Sabrina Stanley is the 2021 Hardrock 100 women’s champion. With her eyes on not only the win but the women’s course record (27:18:24, set by Diana Finkel in 2009), Stanley ran strong and gutsy throughout. In the following interview, Sabrina talks about her second Hardrock win in as many runs, narrowly missing the course record, and what’s next for her.
Read our Hardrock 100 results article for more on how the race played out.
Sabrina Stanley, 2021 Hardrock 100 Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Sabrina Stanley after her win at the 2021 Hardrock 100. How are you, Sabrina?
Sabrina Stanley: I’m good. Really good.
iRunFar: How are you feeling this morning?
Stanley: I feel great. I mean, a little sore, a little swollen, but all in all I’m super stoked.
iRunFar: Yeah, you should be. You ran one hell of a race this weekend.
Stanley: Thank you. Yeah.
iRunFar: It was, over three hours faster than you ran in 2018.
Stanley: Yes. I don’t even know, I know vaguely my 2018 time but I don’t know the exact split or the exact time, but I know it was faster. A lot faster.
iRunFar: How did it feel like to run three hours faster? Was it because of better fitness, course knowledge, just growing as an ultrarunner?
Stanley: Yeah, I think just experience. I mean doing Grand Raid Réunion, doing Nolan’s  back to back, just living here, getting course knowledge, and learning how to push my body and also maintain my body. Like nutrition, salt, hydration, and being on top of that consistently I think was a huge help, too.
iRunFar: Yeah. You had talked about before the race that you wanted to be pretty consistent…
iRunFar: And be conservative. But you went out maybe a little harder than…
Stanley: I went out really hot. Yeah.
iRunFar: And it was not your plan.
Stanley: No, it was not my plan.
iRunFar: What made you go out hot?
Stanley: I think my split coming into Cunningham, I was supposed to get there at like, 2:25. If my watch is right, I think when I looked at it, it said I got in at 1:55. Does that sound right?
iRunFar: That’s quite a bit of difference.
Stanley: I was, yeah, a half hour ahead of schedule 10 miles in, or nine miles in. I was feeling really good. And I felt like I was pushing hard enough, but also that I wasn’t digging into a well I couldn’t get out of. I knew I was going to have to pay the price in recovery time later, but not to the extent that I’m going to crash and burn and it would cost me. I felt like this was the time to like send a message, I’m here for business, and, like, so yeah, I came into Cunningham really hot.
iRunFar: Yeah. Did you, what sparked that? Was like, did you see, Courtney [Dauwalter] or Darcy [Piceu] ahead of you or something early on or?
Stanley: Yeah, I mean, I was still running my pace. I’d say the first, I don’t know, four or five miles, most of the way up Dives and they were right in front of me and that wasn’t planned. It’s not like I was like trying to hunt them down or anything. They were just right there and it was us three women in a row, and they were chatting and I was just like watching their gaits, and watching how much energy they were exerting, and watching, just like studying them and studying how they were going up the climb. And using that to judge how the rest of the race was going to go and how, yeah, anyway. And so from studying them I felt confident in passing them. I passed Darcy about halfway up the climb, and then Courtney, I was just going to kind of like, sit on her heels, but she took a wrong turn just like slightly and so I had to call her back, and then I just jumped in front of her there. And so then once I was in front of her, alright, let’s just let it rip.
iRunFar: Must have absolutely crushed the two and a half miles down to Cunningham, to put, yeah…
Stanley: I like that trail. It’s a really, I would say, technical downhill. It’s pretty steep, but I’ve ran it a lot and if you’re not familiar with that trail and you haven’t ran it, you can waste a lot of time there.
iRunFar: And if you are good at it, you can run pretty darn fast. It’s a technical trail that you can actually get speed on.
Stanley: Yes. Yeah, and so I was just having fun. I wasn’t going max effort. I was just having fun cruising down Cunningham. Yeah.
iRunFar: When, when did you sort of, then settle into what you maybe your planned pace was or effort was?
Stanley: That was unintentional. [laughs]
iRunFar: How’d you get there?
