Andrea Sansone set the women’s overall fastest known time (FKT) on the Nolan’s 14 line in the Sawatch Range of Colorado in 53 hours and 14 minutes. Her August 3 through 5 effort bettered the women’s overall FKT of 57:43 set by Sarah Hansel in July of 2020. Andrea completed the attempt in self-supported style with teammate Andrew Hamilton.
The Nolan’s 14 line is a link-up of 14 mountains in excess of 14,000 feet in elevation. Athletes can connect the summits by whatever routes they choose, but routes commonly add up to about 95 miles in length, about 44,000 feet of climbing, and about half off trail.
This is a transcript from an interview with Andrea a few days after her finish. She talks about her career and sports background, how the Nolan’s 14 line has captured her attention, her previous attempts, and what happened during this effort.
[Editor’s Note: Just a few days later, from August 8 through 10, Sabrina Stanley reset the women’s overall FKT to 51:15, and she completed the effort in supported style. Her interview will publish shortly.]
iRunFar: Let’s begin with who you are. I know you’re a nurse, but I don’t know what kind.
Andrea Sansone: Yes, I work in Denver[, Colorado] at Children’s Hospital. I’m a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse. I’ve been doing that since 2011. I graduated college and went right into it. I do shift work, two 12-hour shifts every week.
iRunFar: Are you day-shift nurse or night shift?
Sansone: Night shift! That really works to my advantage in Nolan’s. I’m used to the sleep deprivation.
iRunFar: Are you from Colorado? How long have you lived here?
Sansone: I’m from Pennsylvania. After college in Pennsylvania, I moved to Florida for two years to get my NICU experience. Then I moved out here in 2013.
iRunFar: Did you move here for the mountains or a job?
Sansone: For the mountains. I took a trip out in college, and I met people who are my best friends today. Ever since then, I’ve kept coming out in the summer to hike and in the winter to snowboard. In 2012, on one of my trips, is when I met [my partner] Andrew [Hamilton]. It was on the Maroon Bells. It was the fourth mountain I ever climbed, and he was there with his kids.
iRunFar: How did you learn about the Nolan’s 14 line? Was it through Andrew or from being up in the mountains?
Sansone: Through Andrew.
iRunFar: He’s like the godfather of it now. Can we call him that?
Sansone: That’s so funny. When did you first do Nolan’s, Andrew [present in the room]?
Andrew Hamilton: I guess it was 2014 the first time I did it.
Sansone: So I would support him. It would be me and a couple other people supporting him on these Nolan’s runs. That’s when I kind of thought, Maybe I could do this. I think it was 2015. Since then, Andrew has done winter Nolan’s, Holy Nolan’s, and unsupported Nolan’s. So I know my abilities. I know how fast I can hike. Let’s just get out there and do it. We choose to do it together just because he’s my best friend.
iRunFar: When was your first Nolan’s attempt?
Sansone: We went out [for the first time] last October. I had dealt with tendinitis all summer last year I was trying to heal from that all summer long. It took forever.
We decided in October to just go out and see what happens. We left right after a snowstorm. The first day was actually pretty good. Then we just got destroyed on Mount Yale. That was our nighttime peak. As we moved north, the snow got worse. We knew we were going to stop after Yale, but we went through to Mount Belford because we needed to get to our car.
Then our second attempt was in July of this year. We made it to the top of Missouri Mountain and maybe 200 feet up Mount Huron, and I started wheezing. I’ve never had breathing problems before, and it scared me.
iRunFar: Did you have breathing issues this time?
Sansone: I had an inhaler that I used every four hours. I didn’t get the wheezing.
iRunFar: The progress of women on Nolan’s is evolving pretty quickly in the summer of 2020. I’m starting to call it the Women’s Nolan’s Summer. Sara Hansel about a month ago reset the women’s overall FKT and then you bettered that by 4.5 hours. Did you go into this with that in mind?
