Sabrina Stanley Is Ready to (Finally) Race UTMB

The two-time Hardrock 100 champ from Colorado has developed a calmer and more balanced race mentality

Photo: Luke Webster

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Sabrina Stanley might not be who you think she is.

Yes, she’s fiercely competitive and one of the best 100-miler trail runners in the world, but she’s not—and never intended to be—some sort of dastardly villain of the ultrarunning world. Although she’s been known as a merciless competitor, she’s also been a thoughtful, introspective, quirky, and often silly individual who is tight with her family, loves animals and really loves the freedom of running on mountain trails.

Yet, the 33-year-old Adidas-Terrex runner from Silverton, Colorado, is aware that some people have continued to cast shade at her for being overly competitive and not very well-rounded, even though she never thought it was justified. Still, with some self-reflection, she’s evolved a bit since last year as prepares to race the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc for the first time on September 1.

One of the top contenders in the womens’ field, Stanley brings a balanced perspective about running strong but not necessarily with the win-or-die gravity that she’s worn like battle armor in the past.

“I kind of just want to run at one time without some serious, serious expectations,” Stanley says. “I just had a rough fall last year and so mentally I can’t just put everything into this basket, like it’s win or bust, you know? I think that level of disappointment isn’t healthy for me right now. So I’m gonna go out there and run hard and shoot for a respectable time, but also learn as much as I can and come back and improve upon it.”

Since 2017, Stanley has two Hardrock 100 wins, plus victories at the HURT 100, Grand Raid La Reunion, Cruel Jewel 50, Beast of the East 100, and Scenic Trail 124K, as well as a third-place finish at the Western States 100. That’s quite a race résumé, to be sure, although she admits it could be even deeper—and perhaps that would have already led to being more respected—if not for the ones that got away.

Specifically, she hasn’t been able to race UTMB yet, despite spending the last two summers in Chamonix preparing for the race. In 2021, she opted not to run it while still recovering from a huge effort in her second Hardrock victory. Then last year, she skipped Hardrock at the last minute and spent the summer training in Europe for UTMB, only to come down with COVID five days before the race and missing the chance to be on the starting line.

Then last fall, she flamed out of Grand Raid when it was expected she would go head to head with Courtney Dauwalter. Stanley entered with a win-or-nothing attitude, but wound up having a rotten day and dropped out while Dauwalter won in a new course record of 24:37.

RELATED: Amanda Basham’s Post-Patrum Training for Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc

“A younger version of myself would go into a race and say, ‘you have to be the best in the world that day, or you don’t deserve your Adidas contract, you don’t deserve to be whatever,” she says. “The level of disappointment at the end of that race is unfathomable to me right now. That’s how I went into Grand Raid, and I didn’t quit because I wasn’t in first, but I just had a really bad day out there. But my mentality was like, ‘if you don’t win this race, your Hardrock wins don’t matter. Your Nolan’s FKTs don’t matter.’ I was thinking everything was a fluke. But I knew I couldn’t go into UTMB thinking that way this year”

After a deep breath and a major reset that included working with a sports psychologist, Stanley is back and running strong again. She sandwiched a couple of low-key 50-mile wins around a second-place finish at the 165K (102-mile) Ultra-Trail Snowdonia by UTMB in the UK in early May.

Healthy, happy, and strong, Stanley has been in Chamonix since mid-July, running various segments of the UTMB course. She’s happy with her fitness and ready to finally race it, but she’s not putting immense pressure on herself.

“Now I know I can finish in the top 10 and still be a respected runner,” she said. “And with UTMB, it doesn’t happen immediately for most runners. I know I have to  keep chipping away and keep learning.”

If you’ve been immersed in the ultrarunning world for a few years, you know “the one incident” stems back to a 2021 incident in which she re-set the fastest known time (FKT) on the challenging Nolan’s 14 peaking-linking objective (48 hours, 49 minutes) for the second time in four months back in 2021 after Meghan Hicks had lowered it (50:32) just a month after Stanley’s first mark (51:15).

After some of the discourse that followed—specifically Stanley boldly stating that having it broken just a month later was “a slap in the face for everything I had sacrificed to hold it”—the trail running community seemed to take sides or cast judgments about the whole scenario. Some people praised her for being the strong, bold, and ambitious woman she is, while others cast her as petulant, disrespectful, or overly aggressive.

“People think I’m a bitch because of one incident that they might not understand,” Stanley said this week from the Adidas-Terrex chalet in Chamonix. “But I would say that there’s a spectrum for all athletes, and you get whatever personality they project. You get that one dimensional side. So whether they’re the girl next door or the fierce competitor or some kind of quirky person, people don’t realize that there’s like all these different levels over everyone.”

One thing Stanley has always been is unapologetic. Two years later, she refused to back down from her audacious approach to the sport. But she has found a calmer perspective, and she’s pulled back from posting anything remotely controversial or vulnerable in recent years. Now the social media content and outward vibe she sends out to the world is positive, happy, funny, silly, and, yet, still very real.

“It made me want to not engage at all,” Stanley said. “If I’m going to get these negative responses, then you guys don’t deserve to see my social media posts. And it’s unfortunate when the negativity takes the bigger piece of the pie in your mind instead of the positive. And I think there were times where I thought to myself, ‘that’s all in your head. Look at these hundreds of people who are reaching out to you and supporting you.’ Because for every one negative response, I did get 10-plus people commenting in support—and many of them women thanking me or telling me I was so badass.”

Bottom line? Stanley has stopped taking herself so seriously, but it’s probably time everyone else should start taking her more seriously as one of the legitimate stars of the sport.

RELATED: Trail Runner’s Guide to UTMB 2023

Want to Know What It Takes to Finish at Western States? Just Ask Hellah Sidibe.

Find out what happened when this six-year run streaker and HOKA Global Athlete Ambassador took on an iconic ultramarathon in California's Sierra Nevada