Stanley: So my crew missed me at Cunningham, well kind of. So Abby Hall was, my like — the whole, my main crew wasn’t there. Abby Hall was there and she had two water bottles for me. And I was really confused because I was going to switch packs, and I was so thrown off that I didn’t allow myself to like, calm down and accept the help. I was like, oh my second pack’s not here, I’m just going to go. And I definitely should have stopped. And so, I just headed on out, and I didn’t have extra salt tabs, I didn’t have extra gels, I didn’t have extra water, and so now I’m like, at five minutes out of the aid, I’m realizing how much I messed up. And now I’m like okay, now you got to really rein it back and conserve your energy because you don’t have the hydration or the fuel to get you to Maggie efficiently.
iRunFar: So it could have perhaps been a fortunate error?
Stanley: Well, so then, because I didn’t have salt or anything like my quads started cramping up that climb like really, really bad. And I was like, don’t show it, like act just like this is the pace you want to go at and let Courtney pass you, which she did. And just like, be consistent. Don’t stop when you’re cramping, like just walk with the cramps, because like, it’s not going to, you’re not going to get there any faster if you stop. And so I knew there was a creek at the top, and I was going to fill my water there.
iRunFar: Your favorite place on the course.
Stanley: Yes! Yes. I got there, and there’s like 200 sheep up there, or however many, and they’re in the creek. And I’m like, I can’t drink this water. But I had to, and so I filled my water bottles with the giardia water, mostly. [laughs]
iRunFar: Good luck with that. It’s not fun.
Stanley: Yeah so I filled my bottles and that did, like, help, I would say like 80% with the cramping. And then I was just like, get to Maggie, get to Maggie, and just do it as smoothly and easily as you can. So I got to Maggie, drank an entire jar of pickle juice.
iRunFar: That’s why there was no juice in those pickles.
Stanley: Yes. There was no juice in the pickles. That was me. So yeah, I like fully stocked up on everything I need calorie and hydration-wise there. And then like suffered gut issues and stopped four times to go to the bathroom on the way to Sherman, and just like cleared everything out. Yeah.
iRunFar: Running light.
Stanley: Yep, yep. I made it to Sherman and then the rain started, so like that helped my body like recalibrate as well, to get cool again.
iRunFar: It was not a hiccup-free first 25 miles.
Stanley: No. But I kept telling myself, “This how Grand Raid went.” Grand Raid was such a disaster the first 50 miles. And so, and I always look at that as like a blessing because it kept my pace down. And I was so strong at the finish. So I just kept positive in my mind that like this was all happening for a reason. You’re still going to have legs under you later. And it’ll be fine.
iRunFar: When did you finally have like a moment of, oh, this is going okay or I’m back to baseline or whatever? Did you?
Stanley: When I left Sherman. I think things kind of turned around there.
Stanley: But yeah, it started raining. My body got a lot cooler. I was running pretty good.
iRunFar: You kind of ran up that little couple-mile grade.
Stanley: Yeah. You have a little road section. That was nice. And then Handies I knew, it’s so early in the race that you can’t race Handies. It’s a 14,000-foot peak, so just chip away at it. And I was watching Jeff Browning, who was way above me, just keep that that gap, and go off his pace. He was so consistent all day so he was a huge help. And keeping my pace from getting crazy. Which he would probably disagree with because we leapedfrogged a little bit. And every time he saw me he probably thought I was running too hard but… [laughs] Yeah.
Stanley: He was consistent and I was like, fast, slow, fast, slow.
iRunFar: Little, little sine wave actually.
iRunFar: Okay. Walk me through — did you have a good run down to Ouray?
Stanley: Yes. So I picked up Abby Hall, my pacer, my teammate, at Grouse. And got some food in me, felt super hydrated. We ran as much as we could up Engineer. Hiked when we needed to go to, got to the top of Engineer and I’m like, “Alright. Let’s rip.” So we started running and it was so fun. Yeah.
iRunFar: That was just a wonderful long downhill.
