Sabrina Stanley won the 2018 Hardrock 100 in dominant, start-to-finish fashion. In the following interview, Sabrina talks about why she was so emotionally and physically committed to competing at Hardrock, how each part of her race played out from her perspective, and where she gets her confident approach to running.
For more on how the race played out and for links to other interviews, check out our 2018 Hardrock 100 results article.
Sabrina Stanley, 2018 Hardrock 100 Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar and I’m with Sabrina Stanley. She’s the 2018 Hardrock 100 Endurance Run women’s champion. Congratulations, Sabrina!
Sabrina Stanley: Thank you.
iRunFar: You put all your money, all your stakes, all your eggs into the basket for this race. Is that right?
Stanley: I put beyond all my money into it. I put Avery’s money into it. So, yeah, everything was 100% focused on this race.
iRunFar: I want to ask you about your big-picture approach. At the beginning of this year, your name was pulled onto the upper end of the waitlist for the Hardrock lottery. You also had a given entry into Western States, courtesy of your top-ten finish there in 2017. You started the year with “close-to” entry in two of the coolest races for the year?
Stanley: I had no intentions of running Hardrock. I did Run Rabbit Run as a qualifier and I thought, “okay, I can start building my ticket base and then in five years when I’m ready and my name is drawn, I’ll have all these qualifiers and I’ll know what I’m getting into.” So when my name was pulled spot five [on the waitlist], I thought, “okay.” I was still conscious of Katie Grossman’s story of waiting at the starting line and not getting to run. I’m like, “don’t get your hopes up, no matter what.”
Then, as the names started getting smaller and smaller, I moved up the waitlist. I was like, “okay, maybe I’m probably going to run.” We talked to a few people who have been around Hardrock a lot and they were like, “no, you’re going to run.” So, decision time came: do I do both, or not? I gave up Western for Hardrock, because I didn’t know the chances of me getting into Hardrock again.
iRunFar: When you made that decision to pull your name out of Western States and focus on Hardrock, you were still at the top of the waitlist. You weren’t in yet, and there was a big fire burning south of the course. There was a lot of volatility over whether Hardrock would happen, and whether it would happen for you.
Stanley: Yeah, before I pulled my name from Western, I contacted Altra and asked, “do I have your blessing to do this?” They’re both really big races and I just wanted their support. Mike McKnight, the team manager, was like, “100%. Whatever is your passion, do it.” If I left my name on the roster for Western in case the fire cancelled Hardrock, my training wouldn’t have been there for Western. I wasn’t doing any speedwork at all, I wasn’t really doing tempo runs. It was all climbing and descending and long, slow mountain days. I didn’t want to run Western unless I knew I could perform, and I didn’t think I would. So I dropped Western. The very next day, this guy contacted me and said, “hey, I’m giving up my spot at Hardrock. You’re next on the waitlist and I want to make sure you’re going to represent my spot well.” I was like, “I gave up my summer for this, so I’m going to win it, that’s my plan.” He’s like, “okay, I’m going to contact Dale [Garland, the race director].” Two days later, Dale contacts me and says, “do you want a spot?” “Yes, I do! Tell me where to mail my newborn” [laughs]. He’s like, “you’re good.”
iRunFar: You don’t have to mail us your unborn child.
Stanley: Yeah, so here I am.
iRunFar: You were not shy ahead of the race of stating your goals on your personal social media feeds. You talked about wanting to win, and you talked about wanting to run under 30 hours. That sort of confidence from a woman is not a common thing. Can you talk about that? Where do that courage and that confidence come from?
Stanley: I didn’t know that I possessed that – I mean, I’ve been the same person, but I didn’t realize I came across like that. After my interview with you at Western States, I had multiple women email me and friends of mine talk to me and say, “we’ve never heard a woman speak like that.” I asked, “well, what do you mean?” They’re like, “there just isn’t anyone really that’s so confident.” I didn’t realize the way I was coming across was unusual to be heard. That’s just who I am. At some point maybe I was hiding that a little bit. Avery knows I’m like that, my family knows I’m like that, my best friends know I’m like that.
