ENDURANCE: Onalaska Native Sabrina Stanley Finishes 21st Overall in World-Renowned 100-Mile Race
By Matt Baide
The idea of one marathon is enough to make the vast majority of people tired. But running almost four marathons in one day? That’s a feat few can accomplish.
Sabrina Stanley, however, is one of the few. The Onalaska native recently competed in the Western States 100, finishing in 21st place overall out of 248 runners.
The Western States 100 is the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race. The competition starts in Squaw Valley, Calif. and ends in Auburn, 100.2 miles later. The race includes a climb of 18,000 feet and drops down about 23,000 feet to the finish line.
“I heard about it five years ago, read about it in a book. It’s kind of considered the Super Bowl of 100s in America, if not the world,” said Stanley.
Stanley graduated from Onalaska in 2008, and was a runner throughout high school and into her years after school. She got into the sport of ultrarunning, which is any race that runs more than the standard 26.2 miles making up a marathon.
Athletes can qualify to race in the Western States in a few ways. There are the automatic qualifiers, which includes the top 10 men and women from the previous year’s race, as well as some sponsor entries and athletes that run on the Ultra-Trail World Tour.
For someone without the automatic entry, there are two ways to qualify for the race. Athletes can apply for the lottery after having competed in a qualifying race and have their name randomly chosen to compete, or they can finish in the top two of an Altra Golden Ticket Race.
Stanley signed up for the Sean O’Brien race on Feb. 4, a 100K race in Malibu, Calif.
“I just signed up for one of those golden ticket races and was just going to see what would happen and if I could take top two,” Stanley said.
Stanley finished in second place in 10 hours, 19 minutes, and earned a golden ticket into the Western States 100.
“I knew it’d just come along but it wasn’t really a priority of mine at all until I ran Sean O’Brien and got an entry to it,” Stanley said. “I didn’t fully plan on winning my way in. I thought whenever my name gets drawn from the lottery, which could be a year to five years before I actually run the race. Until this year, I never truly considered myself running as a competitor.”
The Western States was held June 24, giving Stanley about four months to train and prepare for the big race.
“I’ve been training competitively for about a year now. Once we got into Western, nothing really changed that much — a lot of high mileage weeks, and the main thing that changed with my training was heat,” Stanley said. “It’s notorious for being super hot out there. We would spend, in the two weeks leading up into the race, we spent a few nights in the sauna for an hour to an hour and a half.”
Stanley’s training leading up to the race included running 80 to 110 miles per week.
“I’ve always kind of been active, since I was a sophomore in high school. I’ve always ran for enjoyment. Once I got into ultra running, I’d say my weekly mileage was picked up,” Stanley said. “I’ve been running for years and years, it’s not like I got into the race and I had four months to train from scratch to run 100 miles. I’ve been doing it for a while. I ran a race to get into Westerns, so my fitness was kind of already there.
“It was there and I was just maintaining it and figuring out your training plan to make sure you peak at the right time, so you don’t go into the race burnt out or your legs are dead or you’re not in shape enough — maintaining that balance until race day.”
Stanley arrived at Squaw Valley before the race, and was able to erase all nerves and gain even more motivation before the event started.
“I knew the other names in the race and I knew their results and stuff, but I had won a golden ticket so I knew I deserved to be there,” she said. “They have a big pre-race meeting and they call up what they thought were the top 17 women. I thought I would be called up as well, but I wasn’t. As soon as that happened, all my nerves went away and I was just ticked off. I was going out to prove something.”
That turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“I had a chip on my shoulder going into that race. Mentally, I was given that little edge, and I was no longer nervous,” she said. “I have to perform well, they don’t even know who I am? OK, well they’re going to know by the end of today.”
The race began at 5 a.m. The competitors had to race to aid stations by a certain time or they would be disqualified. Competitors have to run the first 62 miles by themselves, and after 62 miles are allowed to have up to three pacers, athletes that can run with them but aren’t part of the race.
Stanley carried two 18 ounce water bottles with her, and a few 100-calorie snacks to stay fueled. Along the course are 21 aid stations for runners to get food, refill water or receive any necessary medical attention.
“I’d eat at every aid station as much as I can, a couple hundred calories, peanut butter-jelly sandwiches, Oreos, something to get into your system,” Stanley said. “I think that’s the main thing of running 100s, is keeping your body fueled. If you don’t have calories in, you’re going to crash and burn.”
The toughest part of the race wasn’t physical, but a mental aspect. The toughest part of the race came around mile 80, shortly after the sunset.
“I had a pacer who was out on my tail, he was a little bit behind me and I was worried about him. You’re 80 miles into a race so your body starts to feel it a little bit more, and mentally it was like, I just need to get to this aid station and see my crew, and then I’ll be OK,” Stanley said. “There was a girl that was on my tail and I was running really hard and I just couldn’t shake her. I thought, ‘How does she have this much energy this far into the race?’ I think that kind of weighed on me a little bit, but as soon as I got to mile 80, I picked up a pacer and once we were running together, we started cruising.”
The final stretch of the race goes through the streets of Auburn, and ends with a quarter mile run around the track at the high school.
“The last three quarters, I still wasn’t 100 percent sure I had third place locked in. I passed a girl at mile 90, and I thought she was on my tail the entire time we were gunning it,” Stanley said. “It wasn’t until I hit the track the last quarter of a mile that I knew nobody was going to pass me, I could sprint this out and beat anyone that came behind me.”
Stanley rounded the track and raced toward the finish line to her crew of supporters, including her boyfriend Avery Collins, her dad Skeeter and brother Reece, Dean and Tristan Eastham, and Onalaska native Charlie South.
“It was a really cool feeling to come in and see everybody there and not only to finish the race, but to finish it in third, which still blows my mind,” Stanley said. “I can’t comprehend it, it’s something I never truly dwelled on or dreamed about. I was obviously super ecstatic and trying to absorb it, but at the same time, it wasn’t super sinking in.”
Stanley completed the race in 20 hours, 11 minutes, which was the exact time she had planned out as a goal. She earned a silver belt buckle for completing the race in under 24 hours, and has earned a spot in next year’s race with her top-10 finish. She’s hoping that running companies will take notice of her finish and hopes to earn a sponsorship deal to help her travel to more races.
Stanley said she’d change a few things the next time she runs the race.
“My training in my head wasn’t what I dreamed it would be. It went well, obviously, because the results of my training were the results of my race, but in my training I think I could have pushed harder than I did,” Stanley said. “It’s a weird balance of overtraining and undertraining, I think. A perfect scenario would be my boyfriend Avery paces me, and obviously we take first, that would be the perfect day, just because we have so much fun running together and it would be cool to win Western one day.”
Stanley plans on running in Run Rabbit Run next on Sept. 8-9, a race in Steamboat Springs, Colo., where Stanley currently resides and trains. She’s also planning on running in the Hurt 100, a race taking place in Hawaii in January 2018.
Even with the automatic qualification, Stanley is still undecided about running in the 2018 Western States 100.
“I’m not going to write it off because I would really love to go back and take it. As far as 2018, I don’t know, we’ll see. There’s so many amazing races out there, and it’s a solid five month committment to do any 100. It’s a huge commitment,” she said. “If you commit to Western, you’re kind of throwing any other races out for August, June, July or anything prior to that. There’s so many beautiful races out there that I would like to attempt, and doing the same race back-to-back years, you’re sacrificing a lot of other opportunities.”