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A Chat with Sabrina Little: United States 24-Hour Record Holder and Newly Texan

Have you heard the name Sabrina Little?

How about Sabrina Moran?

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Truth be told, they are the same person as Sabrina recently got married. That cover has now been fully blown. Sorry.

Sabrina is a fast-footed runner that loves the ultra distances and puts a fair amount of focus on the 24-Hour ultra events. While having both a great spirit and a jazzy sense of humor, she will smile and maybe share a joke as she smoothly runs by you.

In May of this year, Sabrina represented the United States at the 24-Hour World Championship in Steenbergen, Netherlands where she scampered 244,669 meters (152.0302 miles), finished second female, top American woman, and set a new American record! Woot bada Woot!

Over the last year, Sabrina has made her current home in Texas.

Enjoy as Sabrina was super kind in answering a couple coffee refills worth of questions and shares a bit about her running life, the 24-Hour Worlds experience, and her favorite flavor of ice cream.


Running Goodness

What is your athletic/running background?

I played a lot of different sports growing up. I started with ballet, tap and jazz, and gymnastics, then attempted karate. I played soccer, basketball, softball, track, field hockey, cross-country, swimming, volleyball, and ice hockey. Soccer was my greatest joy. My parents would find me sleepwalking with my soccer ball, practicing drills. I wanted to play professionally.

Running sort of underwrote all of the athletics I did. I would go out running as a means to improve in other sports, mostly not really thinking of it on its own terms. I do recall racing the school bus up the big hill to the bus stop every morning, though. (The bus driver played along and slowed down the bus.) And my pre-school teacher wrote about my love of running in my report cards, so I’m pretty sure it has been a lifelong thing.

I ran cross-country my first year of college, before switching over to ultras. Ultras seem to suit my personality and athletic strengths. I like them a lot.

The ultra running world is a tiny sub-niche of the general running world. How did you become aware of our goofy little sport and what were your initial thoughts of it?

I didn’t know it was a sport until after I ran my first 100-miler! I ran it as a fundraiser, just around my town, and it took about 18 hours. When the story of my run came out in the newspaper, it referred to me as an ultramarathoner, a word I was unfamiliar with. I looked it up and found out there were other people who did these things, so I did some research and found races. I was surprised there were so many people who ran these things. Even in running one, I knew it was a considerable oddity.

What was your first ultra run event and was it love at first stride or my goodness never again?

My first 100 was that fundraiser in my hometown. After that, I ran the Mountain Masochist 50-Mile in Lynchburg. I loved it immediately. Ultramarathons don’t fit neatly into my imagination, and I like that. They’re unreasonably challenging and full of great people, and they allow me to experience a personal strength I know in no other context.

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Did you have any ultra mentors when you first started running from sunrise to sunrise (and sunrise again)?

Yes, so many people have built me up and encouraged me. It’s difficult to pick a few. I’ve learned a lot from Annette Bednosky, Jill Perry, Ashley Nordell, Sophie Speidel, Bill Gentry, and Debbie Horn.

You have ran a fair number of 24-hour events; what draws you to this format?

They are tidy. I like the repetitive nature and falling into a rhythm. They are easier to crew than point-by-point 100-mile races. Plus, my background is in track, and I get to revisit that in those races, running lap after lap.

How do you mentally approach a loopy-filled 24-hour run?

Ha. I try to not approach them mentally. It’s too big of an undertaking, so as soon as I start, I mentally leave the scene. Usually, I read immediately beforehand so I have fresh things to think about while I run. After I reach 100 miles, I focus in and drive the run home.

You mention on your blog, your favorite race being the Grindstone 100. What about it brings the smiles?

The Grindstone 100 is the best! The race director is Clark Zealand, who is wonderful. It’s a race that a lot of my VHTRC (Virginia Happy Trails Running Club) friends compete in, so it’s a beautiful time with friends. There are also formidable climbs, and I think that if you’re going to run a 100-miler, you might as well run a difficult one.

Who/what has had a strong influence in your life so far?

My faith has. I love God and try to honor Him in all that I do. My parents have also been tremendous influences in encouraging me to be a good steward of my gifts and to give everything I do my all.

Over the last year, you have moved from the East Coast to Texas. You have experienced some of the diverse terrain Texas has to offer from the groomed pine needle covered trails at Rocky Raccoon to the fairly rugged romp at Bandera. Have you been able to explore many more of the Texas trails?

I’ve gone to a few parks in Austin, and I’ve run a great deal of Dallas. I ran and hiked Big Bend this past winter, and it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I work a lot (teaching and track coaching), so most of my training takes place in Waco. I love Texas, though. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more of it and experiencing my first full (super hot) summer here.

Training

How do you approach your run training? Very structured and scientific-like or more relaxed and based on feel? A combination?

In the past, I was more systematic and attentive to mileage quantity and pacing. I brought my track athlete mentality to ultras, and it really didn’t work over such a large training magnitude. When I kept a record of those things, I became too competitive with myself and would try to outdo my statistics to improve. It was sort of stressful, and I used to get injured more frequently.