I’m very confident going into anything. If I have a goal, I’m probably going to reach it, or attempt to, or keep trying until I do. So, I’m like, “you know what? I’m not going to pretend I’m just running for fun. This is who I am.” I’m training for fun and I’m training for the views, but when I’m racing, I’m racing to win. I’m not out there to sightsee. I think if you put it into the universe – if I keep saying I’m going to win and keep saying I’m going to break 30 hours, then I put that pressure on myself, too. Then either I have to do that, or I’m going to look like a really big fool. So if I came up with a 35-plus finish and I was telling everybody I was going to do sub-30, they’d be like, “she’s a lot of talk.” It puts pressure on my training and drives me harder there, too. So just putting it out into the universe, I believe in that concept.
iRunFar: In terms of the mechanics of the goal of going for sub-30 hours, did you write splits based upon your training on the course, or other women who preceded you? How did you develop your race plan?
Stanley: I looked at a lot of top women who had done it in the past, like Anna Frost, Darcy Piceu, and Emma Roca. I broke down each of their races and I went with my favorite. So, I went with Emma Roca’s 2016 race. I thought she ran the first half a little bit faster than I would like to and I thought she ran the back half a little slower than I would like to. I kind of used that as a guideline. I knew roughly her fitness level when she ran in the race because I ran against her in Run Rabbit Run the following year. I know her time there and I know my time. In my opinion, I had a rough day there. I think I could run that course a little bit faster. I thought I was pretty evenly matched with her, and if I was a half an hour off, I wouldn’t be too upset. So, I laminated this little timesheet that I didn’t look at during the race, but I should have.
iRunFar: You had it with you during the race, you just didn’t look at it?
Stanley: Yes. I had average mile pace between aid stations, miles between aid stations, time of day, how long you’ve been in the race for… everything was broken down on this little sheet. All I really looked at was the distance between aid stations and the mile pace. I should’ve been looking at time of day [laughs]. My math was four hours off. I thought I was doing a 34-hour race, and was really bummed the entire race. I found out four miles from the finish… I don’t know, maybe I could have broken 30 hours if I was in a different mindset. But I do feel like I laid everything out there, so I don’t have too many regrets.
iRunFar: The race starts and you’re instantly at the front. Were you expecting any company early on? Or did you expect that it would just be you and the mountains all day?
Stanley: I thought Nikki Kimball and Kaori Niwa – I thought it was going to be us three in the front. When the gun went off, Niwa was right next to me and we ran the first 100-200 yards side-by-side. Then she dropped back, but I never looked back. In my mind, until Chapman, Nikki was directly behind me and Niwa was directly behind her. Or vice versa. I thought they were breathing down my neck and making me set the pace. I was like, “I’m just going to go as slow as possible. If they want to make a move, they can, but I’m not going for any speed records at this point.” I ran with Bryon Powell and his group for the first miles, there was between seven and ten of us.
iRunFar: Basically ten people hanging out in the mountains?
Stanley: Yeah. They were all just chatting, having a good time, taking pictures. I thought, “this is awesome because I’m not stressed, and I know they’re behind me.” I took it easy. Then at Chapman, Nikki came into the aid station right behind me. When I saw her, it was like, “okay.” I knew she could see me all the way up Oscar. So I had to like let her know how this race was going to go. I pushed as hard as I could up Oscar – conservatively, of course, because there’s a lot of race left. But I wanted her to know that I was out to set the bar high, kind of.
iRunFar: That climb to get up Oscar is a burly climb. You have to do work to get there, even if you’re going conservatively. Was there any risk in pushing it a wee bit there? Or were you trying to push a little bit while knowing your limits?
