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Sabrina Stanley’s tale of two Nolan’s 14 FKTs

(All photos by @rabbitwolfcreative)

Sabrina Stanley’s goal was simple: take back her Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the Nolan's 14 in the Sawatch Range in Colorado.

Nolan's 14 is 14 mountains that top 14,000 feet of elevation. The exact route is open, but the distance is over 90 miles and elevation gain is at least 40,000 feet.

Stanley set the FKT in August, with a time of two days, three hours and 15 minutes. Just over three weeks later, Meghan Hicks reclaimed the FKT she previously held with a time of two days, two hours and 32 minutes.

“I’d been working toward that and then to only have it for 20something days was kind of a blow,” Stanley says. “I just figured I'd go back out there. I knew there was time to be made up, so I thought I could do it and then actually pulled it off. It felt really good.”

With the vast majority of races canceled this year and concerns over travel, Stanley started eyeing FKTs earlier this year. Once her FKT was broken, she felt a sense of urgency to reclaim it, knowing early Colorado snow could block her plans. She looked skyward to solidify her plans.

“The biggest factor for the date was the full moon,” says Stanley, who finished the second attempt Oct. 4. “So I had to wait until there was a full moon and then the next full moon is at Halloween when there could be snow on the ground. I definitely wanted to get it done before winter hit because I'm hoping that next summer we're partially back to normal and Hardrock will be happening and hopefully I'll be able to go to UTMB.”

Lessons learned

Stanley first heard about the Nolan's 14 in the summer of 2016 when she was working in a Breckenridge running store and her boss was tracking Anna Frost and Missy Gosney, who were doing it together.

“I got interested in it but I just really didn't plan on going after it for a while, just because I wanted to focus on racing. But when COVID hit, I wanted to do something kind of close because I knew I couldn't travel anywhere. And so Nolan's 14 kind of became the goal.”

Stanley and boyfriend Avery Collins headed to Leadville in early June to train and learn the route. Previously, she had never run for more than 31 hours, which added to the challenge.

“The first time the main goal was just to do it and see how fast I could do it,” she says. “I just didn't know how my body was going to respond that late into the run.”

Stanley felt extremely tired on the second night and ended up taking a 20-minute nap. She would stop, eat, and then resume running. “Every time I ate, it would took up a lot of time. And I was very adamant that I needed to eat every half hour. So every half hour I'm giving up five minutes and that really added up.”

Knowing that she would need to limit her down time on the second attempt, Stanley instituted some changes.

She started at 4 p.m., for her second attempt, rather than at 6 a.m. “So I put the sections I struggled with in daylight. And then that was the main goal, but an advantage of starting at 4 p.m. that I hadn't considered is that my last 12 hours was in daylight. So when I'm most tired, the sun is up, which really helps not to feel the need to sleep as much. And so my second attempt I didn't sleep and then I also made it a priority to keep moving while eating.”

Stanley also adjusted her eating schedule, deciding only to eat when hungry. “I trusted my body that I wouldn't hit a wall by not eating as regularly, and just kind of listened to it,” she says, estimating that she ended up eating around every 45 minutes.

While she did not deviate much from the original route, she did spend more time practicing on a couple of sections that she had difficulty with during the first attempt.

“I didn't think there was time to be made up through my routes,” she says. “So I tried to stick to my main routes because I had done a ton of course scouting early on, and I felt really comfortable with how direct my routes were.”

A little help from her friends

Another major factor in her success was the pre-FKT taper. Weather issues delayed the attempt and extended her taper from two to five weeks during the first time around.

“I had never taken a taper that long before,” she explains. “And so going into my second attempt, I had two really hard weeks of training and then I did a week and a half taper, and I honestly don't know if one was better than the other because I feel like my taper wasn't long enough for my second attempt, but my first attempt was too long.”

In both cases, her crew was amazing, she says.

“I had almost the exact same crew with some additional Adidas athletes for the second attempt,” she says. “The time that my crew and pacers committed was unbelievable. It truly is such a team effort to get something like that accomplished. I'm so thankful that so many of them were on board for the second attempt and sacrificed their weekends for me.”