These days, I’m more relaxed and really enjoy my training. But I have all of the necessary moving parts: long runs, consistency, speed work a few days each week, and lifting. I am more relaxed but also happier, and I’m racing better.

Sabrina at Bandera 100 km.

Sabrina at Bandera 100 km where she finished third in the female adventure.

What is your average weekly mileage range when you are in a build for an important race?

I peak at about 130-150 miles, but otherwise hit about 100-110 on either side of that.

Are you a runner-only, or do you add various cross training into the mix? If so, any favorites?

I will play any sport! I love to play outside. I mix in basketball, tennis, and biking when I can. When I lived in the northeast, I did a lot of indoor cycling to stay out of the cold during the winter, but now I mostly run and do core work.

Do you have a jedi master (coach)?

I don’t. I am a track coach, though, and my students tell me when I’m slow. It’s nice.

Do you follow any specific nutrition paradigms? (M&M diet, etc)

Is M&M diet an option? I would like to sign up for that. No, I eat most things but generally gravitate toward healthy foods–lots of salads, Greek yogurt, whole grains, and lean cuts of meat, plus cake.

24-Hour World Championship

What is the qualification process for 24-Hour World Championship and where did you qualify?

You have to either place in the top two at the National Championships, or secure a wildcard entry as one of the top performances in the calendar year leading up to the event. There are six men and six women on each National Team. I qualified at the North Coast 24-Hour in Cleveland, Ohio, where I won the National Championship and broke the American Record the first time.

[Sabrina ran 147.9 miles]

The 24-Hour World Championship race was held in Steenbergen, Netherlands. How would you describe the city and this area of the county?

It was beautiful! The area has a lot of Medieval architecture. I teach Medieval History, so I was basically drooling the whole time. It was wonderful. The people were very friendly and hospitable, and there seems to be a greater appreciation for ultrarunning than there is in the U.S. It’s less of a cultic unknown to the people. It was a bit colder there than in Texas…It sleeted during the event. Yikes.

How would you describe the course?

It was a mix of pavement and bricks. It was about 2.45 miles around. There was a little lake full of ducks, so it was bucolic. And it was a residential area, so locals watched us out of their house windows.

Would you share a funny moment during the race?

My husband stood next to the course and tossed me food or water bottles as I ran by every few laps. One of the laps, I finished more quickly than he anticipated, so I caught him by surprise and he pelted me in the stomach with the water bottle. I squealed like I’d just been shot by an arrow, and the whole American contingent teased him for the rest of the trip. My husband is the best, no contest.

Would you share a tough moment during the race?

Nothing catastrophic occurred at any point, but at about 20-21 hours in, I just felt spent. My muscles were fatigued, and I wanted to rest. But even then, I knew that the devastation of stopping early would outweigh the pains of exhaustion of having to run another four hours, which isn’t that long considering…I just stomached it as best as I could.

Would you share a heart tugging moment during the race?

The night was terribly cold, and the combination of heavy winds and a long stretch of freezing rain/sleet led to two of the American athletes being struck with hypothermia. It was upsetting to watch teammates go through that.

Is there much chatter among runners at an event like this or is everyone more internally focused and quiet?

There were definitely talkative hours. For a long time, there was a lot of chatter, insofar as we were fluent enough in each other’s languages to say constructive things. But eventually, with physical exhaustion comes social fatigue, and we all quieted down.

There was a bit of rain during the night hours and cool temperatures. When did this occur and how do you keep yourself mentally in the game…and mostly unfrozen? Can’t help but think about chaffing/blisters as well.

The rain kicked off the event, then returned on and off all day. The freezing rain came late into the night. (I’m not sure what time it was.) My husband made me put on a big rain jacket under my singlet, so I stayed warm. Actually, when the rain was at its worst, I had rejoined with two teammates (Traci Falbo and Suzanne Bon). We knew we were in the hunt for Team Gold, so we were really engaged, digging in, pushing the pace, and thinking about everything except the rain. That’s when we took command of the race, and the U.S. men told us something similar happened in their ranks as well. My feet were great! I’ve not had a blister since I started wearing DryMax socks, and I have no idea how that is possible.

What did your husband, David, think of the whole experience? Any neat, fun, interesting, or weird observations?

I don’t think ultramarathons are David’s new favorite thing. He gets nervous when I challenge myself like that. But he spoke tremendous volumes with his actions–standing there in the rain, helping me all day with a smile. I felt loved. And I’m glad that he worries because I sometimes forget to.

David was our tour guide. He made elaborate maps of the cities we visited and made sure all of the details of the trip came together.

You finished second female, 13th overall, and set a new American record with a scamper of over 244 km! What were the first few thoughts that crossed your mind once you could finally stop running?

I wanted to brush my teeth so bad. I also sobbed for a little because of disbelief, and a man from Estonia hugged me. David came over with the American flag and congratulated me, and then Anti-Doping pulled me away for drug testing. I was so sleepy, and it was a whirlwind. I just wanted hugs and toothpaste.

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Any fun comments or questions from your students after returning home from the adventure? Were they aware of what you were doing?