Stanley: Yeah, Avery and I had actually done that in training. We ran out of water and the sun was on us and it was so miserable. My mindset going into it was, “get it over with as fast as possible so you’re not out here suffering the entire time.” I didn’t want to feel like I was up there forever and suffering. I wanted to get it over with as fast as possible. I knew there was a long descent after that, so I was okay recovering on that descent. I just powerhiked very strongly, just hoping that Nikki was taking note.
iRunFar: I don’t know if she took note, but that’s where your gap really started growing over the rest of the women’s field.
Stanley: I feel like I definitely got stronger from there on out. I tried running down to Telluride pretty conservatively while still having that push going. Going into Ouray – I know that Avery and I have talked 1,000 times about how that can make or break your race because it’s a 13-mile descent. It’s so runnable, so it’s a struggle not to just go 7:30/mile and just bomb down it. I was constantly telling myself, “do not go sub-9:00/mile.” I was always looking at my watch to make sure I was above 9:00. I kind of followed that [laughs].
iRunFar: You’ve been living in Ouray for the summer. A lot of people consider Ouray to be a turning point in the race, when the race is run in this direction. For the front of the race, you’re at the lowest altitude during the warmest part of the day. You’ve got this gigantic descent and, then, this gigantic ascent. Then, you’re back in the high country again. What was going through your head in Ouray?
Stanley: Because we lived there, I was very comfortable with the climb up to Engineer and the descent down into Ouray. I knew all those trails and I knew my pace on them and how it was going to go. We just did a long, steady climb up into Engineer. I never thought I was pushing too hard. It was just very consistent and not stressful at all. I knew what was behind every corner and how to get there. I had just picked up a pacer, so we were having a good time. It was just an unstressful time of the race for me.
iRunFar: Can you define “good time” when you’re 50 miles into an ultramarathon?
Stanley: I don’t even know. We were just moving really well. The entire race, that was my thing: just keep moving. I don’t care how fast you’re going. When I first started training for Hardrock, one of Avery’s quotes was, “it’s not who’s fastest that will win Hardrock, it’s who moves through the mountains the best.” You’re not doing sprints or whatever. Just keep moving. If it’s powerwalking, that’s fine. Just keep moving forward. That was kind of our motto – just always go.
iRunFar: Going over the high point is another tough point in the race. It’s over 14,000 feet, it’s past mile 60 and it’s the middle of the night at that point.
Stanley: I had Avery then as my pacer. He hadn’t been on that section. Oddly, I was really excited to show him my “new trails.” You know, “when you get to the top of this, you can see Handies. But it’s dark, so you can’t see it. Just imagine a 14er.” He’s just listening to me talk. Because it’s night, you can see the headlamps ahead of you, so you just keep pushing for that next headlamp. So that’s what we did. We got to American Basin. There’s a nice little descent that goes back up at Handies. We started running again and we got to Handies.
It was a little breezy up there, kind of chilly. My jacket would not zip for whatever reason. We spent four or five minutes – at the time it seemed longer, I was freaking out. He was like, “let me do it.” Then I was trying to do it, then finally I was like, “no, we gotta go.” I knew I’d get warm a mile down the trail. Once we got below that altitude, I really started to warm up and I knew that the trails were runnable. We flew down to Burrows, I felt like we were really pushing the speed. Then from Burrows to Sherman, I want to say we were doing sub-9:00 miles. It’s just a three- or four-mile section. We were really pushing.
iRunFar: I don’t know if you knew this, but as you left the Grouse Gulch aid station to climb Handies, Darla Askew was not so far behind you at that point. It was just a few minutes. But over Handies and down to Burrows and over to Sherman, you gained loads of time – not just on her, but on all of the women. It was game over at that point.
Stanley: I didn’t know that. It probably would’ve freaked me out if I knew how close she was.
iRunFar: As you were zig-zagging up Grouse, the cheering you were hearing – one of the runners was Darla.
