When I first sat down with my head track coaches from Montgomery and Rincon Valley Christian for our pre-season meeting and they broached the idea of combining practice, I was largely skeptical.
How would this work? Was it even legal? Could I keep track of both sets of athletes? Would I be able to remember all of their names? Would I still be able to help them achieve their goals? How was I possibly going to catch all of their splits when they ran together at invitationals?
Just the little things.
We don’t compete in the same league or in the same division. One school is public, the other private. One school is a little over 200 students, the other is just under 2,000.
The most distinguishing feature? One school has a track and the other doesn’t.
In February, we began combined practices. The kids didn’t know each other and I don’t think they were certain how they felt about the whole thing. I was acclimating to my new job as the assistant coach at Montgomery. On top of it, every day and every meet seemed wetter than the last.
At Big Cat, the wind blew a soccer goal post over and hit an athlete in the head. Some of my athletes ran their first 3200m race while the sky dumped unlimited bucketfuls of the rain everyone had been praying for.
“But it doesn’t rain in California,” complained one of my athletes during the Windsor Relays as both teams were huddling under our makeshift camp of three or four EZ-UPs vigorously strapped to the bleachers as if the apocalypse was coming. The wind howled, pole vault got canceled, but the heats went on.
When the meet got called off mid-way through the 100m after the timing tent blew over, everyone descended onto camp overjoyed. They began hi-fiving each other and delightedly gorging on the cookies I had made them promise not to eat until their races were over.
After a couple more meets of suffering together in the rain, the atmosphere at practice seemed to shift and the kids began to look forward to working out together. When practice was separate for a couple of days in March due to different meet schedules, they’d come up to me and ask why their friends from the other team weren’t there. Each invitational, the kids would warm up with each other before their events.
They’ve also teamed up to mess around, taking turns hijacking my phone and my Garmin (which is currently set to military time and commands in Italian after the latest venture). It’s also still unclear who had the best proposal for getting out of a workout (my favorites include three months of “professional chauffeuring” and sheer bribery in amounts ranging from $20 to $100) and who had the most honest food diary entry (entries included a “lame sandwich” and “burritos that weren’t as good as last night”). They have debates about who the greatest underrated distance runner of all time is (the conclusion was Rocky).
During meets, cheering emanates from our camp for athletes from both teams and each athlete’s success is celebrated with equal admiration regardless of uniform color. Intermixed prom couples are starting to pop-up. Friendly rivalries have formed. The kids are already looking forward to long trail runs in Annadel together during the summer.
The Viking Track Classic last week marked the last meet the kids would have competed against each other during the regular season. There’s a few things left unsettled though, and Friday they’ll all take the track for what we’ve affectionately dubbed the Red vs. Blue meet. Rumor has it the whole coaching staff from both schools will participate.
Post-season around the corner, the distance squads from both teams are asking me for a pool party together. All I can think of is that someone will jump off the diving board and pull a muscle the week of championships, but I’m tempted to let them have their fun anyway. They began the season as strangers and they will leave as family.
Pounding rain fell all week leading up to the 44th annual Ilsanjo Classic races. And rain continued to fall Sunday morning. Not only was this good news for our local reservoirs but it was good news for trail runners who appreciate an old fashioned trail racing mud-fest.
The Ilsanjo Classic has always been positioned smack in the middle of the rainy season—and we were due for something other than the near concrete trail conditions that have persisted through the recent drought. Runners in all three races were immediately soaked, with a strategically placed, though entirely natural, mud bog spanning much of the starting area at Howarth Park. Concerns about the race ranged from flooding at Spring Lake, to a significant downed tree on Spring Creek trail, to fast moving water at the Lake Ilsanjo spillway, to mass attrition due to the rain pouring down in the early hours Sunday. Turns out none of that mattered as the flooding receded, the tree was almost magically cleared by the Sonoma County Trails Council and more than 200 runners and volunteers showed up to take on the trails.
