Sabrina Stanley Post-Nolan’s 14 Women’s Overall Fastest Known Time Interview

A written interview with Sabrina Stanley after she set the overall women’s fastest known time for the Nolan’s 14 line.

By on August 14, 2020 | Comments

Sabrina Stanley set the women’s overall fastest known time (FKT) on the Nolan’s 14 line in the Sawatch Range of Colorado in 51 hours and 15 minutes. Her August 8 through 10 effort bettered the women’s overall FKT of 53:14 set by Andrea Sansone in August of 2020. Sabrina completed the attempt in supported style.

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 Sabrina the day after her finish. Sabrina talks about how she decided to pursue the Nolan’s 14 effort after races were canceled due to COVID-19, how she trained on the route for over a month, and how her days on the line played out.

Sabrina Stanley on her way to setting a women’s overall Nolan’s 14 FKT. Photo: Amanda Grimes

iRunFar: Sabrina, congratulations! How are you feeling?

Sabrina Stanley: Thank you. I am feeling really good. I really enjoyed the experience but I’m happy to be here right now. I’m happy with the process, and happy that I’m at the end of it.

iRunFar: You get to sit on a couch and chill now.

Stanley: Yes. And eat whatever I want, and not feel guilty about missing a training run, and sleep in.

iRunFar: Since you mentioned food, what did you eat for your post-Nolan’s meal?

Stanley: I let Avery [Collins] be in charge of that. I fell asleep on the couch. When I woke up, he had ordered pizza. It was like, every gluten-dense item you can imagine. We had pasta and bread and cheese in three different forms.

iRunFar: You don’t eat gluten, so how’s that going today?

Stanley: I haven’t noticed it.

iRunFar: Your body is metabolizing it so quick. Let’s start with how Nolan’s came onto your radar.

Stanley: The first time I heard of Nolan’s, I was working at a running store and it was when Anna Frost and Missy Gosney were doing their attempt. My boss then, Dean Eastham, who’s my crew chief now, was updating me. It’s cool that the first time I heard about it, it was women doing it.

iRunFar: Oh wow!

Stanley: Then, I got into racing and I was, “Oh, Nolan’s will be on the back burner.” When COVID-19 hit and races were canceled, I was like, “This is the summer that I can do it.” Avery has wanted to do Nolan’s for a while as well. So, we decided to it the same summer.

I started listening to any podcast about Nolan’s I could get my hands on, reaching out to people who had finished Nolan’s, and gathering information. I started training [at home] in Silverton[,Colorado] on these routes that were like Nolan’s. Then we went up to Leadville to start scouting.

iRunFar: When did you and Avery go out to Leadville?

Stanley: We went on June 1 for about two-and-a-half weeks. Then, my brother got married at the end of June. When we came back from that, we spent another two weeks scouting. Then, Avery had other stuff going on, so I spent two separate weeks up here camping alone and scouting as well.

iRunFar: You have a reputation in the trail running and ultrarunning world as liking gnarly, tough terrain and races. You were kind of already in the direction of Nolan’s, but what did you think when you started doing the course?

Stanley: When I did the Hardrock 100 and Grant-Swamp Pass for the first time, I was like, “This is insane. There’s no way this is a racecourse.” I felt really uncomfortable going down it the first time. I think Hardrock hazed me. When I came to Nolan’s, I had listened to so many podcasts about Nolan’s and read a bunch of race reports, so I think I had mentally prepared for cliff drops, insane sketchy rocks, and death at every corner. As you go, you’re sometimes on singletrack and roads. Not to downplay Nolan’s at all, but it’s not 100% off course.

iRunFar: Right on. You had a bit of a tenuous situation because you waited a long time for a weather window.

Stanley: I just didn’t want to be flexible. I wanted to keep my training and tapering schedule for Hardrock. I had this whole plan and I wanted to stick with that. I had planned to start on July 20, but then August 8 was the first weather window I felt confident in.

iRunFar:  What was that waiting like for you?

Stanley: It was horrible! I did five weeks of taper, which is crazy. I’ve never done that. I am very adamant. I usually do two weeks of taper, and that’s it. I don’t think I would change it. It ended up that way for a reason, and I’m happy with it.

iRunFar: You went south to north, and started at the Blank’s Cabin Trailhead underneath Mount Shavano at 6:01 a.m. on Saturday, August 8. Tell us about that blast off.

Stanley: I was excited, and trying to stay calm. I decided I was just going to run by feel, and whatever my body had, I was going to do that. I was cycling through efforts. So I would do roughly four minutes as low as I can get my heart rate. And then four minutes at medium effort. And then four minutes just raging.

iRunFar: Up the first mountain? Wow!

