A Conversation With Andrea Sansone About Her Women’s Supported Nolan’s 14 Fastest Known Time

An interview with Andrea Sansone following her women’s supported fastest known time on the Nolan’s 14 line in September 2022.

By on September 16, 2022 | Leave a reply

Andrea Sansone recently set a new women’s supported fastest known time on the Nolan’s 14 route in a time of 45 hours and 52 minutes, taking the women’s record well under the two-day barrier for the first time. The previous record was set by Sabrina Stanley in 2020 at 48:49.

The route comprises 14 peaks of greater than 14,000 feet (4,267 meters) in the Sawatch Range in Colorado. There is free route choice between the peaks, and the challenge amounts to around 95 miles with roughly 44,000 feet (13,411 meters) of elevation gain. You can read our news article for more details and background on her run.

In this interview, Sansone talks about the highs and lows of her build-up and gives a detailed breakdown of what was really going on behind the tracker dot we were all glued to for those 45-plus hours.

[Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity.]

Andrea Sansone - 2022 Nolan's 14 FKT - training

Andrea Sansone training for her 2022 Nolan’s 14 fastest known time effort. All photos courtesy of Andrea Sansone.

On How She’s Feeling a Few Days After Finishing

I guess I’m feeling a little bit worse than I was. I finished at 1:52 a.m. on Monday morning, and I couldn’t sleep that night because I was coughing so much. My first full night of sleep was probably the night after I finished, and then last night I actually slept good. I’m a little bit swollen now. My voice is just getting worse. That’s probably where I’m at right now, waiting for everything to get better.

On Background and Buildup

Back in 2020, Andrew [Hamilton] and I did Nolan’s, as a team. I was kind of living my summer on prednisone because I had all this knee pain. I was trying to figure out what was going on with my knee. After our successful attempt of Nolan’s, I wanted to try to get my knee figured out. I ended up having knee surgery in January 2021. And then it took me until April or May to recover from that; it was a really big surgery. After that, we had Andrew’s [Colorado] Centennials record that summer, so I crewed for him and I climbed 21 mountains with him. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I didn’t have my knee surgery. I really felt that was kind of the beginning, a new page for me.

So, 2021 was Andrew’s year, and then fast forward to this year. We were training all through the winter and we didn’t really know what we were training for. When spring came, I think in April, I was on a trail run and I broke my foot. I was so upset. I had to take about a month off. After three weeks, I started hiking Mount Morrison, just to see how I was doing, to see how my cardio was.

I was doing okay, so that’s when I had the idea to go out to [do a record attempt on] the Manitou Incline. A friend had done it and she was telling me about it, and I was like, That sounds like fun. I was talking with Andrew and I was like, I wonder how many laps I could do on the Incline? It kind of tailors to my strength, you are just going up hills for a really long time.

The plan was 16 laps. I put my splits together and I ended up going out there for 24 hours; Andrew supported me. I did it for 19 laps, and I did that in 23 hours and 36 minutes. That was really cool. I was like, Wow, I blew myself away, I didn’t know I could do 19 laps.

After that, I guess there was talk. We had thought about the Colorado 14er 24-hour record for a really long time but never acted on it. After I did the Incline, we were just talking about how this would be the year to do it. We put a lot of work into that. We went out and we scouted to get some real-time splits and we really just kind of blew ourselves away with some of our split times.

Going into the 24-hour record attempt, I didn’t think that 12 peaks were actually possible. But I feel like whenever I do these attempts, I always perform better on the day. You know, it’s a mental thing. When the 24-hour record came, I ended up doing the Mount Columbia through Missouri Mountain leg in six hours and 55 minutes. I ended up doing 12 peaks in 22 hours and 16 minutes.

Andrea Sansone - 2022 Nolan's 14 FKT - Mount Princeton

Andrea Sansone climbing Mount Princeton on her way to setting the women’s supported Nolan’s 14 fastest known time in September 2022.

On Planning the Attempt

Literally, after I finished and we’re in the car, returning the ATV, Andrew brings up Nolan’s. I was like, No. In my head, I was not ever going back to Nolan’s. It was an accomplishment that I did it in 2020 and I closed that chapter, and I was done. I was like, I’m not ever going to go back to Nolan’s.

But he was super excited, with all of our splits and everything, just taking out the breaks that we had when we did it in 2020, a record looked possible. We took five hours off of our Mount Columbia-Missouri Mountain leg from our 2020 Nolan’s.