Stanley: It’s great. It’s a great way to open those hips up and get ready to do a nice climb up Ouray.
iRunFar: Do you use that section, do you control your pace and effort enough to actually do extra fueling and hydration or just to get really on top of that, the second half of the race?
Stanley: I think I’m always pretty aware of my fueling and hydration. Yeah, I’d say every 30 to 45 minutes I’m putting something in my body. And then I’m also getting calories from my water, so I’m always getting stuff in. And I’m running like 75% after it, down that. Definitely not sprinting it but I’m not, I’m not jogging it, I’m running.
iRunFar: And then you had, what you wanted to kind of push or take advantage of or whatever you want to call it going up Camp Bird Road from Ouray. How did that go?
Stanley: So I came into Ouray and my crew immediately informed me that like she [Courtney Dauwalter] was in and out of the station super quick and so I needed to be. And I really wanted to take my time there.
iRunFar: You’re still behind Courtney at this point.
Stanley: Yes, yeah. Still in second. I wanted to take my time at Ouray. I wanted to eat again. I wanted, like real food. I wanted to change my socks because they were wet and I knew I wasn’t doing any creek crossings for a while. Yeah, I just wanted to be 100%, because I knew I was about to like let it rip and I wanted to be all business and hunt her down. So, I mean, I don’t want this to come across wrong, but I was so disappointed when she dropped four miles up Camp Bird. Because I wanted to hunt her down all night. I wanted her to push me for that course record. And like I wanted that string to like, guide me.
iRunFar: Or that hand on your shoulder if she was just behind you.
iRunFar: It helps.
Stanley: Yeah. And so, when I passed her she was sitting on side of the road and I was like, “Ugh. Like I needed you. I needed you out here with me.” So yeah, it was, I mean Camp Bird was still a phenomenal climb for me. I felt really strong, high energy. Same thing going down into Telluride.
iRunFar: You get to Telluride. You pick up Avery [Collins].
iRunFar: How did it go when you picked up Avery?
Stanley: So the climb out of Telluride was definitely my worst climb of the entire race.
Stanley: Yeah. I was, there was like 10 more switchbacks than I remember. And I ran that. It was one of my last long runs. I know that section. But at nighttime, I was like, okay this is I think our last switchback and there’s five more or whatever, it just keeps going. And then that was the first time I really started vomiting. That was pretty close to like treeline going up that. And Avery’s just patiently waiting for me. I’m still at this point going to the bathroom way more than I’d like to and stopping. And just having all kinds of issues. And just between vomits being like, “Okay. Just keep, keep moving forward, keep moving forward.”
iRunFar: How are your legs doing? Are you holding up alright?
Stanley: I mean, honestly, since they cramped, so early on it felt like I like maxed out squats the day before for the rest of the race. I think they were so tense for so long that they were just really sore the entire race. But I had gotten used to it by that time. It just was what it was.
iRunFar: It wasn’t getting any worse.
Stanley: Yeah, exactly. So yeah, just keep moving, keep chipping away and, okay you have this many climbs left. I know exactly what’s coming up. And just get it done.
iRunFar: And you also know exactly what Diana Finkel’s course record splits were.
Stanley: Yes. Yes.
iRunFar: And you were a little bit under them coming into Telluride, and we both know that she ran a very hard first two thirds of a race and kind of relatively struggled the second, or that last third.
iRunFar: And you were hoping to make some time up on that.
Stanley: I was. Looking at her splits like, “Oh, I’ve got this. She walked in, I can totally…” I was so confident. Yeah. That climb out of Telluride really beat me up mentally and physically. So, then it became, shouldn’t be this way. I should be able to push myself without having somebody push me, but I knew how far I was up on Darcy [Piceu]. I was just like in the mode of, get it done now.
iRunFar: Which was a bunch of hours. Unless you blow up.
Stanley: Right. So we just kept moving. The climb up Grant-Swamp Pass was much, much easier than the one up Telluride. And again just being super consistent. Calories weren’t going down super easy so now it’s, I’m not taking caffeine because I am throwing up when I do that.
iRunFar: And you’re not eating enough.
