An ultra performance for Steamboat’s running power couple
Maybe in another part of the country, Sabrina Stanley would have suggested she showcase the best happy hour locations or what bar and grill in town serves up the best hamburgers.
She’s an ultra-runner living in Colorado, however, so when she realized she’d be living in the same town as a racer she admired, temporarily transplanted Steamboat Springs runner Avery Collins, she reached out.
“I messaged him and said, ‘Hey! I can show you all my trails,” Stanley said. “I’d never met someone who trail ran the way I did. I was really excited.”
Stanley was living in Breckenridge at the time, and Collins was moving in for a six-month stint helping open a branch of Steamboat Springs’ Twisted Trail Running Company.
For Stanley, it was an opportunity.
She’d been eager to dive into longer running races but was unsure how best to build up for 100 miles. In Collins, an accomplished ultra-marathon trail runner in his own right, she found an eager runner who’d already answered many of the questions she had. She found an eventual boyfriend and a regular training partner, and they pushed each other. She set out to qualify for one of ultra running’s biggest events, the Western States Endurance Run, and helped inspire Collins to do the same, each earning their spot thanks to a “golden ticket” top-two finish in a qualifying race.
A little more than a year after they met, now living in and training out of Steamboat, Stanley deployed that determination she came with, added a bit of knowledge Collins supplied and threw it together for a huge performance in one of ultra-marathon trail running’s biggest events.
She ran to third place last weekend in Western States, the granddaddy of trail ultra-marathons that stretches 100 miles across California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.
She still can’t quite believe it.
“It hasn’t hit me,” she said Friday. “I don’t know if it ever will. I remember idolizing girls who took seventh place or 10th place in previous Western States. I can’t even wrap my mind around me being third place.”
Collins, too, tackled the trail and came away with a big result, running to a sixth-place finish and capping an epic weekend for one of ultra running’s fastest couples.
Stanley, now with two 100-mile finishes under her belt in three attempts, said simply training with Collins and his small band of Steamboat ultra-running friends has been a huge help.
“Training with people of a higher caliber than you makes you that much better,” she said.
She also partnered with Collins to come up with a race strategy for Western States, and both used it to perfection.
They hung back early and let many of the racers in the stacked field of competitors shoot out in front. Each was outside the top 10 midway through the race, Stanley as far back as 11th and Collins 17th.
Many of those aggressive runners petered out, however, and each made their own move and began picking their way through the field.
“That’s something I definitely learned from Avery,” she said. “I’ve gone out way too fast, and it’s a struggle for me to pull it back. He taught me the end is when you race.”
They both poured it on heavy in the final miles.
Collins climbed as high as fourth place in the final 10 miles. He lost some energy there and slipped back two spots, but rebounded to finish strong, in sixth.
“Happy. Very happy,” Collins said. “I didn’t make any major mistakes and ran a smart race, a wise race.”
“What I’m most happy about is I ran it just the way I said I was going to. I waited until mile 62,” he added. “It paid off to be patient all day long.”
Stanley, meanwhile, ran by the then-third-place runner at about the 90-mile marker. She ran down the trail on the warm moonless night, fearful a runner was approaching in the shadows. She kept looking over her shoulder for the bobbing headlamp of a competitor, even considering turning off her own to deny any of her competition that same intelligence. Then, she listened carefully after passing through aid stations to hear the tell-tale cheers of the crowd there as a new runner approached.
Turns out, running really fast was enough, and she was all alone as she cruised the final two miles down well-lit streets to the finish line.
She’s not sure what’s next. A year ago, a third-place finish in an event like Western States seemed like a dream. Now, she has a podium finish in one of her sport’s biggest events.
She hopes sponsors come along soon, though that’s more of a autumn thing than a summer thing.
She’s considering hitting Steamboat’s own Run, Rabbit Run 100-mile race in September, but also has others on the schedule.
She earned an automatic trip back to next year’s Western States if she wants it, but she’s not so sure about making an immediate return.
“I had such an amazing race this time, I don’t know if I’d be able to top that,” she said.
For now, she’ll keep working on the dream to make it big in the sport and do it with a fellow ultra devotee at her side.
“I live in Steamboat specifically because of him and the running,” she said. “I lived in Breck for the same reason. My job, I make sure it fits my schedule for running, and if there’s ever a conflict, I’m out. I’ll be homeless before I stop running.”
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