Stanley: Which I always wonder – is that a woman they’re cheering for? I had no idea. But again, I don’t think about putting distance between the people behind me, I think about catching the headlamp in front of me. I just hope the woman behind me is not having that same drive I’m feeling.
[Kid in the background rides the entire width of the frame popping a wheelie]
I don’t know, I felt like I was pushing pretty good. Maybe a sense of fear would have come into play, but I was pretty comfortable at that point.
iRunFar: The reason I ask that question is because, looking at your splits, it seemed like you were making some sort of move at that point, but I didn’t know if that was because you knew another woman was close or because you were having a really great section.
Stanley: I compare it to Western when you come into Foresthill. I came into Grouse, and that was my Foresthill. I was like, “okay, game on now.” I’ve been pacing myself, I’ve been holding back, and now I can finally let loose. I picked up Avery at mile 60 at Leadville. For me this was the same thing. When I get to that mile 60 point, especially if Avery’s my pacer, the energy between us is really fun. We just start cruising. We really enjoy running together, especially what I consider fast running – he’d probably just call it jogging. So coming down Handies, we were having a blast, and then going down Sherman, as well.
iRunFar: I’d like to ask you about your nutrition. That’s a hard thing for people to nail – not only for 100 miles, but particularly for 100 miles at this altitude. How was yours?
Stanley: Perfect. It was on point. I wake up really early and make sure I go to the bathroom before the race and everything so there’s no need to stop until way later in the race. Then I hold my pee as long as I possibly can, just so that I’m not wasting time. I feel that if I can save 30 seconds peeing because I have one less pee break, well that’s 30 seconds [laughs]. What if 30 seconds was the difference between me doing 30 hours or 29 and whatever?
In terms of eating, I make sure I’m getting some calories in before the run. Then, every half-hour, I make sure I have a minimum of 100 calories. I also drank my electrolyte mix. I eat at every single aid station. At Hardrock I had either pumpkin pie or they had these amazing rice balls. So I had two rice balls at every single aid station. I try not to waste time chewing, so the softer, the better. At Run Rabbit Run I ate pancakes. It’s whatever I can squish up, swallow, chug some water.
iRunFar: You have an iron stomach. That’s amazing.
Stanley: Yeah. And I try not to overheat my body. I find if you overheat your body, that’s when the most common stomach problems happen. So if I’m pushing hard too early, my nutrition is off for the entire race. I think just keeping my pace under control early on was key.
iRunFar: The race ends with two pretty brutal climbs. The climb out of Maggie Gulch and the climb up to Buffalo Boy Ridge and the climb out of Cunningham Gulch to Little Giant Peak. They’re just so steep.
Stanley: They are. After we left Pole Creek, I would say I kind of started to struggle. That’s when the first cracks in the armor started showing. It was mainly physical ,but it started really affecting me mentally. I was like, “I’m not moving as fast as I should be, these women are gaining on me.”
iRunFar: But you didn’t know, this was just in your head.
Stanley: For sure. I always think that I have to move faster. In my mind, if Nikki comes around the corner and sees my pink hat, she’s going to know it’s me and she’s going to start pushing harder. So, I have to get around the next corner before she gets around that last corner. I just keep doing that. I’m freaking out that she’s chasing me. So, we came into Pole Creek and leaving there was a really big struggle. We didn’t hang out there, but that next section was horrible. Coming into Maggie I was, “okay, just gotta keep moving.” There was this guy from Denver and we decided to follow him, because it was his second finish. So we were going to run with him. He ran a little faster than I would have liked for myself, but we knocked out that section and, then, Little Giant climb was horrible. I completely fell apart.
iRunFar: It’s like two miles and 2,600’ or some sort of stupid vertical.