He was like, “Even if you take two hours, three hours off of that, and bam, there is the record right there.” This year I am a stronger descender, I’m a faster climber, and so I knew that on paper it looked possible. But I am an emotional person more than I am logical. You can put numbers in front of me all you want, but I have to believe that I can do it. I don’t know if I’ve ever really had confidence that I can do anything, I’m not a very confident person. But Andrew convinced me to just go for it.

Then a week before, I was like, “Hey, can we do it together, go north to south? That sounds more fun to me. Me going out there and just doing a south to north one, I’ve already done that.”

Andrew had a big mental switch and it was our plan to go out and go north to south together. That weekend he ended up with a kidney stone and his prospect of doing a full Nolan’s was out.

It was this huge emotional roller coaster for me because it was like, Oh I’m doing Nolan’s south to north by myself … Oh no, Andrew’s doing north to south with me … Oh no, I’m back to doing it by myself. I never felt emotionally prepared to be out there, but I just knew that I had to try because I knew that it would be now or never.

A few days before the attempt I sent out a [social media] post, which I think took the pressure off of me. I was like, “Look, I’m going to try Nolan’s but if I get three, four, five peaks in and I’m not feeling it, I’ll call it. I’m not out here to prove that I can do Nolan’s.” I think that took the pressure off of me, to feel like I have to succeed or I am going to let all these people down.

A Good Start

We used our 2020 splits for this record attempt. Basically for the first eight mountains, Mount Shavano through Mount Yale, my only goal was to meet my splits. My up times were a little bit faster, but not much. But where I really gained my time was on the descents. I am a much better descender now.

In 2020, I remember when you interviewed me and I was like, “Yeah, I don’t run anything.” But I’m better now and I know how to do a little slow hike-jog, and take a half hour off of these hour-long descents by just picking it up a little bit. I don’t have to run hard. I don’t want to hurt my body at all. But jogging a little bit goes a long way. That first day I was an hour and a half ahead of my splits going into the night.

Andrea Sansone - 2022 Nolan's 14 FKT - with Andrew Hamilton

Andrea Sansone with partner Andrew Hamilton between Mount Yale and Mount Columbia, before Andrew started pacing Andrea.

A Difficult Night

When we put our splits together it wasn’t that first day where I anticipated making up time, it was Mount Columbia through Missouri Mountain. In 2020, that leg took Andrew and me 11 hours and 15 minutes. When we did it in the 24-hour record attempt, it was a 6:55. Andrew was with me through the nighttime [this time] and we gave ourselves nine hours to do that Mount Columbia through Missouri Mountain link. That’s where we needed to shine, that’s where we thought I was going to make up all my time. But that wasn’t the case. I had the longest night of my life.

That night, it was beautiful, the full moon and the inversion of the clouds. Going up Mount Columbia was really great. My low didn’t start there, it started at the summit of Mount Columbia and it literally lasted until the end of Huron Peak. I had to push myself overnight, over Huron Peak in the day, through this low, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I was ready to be done and I was so tired. It was so unexpected because of all these 24-hour efforts that I had done, my nights had been great. I was expecting my nighttime to be not that difficult.

But we figured that, I was going hard during the day and so I think it just kind of caught up with me. But I think the beautiful thing is that even when I’m in such a mentally low state, my body still knows how to hike. I was still hiking 1,800, 2,000 feet per hour sometimes. It was just mental, and sometimes that can really overpower you.

Coming off of Missouri Mountain, we were getting ready to meet Dan Hobbs and Forrest Hobbs. They had a crew spot at Clohesy Lake for us. Before we got there, I just bawled my eyes out, I just cried. I sat down, we wasted about a half hour at Clohesy Lake, but I just needed to sit.

Eventually, we left the crew and headed up Huron Peak. It felt like I was going so slow, it was a death march. Then we get to the top and it’s morning, it’s 8:30 a.m. We were afraid to look at our splits because we thought we went so slow, but when we finally looked, we were right on track. That was key.

A Turning Point

I started feeling better from then, I just really needed the sun to come up. The rest of the day was very hard but I didn’t hate it. I was having a good time, I had my crew with me and my friend Jaime Bakeman came up with me on La Plata Peak. I was in a lot of pain, and it was still really hard but I was back to being like, Oh, okay this is what I like to do.