Sansone: On our attempt in July, our goal was to get under 60 hours. We were going off our previous splits from October, and we only had half of the mountains. The other half, we used Andrew’s splits where it took him 65 hours because I’ve never done this before. So, when we tried in July, we were on the biggest high on day one because we were blowing those splits out of the water. When we quit, it was really cool because we had a much better idea of what our capabilities were.
iRunFar: Did you at some point during this attempt stop looking at splits and just go because you were so far ahead of them?
Sansone: Never. That’s what keeps our brain occupied. We are constantly thinking about the time.
iRunFar: Walk us through what kind of terrain you like and are good at when it comes to Nolan’s.
Sansone: Our strength is the uphills. We are strong uphill hikers. Descending is definitely my weakness. I don’t have experience running in the mountains. But we were talking about how in the last few years I’ve gotten to be a lot more comfortable descending with that crappy, loose, rocky terrain.
Also, I love to scramble. We did Missouri’s East Ridge. It’s got some Class 4 terrain, and it’s super fun. It does get difficult when my brain is tired.
Same with the Mounts Columbia-Harvard traverse. We took the high route, which requires some scramble.
iRunFar: Sarah Hansel told me that you told her, “I’m not running on my attempt. I’m doing everything hiking.” Did you run at all?
Sansone: In our July attempt, I was adamant that I would not run one foot of the trail. Then Andrew and I realized that if we jog the easy down terrain, we can let gravity take us and don’t use our muscles any more and don’t breathe any harder. It’s a little bit healing. It’s hard to be walking all the time. But I didn’t want to destroy myself on the downhill because my strength is the uphill.
iRunFar: Nolan’s is something that people do in part because you don’t know if you’re going to finish. You had tried twice before. Did you have at any time during this attempt, “Oooh, I think I’m going to do it this time.”
Sansone: Yes, it was really cool. We got to the summit of Harvard when the sun was coming up on the second day. I was like, “Andrew, we’re going to do this.” That was super exciting because Nolan’s was just a pipe dream for me forever. [As time went on in the attempt,] my battle was figuring out how to stay in the game mentally and not fall apart.
iRunFar: How did you do that?
Sansone: I don’t feel like I did. The second night was really hard. It’s just the amazing things I’ve learned from Andrew, You just keep moving your legs. Walking down the road to Echo Canyon [to the base of Mount Elbert], my eyes were closed. I’m just going to nap while walking.
Sansone: When we got to Echo Canyon, I needed a five-minute nap. It was only a couple minutes, but it feels like forever. It gives you enough boost to feel alive again. Then we started heading up Elbert. Elbert is a mountain that I feared going into that second night. It’s a beast. It’s just huge. It ended up being the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
iRunFar: Did you guys go into this attempt planning to continue onto Mount Holy Cross[, the 15th 14er in the Sawatch Range]?
Sansone: Our ultimate goal was to do Holy Cross because if we were successful at Nolan’s, it’s going to be, I don’t want to do Nolan’s again. We had planned that if we feel good enough, then we’d go onto Holy Cross.
Hamilton: I want to add, you know, when you’re done [with a big effort] and you start sitting around, your body says, “No.” I’m like, “Oh, yeah, there’s no way we’re going on.” I think it was in talking to my sister, and usually she’s the more cautious one. She was like, “You guys should just go do that.”
Sansone: So we just decided to go! I surprised Andrew because my attitude on the second night and into the third morning was so bad, he was like, “There’s no way we’re going onto Holy Cross.”
iRunFar: He’s thinking he’s off the hook.
Sansone: I’m like, “We’re going to Holy Cross!” It’s cool to say Andrew and I were the first team to do it. I wanted to be the first woman to traverse the Holy Nolan’s.
iRunFar: And it completes an aesthetic traverse of the whole range. Congratulations on completing Nolan’s 14, setting the women’s overall fastest known time, and for being the first woman to complete the 15-mountains traverse of the Sawatch Range!
Sansone: Thank you!