Stanley: Yeah, it’s straight up. I’d done that one as well in training. In training it was really smooth. Going into it, I thought it was going to be easier than it was. Multiple times I found myself being a baby: “this is the hardest climb of my life!” Avery was listening to this, “oh, this is miserable!” I don’t know. I’d keep apologizing for going so slow, and all this stupid stuff. He’s like, “you’re fine. You’re moving. Just keep moving.” I don’t know what I thought I should’ve been doing – it’s not like I could’ve run up it. I was hiking. So I kept moving. That climb lasted a lifetime, it took forever. The descent was just as miserable.
There was one runner behind us that we knew was a male. Then there were two runners that were 200 yards behind him. Avery’s like, “I don’t know if that’s a female, I don’t know if she’s a pacer, but you have to go.” I had been in wet socks all day. I only changed my socks at Grouse, so the bottoms of my feet were really, really raw and painful. He was like, “you have to run. You have to run.” I thought there was possibly a female catching me so we kept going and we actually asked one of the iRunFar volunteers, “is that a woman? How far back is she?” The volunteer was like, “she’s an hour-and-a-half back.” So we ran all the way down that singletrack that leads you right into town and the last 100 yards of it, Avery’s like, “there’s a woman behind you – sprint!” I was like, “are you sure? She’s an hour-and-a-half back, there’s no way.”
At the time, I was running 8:30 per mile sprints coming across town at mile 99. He’s like, “go! Go! Go! Go!” He’s like “they both have on packs and it’s two females and it’s a racer.” It was Amy Sproston and he was like, “she’s pacing Darla.” I was like, “what? How did Darla catch me?” He was like, “just run! Stop asking questions!” I kept saying, “are you sure?” I’m panicking. I’ve had the lead for 99.5 miles. I was like, “there’s no way I could have the lead for that long and then lose it right here.” As we’re sprinting, we get into the streets of town. Then he’s like, “it’s Wardian. It’sMike Wardian.Keep sprinting, you can probably still beat him.” I’m like, “I’m never going to beat Mike Wardian in a sprint, and I’m okay with that. I’ll take my finish.”
iRunFar: So in fairness to Avery, he did see a ponytail. It was just Wardian’s ponytail.
Stanley: Yes, and they were a ways back and Avery had been running with me for 15 hours and had been up all day the day before. I’m glad he said something in case it had been a woman, but I was a little grouchy at the time, saying “don’t do that to me.” He’s like, “what? Try to save your race?” I was in full panic mode.
iRunFar: I think you said at the finish line yesterday, and you also said a few minutes before our interview, that you already have the intention of returning next year.
Stanley: For sure. I’d like to do the course in both directions and I’d really, really like to break 30 hours. That’s my goal.
iRunFar: In the end, you came in at around 30:30, is that right?
Stanley: 30:23. Looking back, though, I think I ran a really smart race. There’s no aid station where I said to myself, “you really wasted a lot of time here.” I don’t know my aid station splits combined, though. That climb up Little Giant and the descent, I think I wasted a lot of time. I don’t know if it was 23 minutes, but there’s definitely room for improvement in the last 15-20 miles.
iRunFar: You’ve already spent this summer physically and psychologically committed. You lived in the San Juans. You’ve been living and dreaming Hardrock. Are you going to put the same amount of intention into next year’s race?
Stanley: Definitely. Before I was running competitively, I would say I did the same thing with Leadville. When I first learned of 100-mile races, I did Leadville in year one. It was essentially my life, and I didn’t finish that year. So I came back next year with the same drive. Those two years, everything was Leadville. So two years for Hardrock, I’m okay with that. Especially this course – it’s unreal.
iRunFar: Going in the other direction almost makes it a whole different race.
Stanley: That’s what I hear. I’m really excited. And looking at the top-ten times for females, I think all but three of them are on odd years. So it should be, in my mind, 23 minutes faster.
iRunFar: Here we go, then. Sub-30 for Sabrina.
Stanley: 2019. [Laughs]
iRunFar: Well, congratulations on your win of the 2018 Hardrock and #seeyouinsilverton next year.
Stanley: For sure.