The Final Push

I had a great split on Mount Elbert. My friend Joey [Campanelli, the men’s overall and unsupported Nolan’s 14 record holder] was with me, and we had such a great time. Coming off of Mount Elbert, we basically got off when it was turning dark. It’s just clockwork, you know, as soon as the sun goes down, then my brain is like, Oh yay, now you get to be miserable. TJ [Pitts] and his friend Josh [Pater], they were planning on coming up Mount Massive with me but honestly, also I craved the presence of Andrew. You know, I feel like it allows me to be okay with my emotions. He really didn’t want to come up Mount Massive, but he was prepared and so he ended up coming with us and it was really hard. Looking up and seeing the ridgeline so far away — I just felt like it was never going to end.

Then we got to the ridgeline and it took what felt like an eternity to get to the summit. It was false summit after false summit.

TJ and Josh, they are really funny guys and so going up I just listen to their stories and stuff. I still had my moaning and groaning. It was just hard for me to be super happy. I was thinking about you [Meghan Hicks, former Nolan’s 14 record holder] and how in your Nolan’s run, you started off and then you just sped up through the entire thing and I thought that was amazing. I felt bad for my attitude because my crew put in so much work for me and here I am just groaning.

But I love it you know, I love the challenge, I love the mountains. That’s why I do these things. I love being out there. Even in the hardest of hards. I put everything, I put my tears out there, I put my hard work out there, I put my scouting out there, and I left it all on the mountain. I didn’t want to leave the Nolan’s course with anything that I had left in me.

Andrea Sansone - 2022 Nolan's 14 FKT - Tabeguache Peak sunrise

Andrea Sansone descending Tabeguache Peak at sunrise during her successful Nolan’s 14 attempt in September 2022.

The Final Miles

There are two miles after you get down to the trees and you can get back onto the trail to the fish hatchery, and then you have got five miles left. Those first two miles, Andrew did the math, he was like, “We are getting you under 46 hours, it is possible, but it’s only possible if you run.”

My body hurt head to toe, every step was just so painful. Josh and TJ were drill sergeants; they were pushing me so hard. The first two miles I was running, and I look over, and TJ is next to me and he is walking! And that kind of turned a switch on for me because I was like, If I’m going to beat my body up running, I’m darn well not going to do it at a walking pace!

I turned it on after that two miles, and it was still only 12-minute miles, 11-minute miles, but it still felt so fast. It felt like a sprint. They were just like, “Go, go, go!” And the whole time I was crying and saying, I don’t want to do this, I’m fine with 46 hours.

For three hours, everyone just kind of pushed me and was like, “You can do it, you’re going to do it.” It was just their encouragement and hard work and belief in me that made it possible. This would have been impossible without my crew. They worked hard, they suffered with me.

It’s so special that I had a team of people who cared and loved me enough and wanted to do this, wanted me to succeed as much as I wanted to succeed. It would just be absolutely impossible without every single one of them out there with me.

On Encouraging More Women to Attempt Nolan’s 14

I love Nolan’s, I think that it’s so funny [that there aren’t more women doing it]. I am nothing special. I think that what I do, anybody else can do. I think that if you just put in the work, the time, and effort, then anybody can go out and do it and I think that I have definitely learned a lot and I have grown. I think that there’s definitely a component of that in my development over the years.

I think that Nolan’s, you have to, not master — I don’t think anyone really masters this — but you have to have a grip on the mental component of it for sure. But if you just practice getting out there and hiking mountains and doing hard things, anybody can do this. I think that it is really rewarding and it is a huge accomplishment. It’s cliché, but if you really believe and put your mind to it and can break through the barrier of doubt and the wanting to quit, that mental component, anyone can do this. It’s so fun and rewarding.

You know, I just want to say that all of the girls who have gone before me have just been a complete inspiration. When I was out there, Andrew and I kept saying, “You know, I’m not the only one who’s suffered, everyone else who has done this in the past has suffered just like this.” Because you start feeling bad for yourself and so I thought about you so much, I’m like, Meghan did this, she was hurting too, she had to go through the nights too.

You know, Sabrina [Stanley] had to go through the nights and she was hurting. I mean goodness, Sarah [Hansel], she did this alone. All the women who have gone before me have really been an inspiration. It is possible. These women have done it before me and I’ve done it. I am just really thankful for everyone who goes out there, gets themselves out on that line, and just even attempts it. It’s a beautiful thing.

Andrea Sansone - 2022 Nolan's 14 FKT - with crew at finish line at Fish Hatchery

Andrea Sansone (in pink) with some of her crew at the Leadville, Colorado, fish hatchery on Monday, September 12, 2022, after she set a new women’s supported fastest known time on the Nolan’s 14 route.

Meghan Hicks
Meghan Hicks is the Managing Editor of iRunFar and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.