Inspiration & Adventure

Eating Her Way to Victory: How Sabrina Fueled Her 2021 Hardrock 100 Win

Eating Her Way to Victory: How Sabrina Fueled Her 2021 Hardrock 100 Win

The Hardrock 100 is one of the most difficult ultra marathons in the United States, with challenges like 33,000 feet of elevation gain and equal loss, huge ranges in temperatures, and high altitude each pose substantial threat to crossing the finish line. 

MUIR Athlete and 2x consecutive Hardrock 100 Mile Run Champion Sabrina Stanley shares her insights on what it takes to fuel one the most challenging 100-mile ultra marathons in the US.  

MUIR: Well done on your win, Sabrina! What an enormous accomplishment and thanks for catching up with us. 

SABRINA: Thank you so much! 

M: The race went pretty well for you, where you ran against Courtney Dauwalter until her drop around 60 miles, when you took the lead and finished just shy of 4 minutes from the course record. 

We’re curious about how you fueled. How did that go for you? 

S: I would say [my fueling went] great. I was on top of my nutrition for 80% of the race. At the first aid station, Cunningham Gulch at about 9 miles in, was where I got thrown off.

My crew missed me there, and I was so thrown off that I didn’t eat what I needed to. My body started cramping on the climb out of Cunningham, and I had to slow down and conserve my energy. It was still early enough in the race that I could make up for this later if I played it smart.

M: Did you bonk between Cunningham and the next aid station?

S: No, I didn’t bonk. I just slowed way down, ate all the ginger chews and the last MUIR gel I had with me, and ate a lot when I got into the next aid station. I filled my water bottle at a stream that had a ton of sheep in it; that was pretty gross, but I didn’t have a choice.

When I got to the top of the climb out of Cunningham, I started cramping really bad and had to slow down more. When I made it to the aid station I drank all the pickle juice out of one of the pickle juice jars to get rid of cramping. I pounded food at that aid station, too.  

Between that one and the next, I went to the bathroom four times. But there’s only so much your body can get rid of, and even though food is leaving you you’re still absorbing some of it.

You might feel like you're wasting time, but you’re actually saving time by getting calories into your body and absorbing some of them, so when you get to the 100k mark, you have energy in the tank. 

M: So, overall would you say you had a lot GI issues or not during the race?

S: I mean, GI distress is just part of ultra-running. Having a nutrition setback early in the race was upsetting to my GI system but it wasn’t a determining factor in my race.

This happened early enough in the race where I could recover, and it ended up being the worst of my GI issues. If this would’ve happened in the back half, I would’ve had to just roll with the punches and keep moving.

M: That’s really impressive. Have you ever bonked during a race?

S: Yes! During my first marathon I bonked harder than I ever have before. I was a total novice.

It was springtime in Washington state and unseasonably hot: 80-85 degrees. I hadn’t heat trained at all and I started out really really fast. I’d never run a marathon before, and I thought the aid stations were only for the elite, so as a middle-packer I didn’t think I could use them.

I got to mile 20 without eating anything and I could barely walk. One of the aid station workers forced me to eat a banana, and then I walked the last 6 miles while my body overheated.

I don’t think I could ever bonk that hard again.

M: You’ve come a long way since then. So now you can run a race like Hardrock without bonking. What should you do if you start bonking?

S: For sure. So, make sure you eat BEFORE you’re hungry; you want to top off your tank as much as possible. It’s really hard to come back from a bonk, although you can do it. You just need to chill out, slow down, and start pounding food.

If you aren’t at an aid station, eat 3 gels – don’t just eat 1! Your body is in a deficit and you need to make up calories.

Like I said, you need to slow way down. You have to remember that walking is moving. If it’s early enough in the race and the race is long enough, you can come back from a bonk. 

Sabrina’s crew works to refresh her during a quick aid station stop en route to the 2021 Hardrock 100 win.

M: What was your fueling strategy for The Hardrock 100?

S: I carried 1 bottle of water and 1 bottle of electrolyte mix. I ate a ton of ginger chews, and a MUIR gel every 45 minutes. At every aid station, I ate pumpkin pie, salt capsules, a lot of ginger hard candies, and quite a few Tums.

Except for where I messed up at the Cunningham Gulch aid station. I just had one gel between that one and the next aid station.

At the Telluride aid station, I started taking caffeine. This is also where I started throwing up, and I only ate aid station food after that and taking caffeine from Run Gum – gum that has caffeine in it. After about 2-3 of those, I stopped.

Besides the aid stations, I filled my water bottle at most streams.  

M: What MUIR gels did you use?

S: I took a LOT of Cacao Almond and Strawberry!

M: What about leading up to the race, does your diet change?

S: I eat pretty much the same during race week as any other week.  

I eat a pretty normal breakfast with potatoes, eggs, and bacon. For lunch we usually have a salad or a sandwich, and for dinner we eat a lot of rice with greens and some kind of meat. We stick to that pretty much every day.

During race week, I don’t go out to eat. I don’t want to risk food poisoning, and I want to know what is going on with my food.

I also make sure I’m drinking an electrolyte mix the whole week through so when I get to race day, all of my levels are topped off and I’m not depleted in any way.

M: So you don’t change your diet for taper week, even though you’re probably running lower mileage?

S: No, definitely not. I think a lot of runners freak out when they taper because they might put on a little weight, but that’s energy for the race.

M: What about after the race? Is there anything you look forward to eating after you race?

S: I’ll definitely give into any cravings that I have – usually cheesecake! I’ll eat whatever I want for two days, and then I’ll get back to eating clean again.

Sabrina and her partner Avery Collins embrace at the finish line.

M: What advice do you have for people learning to fuel?

S: Practice whatever you’re going to do on race day. Eat as much as you can during training runs so you can train your body to take in calories and which kinds, so when you get to race day you have a really good sense of how your body is going to react.  

On every training run, I eat 20-30 minutes into the run because it’s an opportunity to train my gut so when I get to race day, I can handle a lot of food.

M: Thanks so much for sharing your take on fueling, Sabrina, and good luck at your next race. You’ll be racing the Ultra Trail Mont du Blanc in Europe, is that right?

S: Yes! Avery and I will both be heading there to race. Thanks so much! 


Follow along @sabrinaleannstanley

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