Having previewed the courses on Saturday, the race director crew expected slow times in the sloppy conditions. Turns out, we were very wrong! 45-year old John Litzenberg lit up the trails, breaking one hour by eight seconds (59:52) and defending his 10 mile win from 2015. He was quite literally chased over the final miles by 42-year old Todd Rose, who finished one second behind John in 59:53. In all, 15 men broke 1 hour 10 minutes—four more than last year in much better conditions. Eight of the 15 were 26 years old or younger, which bodes well for local trail running’s future. Todd Bertolone ran a noteworthy race, running1:07:04, a sub-7 minute mile pace, in the slop at 53 years old. In the women’s race, Andrea Guzman (1:17:52) outlasted Erin Kaspar (1:18:37) for her first win at The Classic. Kerry Hanlon was first master’s woman, and third woman overall, crossing the line in an impressive 1:20:03. No one tell Kerry that mud is supposed to be a slower running surface, as she ran the exact same time in 2015 on much firmer trails!
In the Ilsanjo Neo-Classic 4 Miler, Brandon Day held off Mike Wortman 23:17 to 23:33 for the win. Both were comfortably below 6-minute mile pace, which is no small achievement in those conditions. 55-year old Andy Howard hammered out 6:41 miles for a 26:45 for the master’s win. In the women’s race, Kate Papadopoulos broke 28-minutes (27:51) for a comfortable 91 second win over Celeste Berg (29:22). Kate won the 10 miler in 2015, a race in which Celeste Berg was also second. 11-year old Sarah Skandera placed third in a very impressive 30:43, 48 seconds in front of her 10-year old sister Rebekah. The Skandera’s are a formidable group of young runners and will bear watching for years to come. The unstoppable Tori Meredith ran a quick 32:16 to take the women’s master’s title.
Nine Newt Scooters 10 years old and under braved the rain and mud in the 1k. Nine year old Sarah Kam outran the rest of the Newts with a strong time of 4:16.
The race director team would like to sincerely thank all the runners who braved the conditions, as well as the volunteers who came out to work with us in cold, wet conditions. Standing or sitting for hours in those conditions can be utterly miserable. Without all the support at registration, the finish line, food tables and out on the course, this race could not happen.
We’ll see you back at the Ilsanjo Classic next year!
I watched the Olympic Marathon Trials and was so impressed by Galen Rupp’s performance and then was so deflated listening to Kara Goucher’s claim that his success is due to Performance Enhancing Drugs. This accusation led me to the BBC special on this subject-focusing on Alberto Salazar and his Oregon Project and their purported use of PED’s. The whole thing makes me sad. Sad for the athletes, sad for the amateurs and sad for the sport of long distance running.
I am not a professional athlete. Far from it. I have never had a sponsor or paid a coach. Sure I earned a few bucks in the PA cross country series and one time won a race sponsored by Chevy’s and got free Chevy’s meals for a year. But even as an amateur I can understand how a professional might be tempted to partake in PED’s. Running is very hard. Training day in and day out, often twice a day, can be grueling. To keep this up over a long training cycle likely will result in injury, burnout or both. If a trusted coach suggests a pill or injection to aid your recovery and boost your workouts without compromising your promise to stay clean, I think we would all be tempted.
I was on steroids before and can attest to their power. I am going to sound like Maria Sharapova, Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong and a host of other professional athletes, when I tell you that I was “prescribed these drugs for a medical condition and had no idea that they were banned”. The difference is that unlike these athletes, I am not a professional and my steroids were NOT for athletic performance but were given for anti-nausea prior to chemotherapy infusions. And man, were they powerful! I took the drugs the 3 days leading up to my infusion and I would get so fired up (some may say wound up) these 3 days that despite the ill effects of chemo I was able to run, swim and/or cycle and feel pretty darn good.
So yes, I can understand how professional athletes who are relying on speedy recoveries from increasing mileage or demanding workouts would be drawn to the power of these drugs. But it makes me so sad to know our sport is tainted by cheaters. I wanted to believe that running was so pure and required such discipline that those capable of this could not stoop so low. I should have known from professional cycling that no sport was immune.