Stanley: That’s my thing. I feel like if I stay at medium effort, that medium effort gets lower and lower. It might be crazy and there’s no science behind it, but it keeps me engaged and focused.

I got up to the summit in 1:43. In training, I don’t think I ever broke 2:02. I felt like time wasn’t a thing. If you had told me it’d been three hours, I would have believed you. And if you had told me it had been 30 minutes, I would have believed that too.

Also, I started at 6:00 a.m., so all the 14er hikers were going up. There are people watching you so it’s kind of a race vibe and I think that pushed me a little bit as well.

iRunFar: Let’s talk about peaks two and three.

Stanley: Tabeguache Peak was pretty easy as well. At that point, I knew I was ahead of schedule and so I was like, “I’m not even going to think about where I should be on Mount Antero. I’m just going to keep running.”

Avery surprised me on Antero. I knew he was going to meet me on Antero, but I didn’t know he was going to run with me. He met me at the saddle where you leave the road and go to singletrack. He went to the summit with me, and then ran down to Alpine and over Mount Princeton.

I was riding this high coming down Antero. We had music playing and I was playing air drums and I was so hyped up.

We did Princeton and it was hot and there were a ton of mountain goats up there.

iRunFar: I think the forecast said it was to be hotter than normal that day.

Stanley: I don’t know if this was a mistake or not, but at Grand Raid Réunion, Daf [Fabrice Payet] was crewing me and he was adamant that I leave my t-shirt on and not go to a tank top or a sports bra. I kept that in my mind and I kept on a black, long-sleeve shirt for Princeton.

I was just trying to eat and stay hydrated, dipping my hat in water whenever we got to a water crossing. It was early in the attempt as well so my body wasn’t crashing yet and so I was able to push through the heat.

iRunFar: Princeton is summit four. You said there were mountain goats up there.

Stanley: We saw 12 goats, which is the largest herd I’d ever seen. There were tons of babies. It was really awesome. One knocked a boulder almost on top of Avery. That was the biggest boulder I’ve ever seen fall down the mountain. It was the size of half of a car and it just came flying down the middle of the chute. It was daunting to see something that big coming toward you.

iRunFar: I was privy to what was going on because I was one of your pacers so I was at the Avalanche Trailhead, which is the crossing between mountains four and five. You came into that hours ahead of the pace chart you sent all of us.

Stanley: I knew I was ahead of schedule, but I did not know I was so far ahead of schedule until you told me that I was on 44-hour pace. I didn’t realize it was that extreme. If I had to guess, I’d say I was on 50-hour pace. I didn’t mean to create a buffer, but there was a time buffer. Later on, I was really thankful for that. I was also like, “Well, let’s see if I can hang onto this.”

iRunFar: On the next mountain, Mount Yale, it became nighttime. Were you happy for the dark?

Stanley: Yes. I was waiting for the temperature to drop. I was so thankful when the night came. I picked up Jenny Fox as a pacer. We had a great time going up Yale. Her spirit was very energizing.

We had the most magnificent sunset up there. There was this huge shadow that was the perfect triangle over the valley below us, made by the sun shadowing the whole mountain. All the clouds were glowing pink. It was probably one of the top five most beautiful nights I’d ever seen. We were starstruck.

When we descended, I turned my headlamp on at treeline and stopped and filtered water. And then just kind of worked our way down the creek bed until we hit the singletrack and met you guys with the crew at North Cottonwood Creek. Then I picked you up as a pacer.

On Mount Yale around sunset on the first night. Photo: Jenny Fox

iRunFar: Then it was the core nighttime section there. The first night had descended.

Stanley: Yes. I felt really good on the climb up Mount Columbia.

iRunFar: We flew up Columbia, I thought.

Stanley: Yeah. Looking back, I felt good and then something switched. I just got nauseous out of nowhere. I don’t know if it was the heat of the day catching up, or the headlamp light was making me nauseous?

I got really nauseous as you know, and I was just so thirsty. I just wanted to guzzle Gatorade. I was really looking forward to that one creek bed. But the creek had dried up. I didn’t handle it well. We climbed up to Mount Harvard very slowly and took a lot of breaks.

The descent off Harvard was rough as well. I thought I knew the course really well. And I think I was a little shellshocked, I guess, to realize that maybe I didn’t, especially at nighttime. And so, I was beating myself up pretty hard there. I wanted to do Nolan’s one time, and I wanted to do it perfectly. At that moment I realized I was not doing it perfectly.