I teach 8th grade Medieval History and Literature and 10th grade Physics.

They were aware and very excited. A few of them told me they set their alarm clocks to wake up an hour before the end of the race to pray for me. I love them. As far as specific details of the mileage, I’m not sure they understood. Their jaws drop when I go for 7-mile lunch runs, so anything that long is just gratuitous.

Any strong reflections on the event now that you have had a few weeks to absorb the experience (and get the glycogen stores reloaded)?

It was an incredible gift to be there. Mostly, I’ve just been struck by thankfulness that I was able to go there and compete for the country I love.

Lessons Learned / Sharing Wisdom

What are a couple of the biggest lessons you have learned since your first 24-Hour race?

Running for 24 hours is not like running 100 miles plus a little extra–because you can’t approach it the same way that you would approach a 100-miler. I approach 24-hour events much more conservatively. When you run 100 miles quickly, your day ends sooner. When you run a 24-hour too quickly, the pain of premature exertion carries with you all day and it almost always works to your detriment. Hitting even splits (or attempting to) is really helpful and more sustainable in a 24. It took me a while to realize that, or to have the humility to reign myself in early on, even though it feels a bit slow on fresh legs. As the event proceeds, it gets more difficult to remain physically engaged.

Be friendly to the people you compete against. It’s hard enough to run for a day without the distress of unfriendly people all around you. I try to make it a more pleasant experience for the people around me and to be encouraging, to lighten their mental load.

Someone mentions they want to run their first 24-hour race one year from now. What would be three tips you would share with them?

Get on your feet in training as often as possible. Fatigue accretion is a good thing to experience–being able to remain focused and maintain the quality of your running even when you’re overwhelmingly tired.

Also, work up to the distance with a few 50-milers or a hundred.

Show up to race day with a lot of humility, and go out slower than you think you need to.

Quick and Fun

A favorite food?

spinach quiche

Last book you read?

Infinite Jest – by David Foster Wallace

Last movie you watched?

My dad and husband are watching Batman in the room I’m in right now, if that counts.

[Sure it counts, why not!]

Typical pre-race breakfast?

broccoli omelet

Favorite post-race food?

Mexican anything

[You moved to the right state!]

Favorite 24-hour (ultra) race comfort food?

turkey sandwiches

A couple bucket-list races you would love to experience?

Western States, Way to Cool 50K, Burning River 100-Miler, Cayuga 50-Mile, Chuckanut 50K

Any pre-race rituals?

reading, calling my little brother on the phone

Any post-race rituals?

singing Justin Bieber, brushing my teeth

So rumor has it, you developed the concept of apple juice while staring at a piece of apple late in an ultra race. Any additional profound moments of clarity or insight from late in an ultra?

Ha. I did! If only there were a way to extract the liquid from this apple…

I once thought that it was the apocalypse because my watch stopped after 20 hours. (The timer only worked for that long, and the race was a 24-hour.) You lose some mental clarity after running for so long, so things become either confusing or incredibly clear.

And finally, your favorite flavor of ice cream?

strawberry frozen yogurt


How about that?!?

A special thanks to Sabrina for sharing so much with us!

Also, check out Sabrina’s running musings on her blog at Sabrina Little Ultramarathons.

Be active – Feel the buzz!

David – EnduranceBuzz.com

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

5 Responses to “A Chat with Sabrina Little: United States 24-Hour Record Holder and Newly Texan”

  1. on 13 Jun 2013 at 3:29 pm olga

    Great gal, great interview. Hope Sabrina keeps it up for a while and shows a few more things on the scene, but in a big world, she is just a solid person, so whatever happens, we’re happy to have her:)

  2. on 14 Jun 2013 at 6:09 am Steve

    Wow…that’s some serious distance on those 24 hour runs. Welcome to Texas!

  3. on 14 Jun 2013 at 8:56 am Tiffany

    Fantastic interview with great questions ~ I love following Sabrina’s career and learning more about how she got there and how she does it! She inspires me to get out of bed and run in the morning, even if it is just for a measly 3 miler. I have goals to run an Ultra once I get over this beginner phase and stop getting injured so much, and she makes it sound fun and manageable, even if a little crazy 😉 If she can be this peppy about running for 24-hours in those conditions, it makes me realize that I really can get over the heat, humidity, fatigue and other challenges and just have FUN running!

    Thanks for sharing Sabrina’s awesome experience and spirit with us!

  4. on 14 Jun 2013 at 9:31 am David Hanenburg

    Olga – Agree…on all accounts.

    Steve – Yes indeed. Those 150 mile training weeks are pretty snazzy as well.

    Tiffany – You are so very welcome! There is no “measly” in our tribe. There is running and there is not running. You are running! You inspire others with that morning run whether you realize it or not.

    We all have our own individual journey in this sport yet we are not alone, as we have an amazing tribe willing to support each other. Happy running!

  5. on 15 Jun 2013 at 8:02 pm Jason

    I first heard of Sabrina on a podcast and was instantly captured by her love of running and personality – very clear she is a funny and fun person. Great interview! Thanks.