I would like to believe that the cheaters are the exception. Please pro’s, help me believe this. As we enter this Olympic season I want to watch you all glide around the track and through the streets of Rio with the confidence that you are clean and have earned your way to Rio through hard work, smart coaching and sacrifices alone. I will cheer for you and celebrate with you and sadly now have to question you.
Editor’s note: It seems like every week brings a new race to Sonoma county, and training groups are sprouting everywhere, from Empire Runners and all the local running stores. Some are informal meet-ups, others are expos with demos from shoe vendors, some are paid groups targeting a specific type of running with a goal race to work towards. This all bodes well for our local, vibrant community.
In the first installment of an ongoing series, we are highlighting some of the options from Healdsburg Running Company. In coming months we’ll hear from other running stores about their training offerings, plus an expanded roster of fun events from Empire Runners.
Come Up And Play With Us!: 1970’s Empire Runners Values Are Healdsburg Running Company’s Founding Principles
A number of new running shops are turning back the clock and using the guiding principles that stem from running clubs and shops from the 1970’s. From Frank Shorter’s win in the Olympics, to women starting to run, to trail running, and other events that spurred on the start of Empire Runners club still holds true for specialty running stores and running clubs today.
40 years later, the resurgence of running is a re-creation of some of the same values that Empire was founded on. At Healdsburg Running Company (HRC) we call these values the 4 C’s: Community Building, Charity, Commerce Everywhere, and Camps & Tours.
One of the oldest practices of community building is creating a welcoming environment and tapping into a common interest like trail running. HRC has community runs every night, but the shop focuses on three weekly runs: “Ladies Night”, “Family Night” and the Saturday “Trail Runs.” All of which start at HRC and end at a favorite winery, brewery, restaurant, yoga studio or community center.
Every week has a different locale or theme. Ladies Night gathers 80+ women to run every Tuesday in a fun and safe environment. Family night of over 100 runners focuses on the kids and dogs joining the run and has themes like “running for gelato” while ending at a family-friendly bar or restaurant. HRC Trail Runs center on amazing places and parks – like Lake Sonoma, Armstrong Woods, Riverfront Park, or on private trails in the vineyards – with beer and food to follow at a community breakfast spot. To keep the runs open to all paces and types of runners, there is as much focus on the food and drink as much as the pace!
In order to remain authentic and keeping with 1970’s running roots that started Empire Runners, charity work is needed to reaffirm and provide a sense of community. This also creates social capital to capture some more common interests beyond the running activity itself like changing lives. In a year of hosting film screenings, fun-runs, and participating in numerous fundraising events, HRC has raised nearly $14,000 for a few specific charities that club runners chose. This has included Wear Blue for Fallen Soldiers, Girls On The Run, Vineyard Workers Scholarships and Russian RiverKeeper, along with many local fundraisers for kids track teams and events.
Similar to many running clubs, retail activity is not the sole focused at the retail store or club itself. Having a running lounge and meeting spot emphasizes the sense of community and education. Running shoes, apparel and nutrition are, of course, sold, but the focus is bringing the running store or elements of it out to all the events we are sponsoring, hosting or running. In a 24/7 online world, all new running stores sell in a multi-channel environment. Running store products today are sold online as well as at alternative partner retail locations like wineries and bars that sell co-branded HRC running gear. The new emphasis is on integration along with education and awareness, not selling. Amazon sells, but specialty local shops educate!
Camp & Tours
Being forward-looking and capitalizing on Ultra running and Sonoma County wine growth, HRC intends to host more “Running Camps.” Healdsburg Running Camps are four multi-day running vacations starting this fall along with two-day versions for the weekend visitors from the Bay Area. As America’s wineiest running store the camp’s focus is on running but also includes four different professionals runners, sponsored athletes, chefs, winemakers, and other local running guides. For example, a camp will include runners from Hoka One One, a chef from the famous Spoonbar Café, the California winemaker of the year, along with our top local Ultra runner who —–all will run with our campers.
We plan to show these running campers the unparalleled beautiful trails, amazing food, award winning wine and charm of our small town with a quaint stay —all centered around the trail run. It is the run, food, wine and stay of your life!