We just kept moving and we summited Mount Oxford. The sun rose on top of Oxford and it was still rough all the way to the top of Mount Belford.

iRunFar: Avery came to the top of Belford and brought a ton of food and drink. It was actually super-awesome to watch, you were eating and drinking a ton. Not a lot of people can do that at 14,000 feet altitude!

Stanley: It did not taste good. It was so hard to scarf down that sandwich. But yeah, I kept eating.

I knew I’d lost a lot of time in the night, so, I was trying to just keep moving and be consistent. Missouri Mountain, I felt like I got up there pretty quickly. I still felt pretty drained, but I felt like I was coming back to life.

iRunFar: You had a new pacer there too, Avery again.

Stanley: Yes. I don’t know what it is but him and I running together, it’s magical. I know that sounds so cheesy, but we just work together so well.

I picked up Amanda Grimes as a pacer at Clohesy Lake. When I started out, I told her straight off the bat, “I’m moving really slowly. I want you to keep talking and I’m not going to respond. I’m just going to follow you and you need to walk at a decent clip and I will keep up with you. Please don’t go at my pace. Make me go with you.” I just followed her up Mount Huron as efficiently as I could. She told me stories and it was entertaining.

We climbed up to the summit of Huron, and I sat and ate a gel right there and that was the first time where I’m like, “Okay. We’re back in it 100%. Let’s get after it again.” Jenny had hiked up to the summit of Huron to meet us. Jenny and Amanda were having a blast. They’re besties, like to the extreme. It was cool to be around that energy too, females crushing it. It just felt awesome.

I got to my crew at Winfield and Amanda came in two or three minutes after me. I was sitting down, taking care of my feet. She comes in, chugs a Gatorade, and she’s like, “I’m going to go start La Plata [Peak] and I’ll wait for you at the trailhead. But I want to be ready.” She was so dedicated.

At Winfield, I got taken care of again, headed back out, and met Amanda. It was really hot again. Both Huron and La Plata were really hot. We made it to the top of La Plata. Again, Jenny had climbed up the backside and met us up there.

iRunFar: Such a pro.

Stanley: Yeah. The plan was when we had left Winfield that Amanda was going to pace me up and we weren’t super concerned with her pacing me all the way down. Amanda officially clocked out of pacing duties at the top of La Plata. Going down La Plata was really rough because the only food I had left was Sour Patch Kids, which I wanted no part of. I started hallucinating, rocks and stumps would be animals.

iRunFar: What kinds of animals?

Stanley: I’d be like, “Oh, there’s a bear next to the trail.” And then, you know it’s not.

iRunFar: That’s fun!

Stanley: When I got to Everett, it was evening. I ate there and that was the first time I put my head down, closed my eyes, took a breath, and relaxed for a second.

iRunFar: How’d that feel?

Stanley: Not as good as you’d think. The whole time I’m like, “I have to get going.” Avery and I started up Mount Elbert. I think we went maybe an hour and a half before we turned on our headlamps. Then, I crashed again. Going up Elbert, I think at roughly treeline was when it really fell apart again. I was really nauseous for a little bit. Avery told me to eat ginger chews, and so I did that, and after that I was fine with nausea.

But I was still really sleep deprived. It just seemed like we weren’t moving at all.

We hit two false summits that we were certain were the summit. I’m like, “Just get to the summit. Get to the summit.” And then Avery would be like, “200 feet, 100 feet, 50 feet.” Then we get there and he’s like, “I’m so sorry. We’ve got to go there.” And he shines his headlamp and you just see a mountain shadow in the distance.

So we slowly grind up that climb. And then he’s like, the same drill again. He’s so encouraging. He’s like, “Okay, you have 500 more feet, 400 more feet. Just keep moving.” He’s like, “Okay, you’re there.” And then he looks at his phone, and he’s like, “I’m so sorry.” We started all again, and we had false summited for a second time.

iRunFar: It’s funny listening to this story now, but it wasn’t then, was it?

Stanley: I never cried, but I wanted to. I knew if I broke down I would be less inefficient. We summited Elbert, finally. That was the most gratifying summit of them all.

iRunFar: That’s 13, the second-to-last one.

Stanley: While we’re on top of Elbert, climbing up, I kept saying, “Let me just lay down. Can you clock me two minutes?” I was doing that on the way down as well. We would do a couple hundred vertical feet and I’d be like, “Okay, I just need to rest on my poles.”

iRunFar: You needed a nap, didn’t you?

