By Andrea Gaul
Baylor University graduate student Sabrina Little will be one of five American women running a high-altitude international race next month in Portugal. She will take part in the rigorous 2016 IAU Trail Championships Oct. 29 in Transpeneda-Geres, Portugal –– a 50-mile race that involves an ascent of 12,000 feet along the country’s mountainous border with Spain.
Little, who is working on a PhD degree in philosophy at Baylor, competes in a type of long-distance running known as ultra running.
“I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t running,” Little said. “I was on teams in middle school and high school, and I went to The College of William and Mary to run.”
Though running has been part of her life for as long as she can remember, Little initially stumbled upon the sport, particularly ultramarathons, by accident.
“My mom was in remission from cancer, and because I like grand gestures, I ran 100 miles as a fundraiser for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition,” she said. “I ended up in local papers for my times, and people started to notice.”
“I didn’t know it was a sport – I thought it was just something I was doing!” Sabrina said.
Since then, Little has had tremendous success in the sport. She holds two prestigious American records, both pertaining to her participation in the “24-hour run” in 2013.
“It is a paved mile-loop that you run for 24 hours,” Little said. “I like monotony.”
She holds the American record for the furthest distance in 24 hours at 150.03 miles, and the fastest time to pass the 200-kilometer mark (about 125 miles) at 19.5 hours. Since then, she’s won several 50-mile and 100-mile races.
“I typically run 80 to 85 miles per week,” Little said. “A lot of ultra runners will do more than that. I do less training but with higher intensity.” Her typical daily route is 12 miles long, and occasionally on the weekends, she’ll run as much as 30 miles.
“Sometimes I’ll stop in the middle of one of those long run and do box jumps until my legs are completely wasted,” she said. “I try to get as fatigued as possible. Waco doesn’t have high elevation and my competitors are living in the mountains, so I have to adjust accordingly.”
Originally from northern New Jersey in the Appalachian Mountains, Little now finds herself in Waco by way of her husband David, who was already a graduate student in political science when she arrived. She initially heard about Baylor while completing her master’s degree at Yale University.
“The graduate program at Baylor was described [at Yale] as this incredible place where one could discuss philosophy and also maintain their Christian beliefs,” Little said. “Baylor is the promised land for wanting to do Christian philosophy with integrity.”
When Little and her husband aren’t busy studying, you can most likely find them coaching cross-country at Live Oak Classical School.
“Coaching cross-country is one of my greatest achievements in a different kind of way,” Little said. “I get to watch them [the students] learn the discipline and fall in love with the sport.”
“I love the daily discipline that running requires,” she said. “It helps me be a good steward of my body. It is also a great opportunity to practice virtues. When I run, I can be courageous in ways that I don’t always have the opportunity to be.”
When asked whether she thought ultra running should be an Olympic sport, Little expressed an endearing concern.
“I think if ultra running were an Olympic sport, you might lose some of the charm,” she said. “A lot of these are capped races in really beautiful places. I don’t know if I’d want to expose these trails to this sort of thing.”
Little is excited to participate in the Olympic-equivalent event that is the IAU Trail Championships. For this athlete, representing the United States in October will mean more than arguably any other race.
“Training becomes a civic duty, almost like voting, but also very different,” Little said. “I want to represent my country well.”