As runners, it’s tough not to run. And when something’s hurting (and it’s not going away) it weighs heavy on our minds. Denial can sometimes be stretched out for weeks, even months. After dealing with an injury a year ago, however, I was a bit wiser this time around, and recognized the need to get some help with my issue, rather than procrastinate as I’d done before, just increasing the time it took me to come back to healthy, happy running. The hardest part was taking the first step, before things really got outta hand.
At the end of Jan, an x-ray and MRI at Kaiser revealed I had some nasty stuff going on inside my left knee (likely my right too but not as severe). Here’s the blog-post about it with MRI results. Now of all times, this was an especially shitty time to have an “injury” to deal with, since, for the first time, I’m entered in this year’s Western States 100, held at the end of June. But as happens with many ultrarunners, we tend to run ourselves into the ground. And living in the Bay Area, man it’s not hard to do since there’s such a wealth of wonderful trail running events. Peer pressure and supporting sponsors are contributing factors as well. Well that, and racing is fun! So yeah, at the end of 2015, I ran myself into the ground, but mind you, for what I perceived as an essential reason (see previous post for more on that).
So the knee was really pissed at me and I now knew exactly why. The next step was to visit Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy. Whenever I feel it’s the “beginning of the end” [of my running], Dave gives me hope, and that leads to [patiently] bringing my running back to life, and with renewed gratitude.
Kaiser suggested I take 8 weeks off with no running or cycling. That made me really nervous because I knew two months away could really put me in a hole, out of which would take some time to recapture the fitness I wanted to have in the bank by June. I wasn’t prepared to think about running Western States in any other form but excellent. I need confidence to be high, for this, my eight 100mi trail run, and one that’s on a pretty big stage. I might not get another opportunity to run this bad boy. I need to make this one count!
Dave did a thorough assessment of my situation, and we discussed how and why my left side was dealing with yet another stress-related injury, now two in the last 16 months. After this assessment, Dave and I went to work on creating a rehab routine that included a variety of stretching and strengthening exercises. I’ve done them religiously since our meeting back at the start of Feb. I’ll be 42 this year, and what I’ve learned—the hard way—-is that if I want to keep running at a high level, I have to be increasingly vigilant about giving my body more TLC in the form of foam-rolling, yoga, the use of Trigger Point balls, cycling, strength training etc. Yet again, my run training needed a face-lift. I needed to evolve and I had plenty of time in Feb to think about how I wanted Mar-Jun to roll out, in order to give myself the best chance of running well at States on 6/25.
As you can see I was really into the cross-training during the work-week starting out in early Feb. Intuition (and a little ego) told me it’d be okay to do a long ride on Sunday, which I felt was necessary to at least break even with my fitness once I returned in March. That first Sunday I hit 100mi, which I found was me trying to show myself I was still strong and could do a bike workout that felt similar to my standard Sunday long run. The knee didn’t hurt but the notion that I really needed to use this month wisely, to really recover, started to sink in, through my thick, stubborn skull. Thus, I just focused on morning TLC sessions, doing my SRPT routine mixed in with some yoga. I walked to work a lot as well. The weather in Feb was dry so I was lucky to be able to consistently get out on Sunday for long rides. I focused on hitting long, sustained climbs in my Zone 2 (ultrarunning HR zone).
My wife, Amanda, also helped nurse my knee back to health with a variety of remedies including mixing up some Essential Oil blends as well as having a friend of hers make me some amazing bone broth (I drank a cup every morning and night for a few weeks. Amanda also researched and got me a variety of supplements that I’m still taking, more out of fear at this point than anything. I’m grateful how smart and proactive she is, dealing with her unreasonable, grumpy-when-injured, ultrarunning husband.
