Sabrina Stanley had a breakout performance in taking third at the 2017 Western States 100. In the following interview, Sabrina talks about her running background, how she has rapidly improved her running ability over the past year, how the race dynamic played out from her perspective, and what it was like to finish on the podium at an event like Western States. (You can watch her finish here.)
For more on what happened during the race, check out our 2017 Western States results article.
Sabrina Stanley Post-2017 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and we’re here in Auburn, California. It’s the day after the 2017 Western States 100. I’m with women’s third place finisher, Sabrina Stanley. Hey, girl.
Sabrina Stanley: Hi, how’s it going?
iRunFar: Good, how are you?
Stanley: Good… sore, but good.
iRunFar: Yeah, we had a little hobble-walk over here, but all in all, you look like you’re fairly put together.
Stanley: Yeah, no major injuries, a few blisters, but other than that, everything went pretty smooth.
iRunFar: I have to ask, I haven’t seen you race before, and I don’t know much about you. Who the heck is Sabrina Stanley? Who the heck is this women’s podium finisher?
Stanley: I just read about Leadville 100 one day, attempted it, failed miserably.
iRunFar: Is this true? What year was that?
Stanley: That was 2015. My training wasn’t where it should have been. So then I ran it in 2016 and took fourth. Then, I started dating Avery Collins and started training with him and seeing his daily routine and what it takes to be an elite. I did [the] Sean O’Brien [100k] for a Golden Ticket, got it, and so here I am.
iRunFar: Yeah, on paper, it looked like 22-something-hours at Leadville is a solid run, but, then, your run at Sean O’Brien—fast time amidst or right behind fast girls and right ahead of other fast women. It looked like a big step up in terms of performance.
Stanley: Yes, I trained all winter in Steamboat in the snow, and, then, it was a really rainy year in Malibu, and so we went through a lot of muck. I think the harder the course and the more miserable for everyone else plays to my advantage, because I know I’m not a speedster. So if it’s miserable conditions, I think it plays to me well.
iRunFar: I think the conditions of yesterday probably suited you pretty well, too.
Stanley: Yeah, when I heard it was going to be over 100, I was like, “Yes, thank you!” I wanted everyone else to be in as much pain as possible, because when you go to that spot of pain, I do really well there. That’s where I make my home. I think others dwell on how much pain they’re in, and I’m like, “Okay, let’s do this.” I think the snow and the heat combined really got me to the podium for sure.
iRunFar: Somebody said earlier in the week that this looked like a race of ice and fire, and in the end that’s exactly what it turned out to be in terms of conditions.
Stanley: Definitely. They told us how much snow, but I was like, “No way.” The snow wasn’t normal snow, because it was still 60 degrees out, so it was slushy and you were sliding down the hill.
iRunFar: Super rotten.
Stanley: Yeah, and I think a lot of people couldn’t handle it.
iRunFar: I want to ask you a little more about how the race played out, but since this is our first time interviewing you, I’d love to get to know you and your background in running. You said you ran your first ultra in 2015?
iRunFar: What came before that? You must have been a runner of some sort.
Stanley: I grew up in Washington State and just started doing half marathons and, then, advanced to marathons. A friend of mine recommended the book, Lore of Running, and I read it cover to cover. That’s where I heard of Leadville.
iRunFar: Let the addiction start.
Stanley: I moved to Breckenridge having no idea that Leadville was next door. When I found that out, I was like, If other people can do it, I can, too. I signed up, and my name was drawn. An ultrarunner friend of mine was like, “You should probably do a 50 miler first.” So, I did a 50, and it went well. I did team sports in high school and ran throughout high school just for enjoyment. My fast-pitch coach used to joke that I ran more than the track team. After practice I’d go run around the track just because I liked running.
iRunFar: Wow, so maybe slightly fitting slide into ultrarunning.
Stanley: Yeah, I moved to Breckenridge not having any idea what trail running was, and when you live there, if you run at all, you kind of just get soaked into the trail scene. That’s where it all began, and, then, it just became an addiction to the point where my partner, where I live, what I do for work, everything is revolved around, Does it work with my training schedule?
iRunFar: Sorry, I can’t come to work today…
Stanley: It’s my long run day.
iRunFar: Let’s talk about how the race went out. I think early on you were fairly far back in the women’s field taking it easy?
Stanley: Yeah, so I would like to think I’m a strong uphill runner, so I didn’t push it, but I didn’t hold back going up the Escarpment. I could be wrong, but I think that at Duncan Canyon, I was in 11th. Then when I ran in with Clare Gallagher who won Leadville the year I ran. I don’t think I should be running with her.
iRunFar: This makes me a little bit nervous.
Stanley: I told my crew that I needed to hold back, and I pulled back a little bit. I did, and I think that really paid it forward going on in the race. I ran comfortably and wasn’t pushing it at all. I came up to the top of Devil’s Thumb, and I saw Stephanie [Violett] sitting in a chair really upset and broken apart. I think that’s when it really clicked. Seeing Stephanie [Violett] whose vest I’m wearing that she designed Okay, maybe I do belong in this pack.
iRunFar: Maybe this is my day here.
Stanley: Right, yeah. Then, I just started checking girls off. Coming into Foresthill, I just started cruising. Then, I picked up a pacer for a little bit there, and, then, ran most of that section by myself. Then, I picked up a pacer at Green Gate, and him and I…
iRunFar: I think we understand that you dropped your pacer? You were so polite there.