Stanley: Yeah exactly. My nutrition really fell behind there and that was, my stomach just wasn’t having it and so now, just keep moving, keep moving, keep moving.
iRunFar: So when you get to KT aid station you’re just, you know…
iRunFar: Where were you relative to Diana?
Stanley: I think I was still roughly even with her. Because I know, well, I found this out, like, honestly, after Telluride, or after, I would say like the top after Telluride, I fell off looking at any of my cheat sheets. I was just like, go for it and I was feeling so bad physically and mentally that I just didn’t care anymore.
iRunFar: Got it. So you were just doing what you could. You weren’t thinking, “Oh, I got that front of me.”
Stanley: Yeah. I should have been.
iRunFar: I’m sure…
Stanley: It ended how it did, so I can’t. Yeah, I mean, obviously, every hour that passes from the time I finish to now, I beat myself up more. Immediately after finishing the race I was like, I could not have tried an ounce harder, but now that I’m like looking back, oh you could have tried way harder here, here, and here. And so…
iRunFar: But you can’t also, nothing goes perfect every step of the way, every…
iRunFar: Aid station segment…
Stanley: For sure.
iRunFar: But you also have Avery out there and even if you’re not looking…
iRunFar: I’m sure he knows.
Stanley: He totally did. And I think he knew I, in my mind as soon as I started feeling bad I thought, oh I’m off course record, like instantly.
Stanley: And I’m not like intelligently thinking about it. It’s just emotionally based decisions. And so he does know what’s going on, and he was trying to push.
iRunFar: How did he try to, he knows your buttons or levers or whatever it is. How did he…
Stanley: Yeah. I mean, at the very top of the last climb, he said, “I think you can still do course record.” And I was like, not believing it. And he’s like, “Can I break down the splits for you?” And I was like, “No.” And he was trying to be so nice, and tell me I could. Like I don’t, I will try my hardest, and this is it. And like, I don’t want to know the numbers but I will run as hard as I can to the finish. And, yeah.
iRunFar: Did you, did you or he think when you crossed Mineral Creek, did a calculation come out? Because you know exactly how long it takes to run from the creek or the Rainbow Trail to the finish.
Stanley: Whether I’m wrong or right, when I crossed Mineral Creek, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I just knew it wasn’t in the cards. I still wanted to get as close to it as I possibly could, and I still ran really, really hard those last two miles.
iRunFar: You were just crushing it into the finish. You were full on sprinting. You gave what you had.
Stanley: Yeah, yeah.
iRunFar: And you’re proud of it, right?
Stanley: I mean I was, I was pretty upset when I crossed Mineral Creek and I knew it wasn’t there.
iRunFar: You also ran the second-fastest time in Hardrock history. Took three hours off your time.
Stanley: Yeah. And it was a good day all in all. I’m not going to lose sleep over those three minutes.
iRunFar: Yeah. What do you have coming up next?
Stanley: UTMB. [laughs] Yeah.
iRunFar: And does coming out of this give you confidence or strength in going toward UTMB?
Stanley: Yeah. I mean, I never think of myself as a fast runner. I think I’m a very strategic runner. I’m a planner, and I think I run really intelligently. You know how I just talked about like how I totally fell off the last 20 miles, but I go into a race with the plan and I execute it. I never rely on speed. And so all I’ve done the last four months is think about Hardrock and I haven’t even looked at splits for UTMB. I haven’t done anything. But now I have, what, five weeks, six weeks to dial it in.
iRunFar: And as you were talking before the race, when you’re in taper mode, if you have a little extra time. Hopefully you have a little extra time. How long will you recover for?
Stanley: I’m going to take at least a full week off, if not 10 days.
iRunFar: And I assume after that, pretty easy for at least a little while.
Stanley: Yeah, for sure. I mean I’m going into UTMB like, obviously I want to win. And so, whatever I think is most intelligent. I’m not looking to run myself in the ground in training. I’m already fit, clearly, so I just need to maintain it. Get some rest and go in as healthy as I can.
iRunFar: Cool. Congratulations on what was a great run.
Stanley: Thank you.
iRunFar: And see you in Chamonix, France.
Stanley: Can’t wait.