March 1st couldn’t come fast enough, and my patience was indeed wearing thin. I was itching to run. Coming back, I knew I had to continue exercising restraint. There’s just too much on the line this year, to take unwarranted risks. So, I figured running every 72hrs (3 days) starting back would allow my knee to continue strengthening while easing back into run training. Those first few runs were pretty wonky. I wasn’t confident at all my knee was ready to come back to the stress of running. By the weekend, however, things felt a lot better. The following Monday, I felt I was ready for a quality session. And since it was my downhill running that overtaxed the knee, I felt an [up]hill session was a wise choice for the first quality session back. That went well and so, encouraged, I did a tempo run 72 hours later followed by a Sunday long run 3 days after the tempo run. It felt so good to run up at Lake Sonoma, even if I did get tangled up in a bunch of briars while swimming across a flooded section of trail from recent heavy rains. I’ll take it!
According to plan, I just wanted to get my feet back under me, build a bit of fitness, then take the next 5 days or so to really recover and absorb those initial quality sessions. This time off preceded my Spring Break from teaching, which, including weekends would be ten days in duration (3/19 – 3/28). With all that time off I could easily over do it…
I love hilly long runs. Naturally, this is why I gravitate to long, hilly ultrarunning events. They speak to my heart and soul. Thus, I planned it out to conduct four long runs over the 10 day spring break. Where once I would’ve done a long run every other day (and more heavily accumulate fatigue) I decided it best to stick to my 72-hour rule, which had been working well since I started back running. The plan was to hit the first long run that first day off, which coincided with the Lake Sonoma 50mi Training Runs anyway, and Lake Sonoma doesn’t have the long, steep descents that I find at Hood Mountain & Sugarloaf Ridge. Essentially, Lake Sonoma would be a little friendlier to my knee for this first “official” long run back.
My long runs were then scheduled as follows: Saturday, Tuesday, Friday, and Monday. The day after the long run would be a non-running day where I’d get out and ride the bike, easy, for a few hours, just spinning the legs. The day before the long run, I decided to do double days. But, running twice in a day didn’t seem like a wise decision considering my knee, so I decided to make the morning session a pretty easy fast-hike wearing my 20lb weight vest. I get a kick out of this session because I’m killing two birds with one stone, i.e., practicing a skill—fast-hiking—that’s important in ultrarunning while getting some strength stimulus from the vest. I soon started listening to podcasts during this session as well. Eventually I’m going to integrate minimalist shoes since the session’s only an hour, I’m not running, and stress on the legs is minimal. Seems to me a cool place to get my feet even more in touch with the trail. Hoka’s got some very light, more minimalist style shoes that’ll work well for this particular session.
Another point of note: now two days removed from the long run, I was feeling the effects of the long run and felt validated in the decision to run long every three days versus every other day. We feel the effects of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) most two days after a hard session. With the extra day of recovery, I feel we can not only arrive more fresh to the next quality session, but increase the duration of that session, deriving even more quality from it. Because most of us are slaves to the 7-day work-week, we can’t take full advantage of this 10-day training cycle that a lot of pro endurance athletes use. If/when life presents the opportunity to employ it, I highly recommend trying it out! Quality sessions are more fun when the body (and mind!) are fresh. Weekly training volume is what it is.
The PM session—opposite the weight vest session—is what I now refer to as the “Easy. Light. Smooth,” or “ESL” run, whose name I stole from Chris McDougall’s book, Born to Run, documenting how the Tarahumara Indian tribe runs—Easy, light, and smooth. Recall, this session is my first actual run since the long run two days prior so I want to use it to gauge how I’m coming off the long run before I ask my body to do another one. As it turned out, the method turned out to be very effective. Endurance sports training 101: Keep the easy days easy so the hard days can actually be hard. And in a long run, the quality comes from duration not intensity.
For the subsequent three long runs, I wanted to get out to my fave place to train here locally—Hood/Sugarloaf, where I spend much of the time just going uphill, which is great for me ’cause that’s my limiter in ultra racing. And all the low-impact uphill work didn’t affect my knee. Over the whole spring break I was very reasonable and controlled with my descending (my strength), which unfortunately places incredible demands on the knees, especially in races that last 7-19 hours! Anyway, I really enjoyed these last three 5+ hour runs with around 8000′ of climb each. The streams are flowing and everything’s green. The temps were down and I could easily get around my loop on one 300cal bottle of Vitargo for hydration. That will not be the case as the season heats up!