It’s no doubt that the crew played a significant role in both FKTs.

“On the second attempt, there was a mission and we were going to do it and it was a lot more serious and a lot more focused,” she says. “One mountain at a time, get it over with, go to the next and be very driven. Not that the first time wasn't serious, but there's an air of the unknown. Whereas the second time, we're out here to do something and we're going to get it done and just keep moving forward.”

‘You can DNF an FKT’

During long events like an FKT that surpasses 48 hours, an athlete will go into a dark place from time to time. (Coree Woltering's FKT on the Ice Age Trail had a little bit of everything.) For Stanley, negative thoughts showed up early.

“I believe you can DNF an FKT and I don't really believe in DNFing,” she says. “I would say the first half, I didn't know how my body was going to hold up. I was starting to get some weird knee pains, just four mountains in. And

I was like, ‘Oh man, this is so early.’ I still have 36 hours to go at minimum.”

She felt like she was moving slower. “I kept telling myself, ‘Keep going.’ I knew my splits were ahead of the current FKT. And so I told myself, ‘You can't quit when you're in first place, just keep pushing, try your hardest. And then if you fall drastically behind the splits and you know it's not there, then maybe you can think about quitting. But right now, while you're still ahead, just keep pushing and don't think about whatever pain your leg is going to be in.’”

Fifty miles in, Stanley figured she could keep pushing through the pain, the doubt, everything.

“I really just truly focused on turning my brain off as much as I could,” she recalls. “The first time I tried to really experience what it was going to be like. This time I actively tried not to experience it. It definitely was hard at times.”

As she continued to push Stanley was also tracking the splits from Hicks’ FKT, her own first attempt at Nolan’s and ones based on a 48-hour finishing time.

“I was always just shy of the 48-hour splits, but I was always, at least an hour ahead of Meghan's, if not a little bit more.”

Even so it was not until the 13th treeline that Stanley felt comfortable.

“Meghan had a really strong finish on her last two mountains,” she says. “The entire time, no matter how far I was ahead of her splits, I knew that I couldn't fall behind on Elbert or Massive. And so when I was at treeline at Elbert, I think was the first time that I realized, if you just keep this up, there's no way that she could catch you based on her splits. And so I just had to keep moving forward.

Defending her FKT

It’s that unrelenting drive and uber confidence that has fueled Stanley to a string of successful race finishes, and now, FKTs. In our previous interview, Stanley said, "When people see my name on a race docket, I want them to be scared."

So, I asked, “When it comes to FKTs that you have, do you have a similar sentiment for those looking to break them?”

Without a doubt Stanley affirmed the question.

“I do. I want, obviously, people to look at my time and be like, ‘Wow, that's a really stout time that can't be broken.’ With my Nolan's time, I definitely feel like there's wiggle room there just because, I wasn't on fresh legs and the amount of darkness, snow conditions, I think that, on the perfect day, I could definitely go faster. But for that attempt, I'm very happy.”

As the calendar moves closer to Halloween, the window may be closing for others to attempt the FKT this year. But what if Hicks or someone else breaks the FKT, will Stanley look to reclaim it?

That's the question, right? I don't want to rule it out for sure. I feel like my team manager at Adidas took a little bit of convincing even to go for the second round because he was concerned about my body and recovery. I guess it would depend on the timeframe and how possible it was to go back out there and do it again.”

With 2021 racing uncertain, Stanley’s plans are up in the air. If races such as Hardrock are canceled again, there may be more FKTs in her future.

“I hope racing returns to normal and FKTs are something I can focus on at a different stage in my career,” she says. “But if COVID continues to rule out races for the future, the Superior Trail is definitely on the list and also the Wonderland Trail. Way down the road, I have a small desire to do the Pacific Coast Trail or the Appalachian Trail. But those are years out. Right now, I'd like to focus on at least one- to two-day attempts and then go from there.”

Speed drill

Name: Sabrina Stanley

Hometown: Onalaska, Wash.

Number of years running: Trail for five years, road for 12 (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 gear: Adidas Terrex Agravic Flow.

Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Oatmeal

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:


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