley [Nordell]. It just seemed like the right year to jump in. I’m so excited.
iRunFar: You’re literally just arriving now. We’re here at deLorimier Winery, which is one of the Wilson [Artisan] Wineries—they’re a race sponsor. Wine—are you going to give it a little bit of a shot this weekend at least maybe after the race?
Little: I haven’t decided yet. I’ve had wine, and I’m not really the biggest fan of it yet. So, maybe something will change in the next 24 hours, but… I don’t know yet. It’s here.
iRunFar: Literally here.
Little: It’s on the branches, so maybe, or at least raisins to take advantage of all the grapes here.
iRunFar: So you’re saying there’s a chance.
iRunFar: Okay, Sabrina, this is iRunFar’s first time interviewing you, but you’re like an old-school ultra person at this point, yeah?
Little: Yeah, I guess I’ve been racing for 10 years.
iRunFar: You currently live in East Texas. You’re pursuing a PhD in philosophy, have I got that right?
Little: Philosophy, yes. I live in Waco.
iRunFar: What did I just say?
Little: East Texas. I think we’re Central Texas.
iRunFar: Sorry, Waco, I apologize.
LIttle: It’s Baylor University. I don’t really know the geography of Texas, so it could be.
iRunFar: Can you give us a little bit of background of how you decided to get into ultrarunning 10 years ago?
LIttle: Yeah, I was running for William and Mary University, and my favorite day was “long run day.” There was a period of time where I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay on the team, so over the summer I just started doing my own training. I made every day ‘long-run day’ since it was my favorite day. My mom was in remission from cancer, so I decided to run 100 miles as a fundraiser for a cancer coalition. It just went really well.
iRunFar: Can you define ‘well?’
Little: It was 15 hours or something.
iRunFar: Which race was that?
Little: It was just me running.
iRunFar: It was just you running a solo 100 miler? Amazing.
Little: Yeah, I didn’t know it was a sport at that time. Once it was put in the newspapers, I was contacted by a lot of people who told me it was a sport. Then I started looking into races. I did Mountain Masochist [50 Mile] and the Grindstone [100 Mile]. I got into the Virginia scene and some of the New York and New Jersey ones. I’ve been going since then.
iRunFar: Does that say something about your personality or maybe some of your inclination in your character that you ran 100 miles before knowing there was such a sport?
Little: I guess it’s a pretty good fit because we found each other, and then I learned it was a thing. I just love it. I love… I wouldn’t say I’m one of the adrenaline types that found the sport that way. I just like repeated activity and building disciplines and living a well-ordered life. The fruits of that happen to be running pretty far.
iRunFar: When I got to know your name and sort of started following you maybe five or six years ago, you were kind of deep into running really long races—100 milers, 24 hours. Perhaps recently, maybe this is my interpretation, you’re trending toward stuff that is 100 miles and shorter? Is that what’s going on?
Little: It is, yeah. I just got curious about fast stuff and fast training. I started doing more tempo runs—yeah, so getting curious about that side of the spectrum. My husband and I coach a track team and we’re always doing speedwork with them. It’s fun to be able to run with them and run fast and hard on a daily basis. That’s sort of incompatible with the kind of training I was doing for 24 hours. I also think over the long term it’s probably more sustainable. It sounds crazy to say, ‘I’ve become more moderate, so I run 100 miles now,’ but that’s actually what it is.
iRunFar: A lot of times ultrarunners get made fun of in multiple ways by track people and cross-country people and shorter-distance folks. You spend a lot of time with those people. You’ve coached high school for awhile now. What do you have to say about that when you hear it from the people you’re coaching and around?
Little: It used to bother me, but now I just say, it’s kind of like comparing ping pong and tennis. They’re on a different scope. It’s a weird thing to compare. The types of people who excel in running really long aren’t always the same people who can run a really quick miles. Excellence in one thing and excellence in the other, they’re both excellent on their own without having to compare them.
iRunFar: Earlier this year, you started off your 2017 season with a run of Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile. It’s a race you’re not unfamiliar with. How many times have you run Rocky?