Stanley: I did.
iRunFar: I don’t think we put that on the internet at the time, but I think you were running so well you left your pacer behind.
Stanley: Yeah, I think he made it about six miles in. Number eleven girl—I’m not sure of her name—I didn’t know there was someone that close behind me, because I thought I was screaming down that hill. So when she came into the aid right behind me, I was like, Oh, maybe I should pick it up. There was a climb right after that. I told my pacer, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to push it. It’s too early. I don’t want to race right now. I’m going to leave that for mile 70.” Then she started climbing that hill, and I’m like, “Okay, I’m sorry. I’m going.”
iRunFar: I guess we have to do this.
Stanley: Yeah, so then I just tried cooking. I realized I didn’t have a headlamp, and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the boat before dark. So then I had to push even harder to get there before dark.
iRunFar: To see your crew and get your headlamp.
Stanley: Yeah, and, then, I just couldn’t slow down after that, so it was a bunch of little things that led me to running faster than I probably planned on, but I never crashed or had any falter.
iRunFar: Were you aware of the moment you moved into podium position? Where were you when that happened?
Stanley: Yes, I’m bad with miles… we were three aid stations from the finish.
iRunFar: Mile 85? 90?
Stanley: Yeah, 85ish. At 83ish I was in fifth and passed fourth. One of my favorite things in the world is running in the dark and hunting headlamps, and my pacer knows that. Even if he didn’t see one, I think he was like, “I see a headlamp up there.”
iRunFar: I think there’s something up there.
Stanley: “Are you sure? I think that’s behind us.” “No, I see one.” We’d sprint and pray it was women. So, we would get close enough that they probably saw us but close enough we wouldn’t be a threat. “Okay, let’s go really slow. Let’s hold it back to 12-minute pace and try to gather our breath, so that when we go by them, they’re done.” It sounds aggressive, but we want to break their hearts. We want them to be like, “There’s no way we’re going to catch them.”
iRunFar: I get it. It’s racing.
Stanley: We passed this girl going—my pacer said it was 6:30 pace. My watch was off. We were cruising. As soon as we get far enough that she can’t see us, we’d reign it in and prepare for the next one. We didn’t know who the next female was going to be.
iRunFar: That was moving you into fourth position?
Stanley: Yeah, that was fourth. A little part of me was kind of hoping that Cat [Bradley] and Clare were first and second so we’d be three Colorado chicks. We just started head hunting again. We actually crossed some men—darn it, you guys.
iRunFar: Come on, be a woman! You were podium hunting at this point, or you were just hunting whoever you could find?
Stanley: Yeah, yeah. We were just trying to move up as fast as possible. We came across Clare about a quarter mile from the 85ish aid. I’m like, “I have one full water bottle. When we ran in there, we’re going to ask how close the next aid is, and if it’s close enough, we’re not stopping.” We flew by that aid. “I’m [number] 22, and we’re going.” They’re like, “Cool.” Then, I didn’t know how far back she was. We pushed it. My pacer was like, “I knew she wasn’t that close to you, but I wasn’t going to tell you that.” So we hammered on to the finish as fast as we could comfortably for running that far.
iRunFar: Coming up to Robie Point, coming off the trail, coming into the edge of Auburn and onto the one mile fairly cruiser downhill into town, did finishing on the podium of Western States start to sink in there, or were you just running like heck?
Stanley: I still don’t think it’s sunk in yet. I truly thought Clare was on our heels. Every time we passed an aid, or right before Robie Point with that group of people, we were like, “Okay, we’re going to see how far we can get before we can hear cheers.” We would get just far enough you couldn’t see headlamps, and, then, we would hear cheers. We didn’t know if it was men or women or whatever. So we were just really pushing. We weren’t thinking, Okay, this is really happening until 10 feet before we hit the track. Then, we were like, “This is ours. There’s nobody passing us now.” My dad actually flew in at 10:00 last night and flew out—he’s probably on the plane right now—just to watch the finish. That was really cool that he was there waiting for me. My brother is my crew chief, and he was there. He’s missed one of my ultras ever. Just to like… and Avery was there waiting for me at the finish as well.
iRunFar: He had a very strong sixth place finish.
Stanley: Yeah, he did awesome as well. We were both like, “Okay, top-10, let’s do this.” I kind of dreamed of top-five, but podium, I’m not going to lie, it did cross my mind, but it wasn’t like I dwelled on it. Training, I wasn’t thinking of it.
iRunFar: Not a super-A-goal.
iRunFar: Podium at Western States—kind of a game-changer in terms of an athletic career. I know we’re just a couple hours after you finished. What’s in your future racing plans? What’s going through your mind in terms of what’s out there in the sky?
Stanley: Yeah, it’s kind of up for debate. I’m torn inside. I truly love to trail run for the beauty of the trails. At the same time, it would be really cool to have sponsors with all the extras. Some of the races out there that I’d like to do don’t have a lot of media attention. Do I want to do races that get me attention or…?
iRunFar: Follow your heart more?
Stanley: Yeah, and I guess those races could come later, too, but it’s the next day. I haven’t fully considered what’s coming next. Avery and I, our next few races, I think we all have planned out together. Possibly [the] Run Rabbit , I’d like to do. He may not. We are both going to try to get into Hurt 100 this year. As of now, that’s the plan. Things could change.
iRunFar: Put your names in the lottery for Hurt 100 2018.
iRunFar: Congratulations to you. Man, it was fun to watch you run strong especially in the last quarter of the race. Heckuva run.
Stanley: Thank you. Awesome. Thank you so much.