Stanley: Before I started Nolan’s, I said I was never going to sleep. But on coming down Elbert, I said, “I think I’m going to take a nap.” We made to the crew station and I got in the most comfortable sleeping bag ever, and had a hot cup of soup. And I told my brother to wake me up in 18 minutes. Then I’m going to lay there for two, and then I’ll get up. When I woke up, it felt like I’d slept for eight hours. I was fresh and ready to move.

It’s relatively flat for two miles-ish starting up Mount Massive. I powerhiked really efficiently. It felt like just a step below running.

We saw four mountain goats close to the summit, which was a cool ending to Nolan’s.

The sun rose, and you could see this layer of smoke, and there was ash. My lungs were burning, like they were on fire inside.

We summit and start heading down and everything seemed so much harder. I’ve done Massive so many times. I’m like, “I do not remember this incline on the way down.” Everything is so much more daunting. We get to the Highline Trail to take it all the way down to the finish at Fish Hatchery and we take a left instead of a right.

Sabrina and Avery on Mount Massive at sunrise on the final morning. Photo: Avery Collins

iRunFar: Ha! Did you just hit it and turn left and go?

Stanley: Where we came onto the Highline Trail, it was like you could take a right or you could go down. And so we ran down because that seemed right. We didn’t run that far, maybe a couple hundred yards. I was like, “This does not seem familiar. Nothing is clicking.” I start freaking out.

iRunFar: A lot of people get turned around on the last mountain.

Stanley: I listened to Joe Grant talk about his attempt, where he summited Shavano, his last summit, a couple of times. I did the same thing, only on singletrack! We figured it out, and lost maybe 10 minutes. I think that 10 minutes actually came back because our adrenaline was going, “Oh, we have to sprint now.”

iRunFar: You finished in 51 hours and 15 minutes and it was a giant new FKT. Moving the women’s mark that far, were you stoked on what you had accomplished?

Stanley: If you had told me my time a week ago, I would’ve been flabbergasted. I would’ve been stoked. Now that I’ve run the course, I think for me, that’s a 46- to 47-hour course. I think that if the time is spent out here, that there’s an elite female who can easily break 50. Kudos to her whenever she comes along.

I don’t know when I will attempt it again, but I feel like I will, especially if my record is broken. I almost want it to be broken because I want an excuse to come back and see what I can really do.

It’s easy now that I have had some sleep, have been eating normal food, and have been comfy again, to be like, “Oh, I could shave time here, I could shave time there.” But in the moment it’s so much harder to do that. Who knows what’s really possible.

iRunFar: My last question, tell us about your crew.

Stanley: My brother Reese Stanley comes out to pretty much any race he can. That goes back to the very first ultra I ran, and even my marathons before ultras.

Dean, I met at a running store. He was my boss. He’s been one of my biggest supporters, and is so positive and encouraging. He’s like my second dad.

Kate Tsai is a girlfriend from Breckenridge. She was here for the bulk of it, which was pretty cool.

Then Avery, he ran with me for 50 miles or more. Just getting to and from remote crew aid stations or bringing me food on course, he ended up doing over 60 miles himself. Plus, leading up to the attempt, everything Avery has done in terms of my training and telling me what runs I should be doing and how fast I should be doing them. If you take myself out of the equation, he’s the biggest reason as to where I am today. I’m going to start crying because he really is so amazing.

Then my pacers were you, Amanda, Jenny, and obviously Avery.

iRunFar: At these long events, your crew becomes more important with all the supplies they give you.

Stanley: I mean, I ate so much. I think about Sarah Hansel a lot, and how she did Nolan’s 14 unsupported. It just seems so incomprehensible to do that.

iRunFar: Congratulations on your shiny FKT!

Stanley: Thank you, my first ever.

Sabrina (lower right) with her crew.

Meghan Hicks

Meghan Hicks is the Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar. She’s been running since she was 13 years old, and writing and editing about the sport for around 15 years. She served as iRunFar’s Managing Editor from 2013 through mid-2023, when she stepped into the role of Editor-in-Chief. Aside from iRunFar, Meghan has worked in communications and education in several of America’s national parks, was a contributing editor for Trail Runner magazine, and served as a columnist at Marathon & Beyond. She’s the co-author of Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running with Bryon Powell. She won the 2013 Marathon des Sables, finished on the podium of the Hardrock 100 Mile in 2021, and has previously set fastest known times on the Nolan’s 14 mountain running route in 2016 and 2020. Based part-time in Moab, Utah and Silverton, Colorado, Meghan also enjoys reading, biking, backpacking, and watching sunsets.