Little: This was my third.
iRunFar: It was an unfamiliar finish for you a couple hours slower than maybe what is usual for you?
Little: Yes, it was the weirdest race of my life. If I wasn’t there… if there weren’t people who were also there, I’d say, ‘No, that didn’t actually happen.’ I got really tired. I drank a lot of soda. I’m not a soda drinker, so it just transformed me into an ogre. I lost the ability to eat for awhile, so my back muscles got weak. I finished folded in half, an actual ogre. Nothing like that has ever happened. I don’t think it will in the future. I’ve done a lot of planks and core work to strengthen my back. I will never drink that much soda ever again. I’ve learned.
iRunFar: What kind of volume are we talking about?
Little: It was probably two liters, and then I started mixing it with coffee which was insalubrious.
iRunFar: Amazing. You not only finished doubled over, you ran… we got a couple reports from the course that you were running doubled over, too.
Little: My legs were still working. I wasn’t running very quickly.
iRunFar: It was the running motion?
Little: But at that point, once you’re 90 miles into the race, you’re pretty invested, so I didn’t want to quit. Honestly, as soon as I got food in me again and sat down, my back went to normal.
iRunFar: Isn’t that amazing? We’re a couple months later now—that was early February and we’re mid-April—literally no side effects from that?
Little: No, last year when I recovered from Rocky Raccoon, it took two to three days. This year it took two to three weeks of kind of getting back into running form. I’ve only started to feel quickness again the past couple weeks. Recovery was definitely a lot longer from that one.
iRunFar: Was it your back or other things?
Little: I just was slow. My back was fine; every thing was fine. There was no reason. I just felt a malaise hanging over from the race.
iRunFar: Last year you ran Cayuga Trails [50 Mile]. Now you’re here in Lake Sonoma. The courses are a little bit different but kind of comparably hilly 50 milers. Have you made your training specific toward what you’re going to encounter tomorrow?
Little: Yeah, mores than I did for Cayuga. This year, I’m working with David Roche.
iRunFar: He knows the territory here.
Little: He knows the territory. He’s been focusing on having me be really intentional in downhills and also doing more stacking up of long runs back to back. I’ve incorporated more leg lifting. I feel like my legs are better seasoned than they have been in the past. His focus is also more aerobic efficiency, so I’ve done a lot of tempo-style work or pick-ups in the middle of long runs and things like that.
iRunFar: I’ve seen a lot of race results for you over the years, but outside of running the IAU 24 World Championships, you very rarely face a field of women as deep as you’re going to encounter tomorrow. Have you given that any thought?
Little: Yeah, I am so excited. That’s what I love about running. I love competing and striving with people. I’m not necessarily competitive, like, Oh, I have to win, but I love being able to look to my left and look to my right and be sharing it with someone. When I’m in Texas, it’s mostly time trailing or I’ll try to compete with the men more. I’m so excited. These women are incredible and people I look up to, so I’m excited to run with them.
iRunFar: Do you have any strategy you’re bringing to tomorrow’s race? You’ve probably looked at profiles and gotten the down low on the course from David and others?
Little: David’s race plan is, ‘Smile your face off and make sure it’s a joyful thing. Running is absurd. This whole thing is absurd. Remember that in the moment and don’t take it too seriously.’ Also, on the logistical side, not going out too hard… I’ve heard that a lot of people significantly slow on the return. They call it the ‘race of 1,000 paper cuts by hills.’
iRunFar: ‘Oh, another bad hill. Oh, another bad hill.’
Little: Yeah, I guess just to run within myself and make sure my heart rate doesn’t get too crazy on the out so I can really enjoy the back, and then make sure I’m eating really well early in the race.
iRunFar: I’m looking forward to seeing you race. I don’t know if you’re looking forward to it, too, hopefully?
Little: Yes, I’m really looking forward to it.
iRunFar: I’ve followed you online and tracked you at a lot of different races over the years, but I think this is my first time watching you race in person. I’m looking forward to it. Good luck tomorrow!
Little: Thanks so much.
iRunFar: See you out there.