Sabrina Stanley is no stranger to competition. Since an early age, the second-oldest of six children has been involved with sports and gamesmanship.
“From the time I could walk, my dad had me doing T-ball and Little Dribblers,” Stanley says. “Everything in our house was a competition. If my parents went to the store in different vehicles, they would race the cars home. My mom is super competitive and so is my dad. No matter what we were doing — the simplest tasks — it would be about who could do it the fastest or best. I didn’t know that wasn’t normal.”
Instead of running high school cross-country and track like her peers, Stanley played basketball, volleyball and fastpitch softball. One summer during a basketball camp another participant said she ran 7 miles every day.
Stanley’s competitive gene kicked in.
“There’s no way,” Stanley recalls thinking. “So after I got home that summer, I ran 7.2 miles every single day. She’ll never know that. If she can run 7 miles, I want to do that too and there’s no way she can beat me. It’s just this stupid little competitive game in my head.”
Now, 28, that competitive spirit still burns bright. So much so that her boyfriend, Avery Collins, has to emphasize: “Everything is not a competition.“
“I struggle with that because even mundane tasks I have to do better than another person. I should probably see a psychiatrist about that,” Stanley says with a laugh. “Growing up in that family environment has led me to be competitive as an adult in other adventures.”
Finding trail running
Even as she played other high school sports, Stanley continued to run. For example, after fastpitch practice, she would hit the track for two hours.
“My coaches used to joke that I ran more than the track kids. I just really loved to run.”
She progressed to half marathons, fulls and then found trail running when she moved to Breckenridge, Colo. “From trail running, I realized this is what I am supposed to be doing,” Stanley remembers. “I just went farther and farther and farther and put my name in for Leadville.”
Stanley was selected for the 100-mile race, her first ultra. A friend advised her to do a 50-miler first. Antelope Canyon 50 Miler in Arizona. “It went really well — too well — because I got cocky for Leadville and that did not go so well.”
That first attempt at Leadville ended with a rare DNF for Stanley. To no one’s surprise, she was down but far from out.
AJW’s female rookie of the year
Collins and Stanley regularly talk about their “whys” for running. “He talks about running for adventure and picks races because he wants the biggest adventure he can get,” she says. “I would disagree with that. It appeals to me but at the same time I would rather pick a race that I know is going to be competitive and will challenge me to run faster, not really to enjoy the scenery — that’s what my training is for.”
Their relationship has helped each ultra runner find and try epic races outside their own traditional norm. “He brings me to races, and I bring him to races,” she says. “Like HURT was never a goal of mine. He introduced me to it. And we play off each other like that.”
Collins won the challenging HURT 100-miler in January while Stanley took third for women and 14th overall.
For Stanley, it was one in a series of podium finishes. Last year, she finished second at Sean O’Brien 100K, third at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run and fifth at Run Rabbit Run 100-miler.
For her strong performance, Andy Jones-Wilkins selected Stanley as his female rookie of the year.
“It’s extra motivation and validation,” she says of the recognition. “I was trying to make it big in the sport. I want to be known as a super competitive female in the sport. When people see my name on a race docket, I want them to be scared.”
Stanley is focused on even bigger accolades.
“I expected to get top 10 for UROY (Ultra Runner of the Year) — I’m not hurt that I didn’t,” she says. “The top 10 that they listed are all amazing athletes. But at the same time, I hold myself to a very high level and I want to perform at that level. I don’t feel more pressure from AJW picking me because at the same time I already hold myself to that standard.”
With her top 10 finish last year at Western, she is on the list to return in June. But right now her summer plans are in limbo.
Stanley currently holds the fifth spot on the wait list for those who have never previously run the Hardrock 100-Mile Endurance Run. “If I get into Hardrock, my goal is to win,” she says. “That’s my dream for the year.”
Right now, she figures her chances of getting into Hardrock are 50-50, so she is looking ahead to Western States.
“I would like to move up a spot, or two,” she says of Western States. “I don’t want to move backwards at all. I know it’s a really competitive field. I know Western plays tricks on people. They go out super fast or the heat gets to them. A lot of amazing runners forget the strategic factor. They just run and they forget about that it’s 100 miles and there is more game play than a 5K.”
Stanley and Collins are quitting their jobs and planning to travel and run in various places throughout the summer. “We’re pretty stoked on it. It wasn’t a tough choice, it’s just a matter of how we go about it,” she says, adding they are borrowing a friend’s camper to travel and live in.
Both have their own coaching businesses, and sponsors are helping out with races and other expenses.
“We’re not rich by any means, but we can live out of a camper,” she says. “We just figured financially that we were able to do it. Maybe it’s not everybody’s dream but it’s our dream. Not having to clock in at a job; but being parked outside of the San Juans and going for a 20-mile run every day.”
They have various races they are signed up for and plan to do the Western States training camp. “But everything hinges on Hardrock,” she says.
Stanley and Collins are flexible on their destinations, though they will primarily be on the West Coast.
“We don’t have anything super planned,” she admits. “Wherever we wake up that day and want to go, we’ll go. It will depend on what our next race is and what training would be best. Our goal is that I get into Hardrock and we can live in the San Juans as much as possible.”
Name: Sabrina Stanley
Hometown: Onalaska, Wash.
Number of years running: Trail for three years, road for 10 (ish)
How many miles a week do you typically run: 70-110 (depending on my upcoming race)
Point of pride: Being a competitive woman. I feel that the majority of the elite women downplay their aggressiveness, and the work they put in to compete at the level they do.
Favorite race distance: 100 miles
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Oatmeal
Favorite piece of gear: Altra Superior shoes
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: "I'm the Best," Nicki Minaj
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: I'm not exactly sure how it goes but something I truly believe in is "If you didn't die at the finish line, you didn't give your all, and you could have run faster."
Where can other runners connect or follow you:
• Website/Blog: https://www.sabrinastanley.com
• Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sabrina.stanley.18
• Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sabrinaleannstanley
• Twitter: https://twitter.com/altrasabrina?s=07