Last month, Sarah Hansel set a new women’s unsupported northbound Nolan’s 14 record of 57 hours and 43 minutes across 80+miles and 40,000 feet of vertical gain. Colorado’s Nolan’s 14 is arguably one of the most difficult tests of trail running and mountaineering skills. Learn about the specifics of the challenge in my article Nolan’s 14: A How To Guide by Brandon Stapanowich. For this article, I spoke with Hansel about how she trained to break this record and what challenges she overcame along the way.
[TAYTE] You live in Aiken, SC, a small town 500 feet above sea level with few hills. How do you prepare yourself for the mountainous challenge and 45,000 plus feet of vertical gain that is Nolan’s 14?
[Sarah] I train horses, so I work a full day, usually sun up until sun down. During the week I mostly just run near home with my dogs. On the weekends, I get up super early and drive 4 hours to the mountains. To train for the Nolan’s 14, I’d run a trail that climbs 3,000 feet in just 2.5 miles. I’d start at noon and do repeats on it for 24 hours, then drive 4 hours back home.
I hated running this climb in the dark. I’d get in a funk and want to quit and my best friend would have to send me text messages all night to keep me going. I think that was the best thing I did to prepare for Nolan’s 14. I did the climb as routinely as possible and the night running eventually stopped stressing me out so much.
As for the altitude, I bought an old cheap treadmill (held together with duct tape!). I had nowhere to put it in my house, so I set it up in my horse trailer. A friend lent me an altitude generator, which goes up to 11,000 feet, and I put it in the trailer. I’d do 30 minutes a day on the treadmill, just hiking. It was miserable. Imagine a big metal box sitting in the sun all day in South Carolina. It was like a sauna and the sweat would just pour off of me. I think it helped, but gosh I hated it. I also headed out to Colorado a few weeks early to fully acclimatize. I counted 17 days where I was able to get up near the peaks prior to the attempt. During that time, I scouted the entire route and several mountains three or four times.
[TAYTE] You’ve attempted this challenge two other times. What was different this time around? What do you think were the main factors to your success?
[SARAH] The other two times I had a bit of bad luck. The first time I got sick and slept for almost ten hours in the middle of the attempt. The second time there was just too much snow and I had trouble getting up the couloir on Huron. Both things I could have avoided with more experience, but I had a pretty big learning curve coming from the east coast. This year I didn’t hit any major glitches. I had spent enough time in Colorado that even when challenges popped up I was able to deal with them efficiently and keep moving.
[TAYTE] What was your nutrition strategy? How do you fuel an adventure like this?
[Sarah] I’m not a very good eater at altitude. I don’t get sick or anything, but I don’t get hungry. I can drink plenty though, so I’ve figured out that liquid calories are my best bet to stay fueled. I also brought a lot of junk: oatmeal cream pies, Pringles, chocolate covered pretzels and ate as much of that as I possibly could. I carried a little less than 8,000 calories and it ended up only weighing about 3.5 pounds at the start.
[TAYTE] There are so many challenges involved in completing Nolan’s 14. What is the hardest part about it from your perspective? The elevation, route finding, nutrition, sleep deprivation, etc.
[Sarah] This time it was definitely sleep deprivation, which in turn dramatically affects everything else. It made it difficult for me to route find and I made a lot of bad decisions out there. That is the one thing that is really difficult to prepare for. Staying up one night isn’t too bad, but two nights is rough.
[TAYTE] What was your favorite part of the run.
[Sarah] Honestly, the struggle. I think back to the two other times I’ve failed and all the people that still believed in me. I’m happy to finally achieve it, but also sad that it’s over. It was such a cool dream to share with a few of my friends and the adventures that came out of it were priceless.
[TAYTE] Do you have plans for more FKTs/challenges/races in the coming months?
[Sarah] Yes. I was originally supposed to be heading to Europe to race the Ultra Tour Monte Rosa, but now I’m looking at another multi day FKT attempt in mid September.
Tayte Pollmann’s articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you liked this article, read even more of Tayte’s articles on our website.