Spring Break Running Totals: 147mi w/ 36,000′ of elevation gain/loss
Thus my spring break served its purpose—establish a strong foundation moving forward with training and get some very specific work for the 16,000′ of elevation gain/loss at Canyons 100k on May 7th. I’ll hope to have this wonderful opportunity to race on the Western States 100 course, but also get to compete one more time whilst I’m still 41 (I turn 42 just two days later). I love getting to race on or near my actual birthday. Provides some extra incentive! I will, however, have to keep my eyes on the prize and listen to my body during Canyons. If the knee’s really talkin’ to me, I might have to make a tough decision and drop in order to, as I tell athletes I coach, “preserve the future.” I do anticipate racing strong from start to finish but given that Canyons is only 7 weeks out from States, I just have to be careful. There’s a big difference between doing an easy 5-hour long run and racing a demanding 100k. My plan is to arrive to the starting line of Canyons very fit and fresh so I can not only race effectively but also recover very well in time to get back to a training block for States, which I’m very excited to do!
The Empire Runners end-of-year Award Party started off with a few refreshing beverages and some socializing. It was fun seeing everyone all cleaned up and shiny.
As we crowded around the raffle prize tables, trying to decide what items we hoped to win, I think a little competition developed over the prizes. Quite a few tickets were purchased and good-humored discussions as to who was going to win the coveted items abounded. We had some great prizes donated by generous businesses and individuals.
The dinner, catered by Tagliaferri’s Deli, was (as usual) very good, with a nice variety of dishes served by Empire Runner helpers Val Sell, Lisa Isabeau, and Tori Meredith.
Member Emily Fisher entertained us by singing and playing guitar. Who knew we had such a great talent in the club! I heard comments like “She sounds like Joan Baez,” and “She reminds me a little of Emmy Lou Harris.”
Bill Browne was honored for his long-time service to the club and got a big round of applause plus a standing shout-out from his wife, Jeannie, who, in turn, got her own round of applause and laughter. We should all be so lucky to have such a fan in our corner.
Peter Kirk showed off his speaking skills as he honored newsletter editors over the past 20 years. His presentation included a slide show that illustrated how the newsletters have evolved over time. It was interesting to see what was and now what is. Larry Meredith, in his usual humorous manner, gave a short cross country talk and kept the mood upbeat.
Throughout the evening, raffle tickets were pulled and winning numbers announced amid some happy yippees and some disappointed groans.
The Grand Prix awards went by fast, the last tickets were pulled, and it was time to go. It was a lively party and it was great to see new and old members enjoy the evening.
Stay tuned…. I hope to make next year fun and surprising.
Back in December I remember reading a list of “Popular Trends in Exercise and Fitness for 2016,” and at the #1 spot was “Wearable Technology.” At first I was kind of excited because I’m a bit of a numbers junkie; my thesis was a meta-analysis (I got to run statistics on other peoples statistics!!). But then I started to think about it more and more. As much as some of this data, if used correctly, can be helpful to improve: training, running technique, shoe design, etc. I realized it can also have a negative effect on individuals as well.
We’re getting to a point where technology is getting so advanced and so cheap that there is some pretty advanced stuff getting out to the general population. As I talk to more people I’m realizing that many of them are in a bit of a state of data overload. Some of the crazy products out there include things like: wearable lactate analyzers, foot strike analyzers built into the sole of shoes, or running shirts that analyze your gait. Someone will tell me their watch told them their vertical oscillation is 4 inches. Then you ask them if that was good, and you get the response “I don’t know.” Then the next question is what are you going to do with that data/what are you going to do to improve that number, and you again get the response “I don’t know.” It’s really cool to have some of those numbers and look at them, but if you don’t know what those numbers are or what to do with them, then why waste your time? True some numbers are pretty easy to wrap your head around and utilize, but now some of these numbers are getting more abstract. I think part of the problem is that in the era we’re in now people just want the newest best thing out there regardless of what it is.
I want everyone to realize that I’m not saying technology is bad in running, but we may be a little overwhelmed with it from time to time. Running is such a simple sport, sometimes we just need to embrace that a little more. With the increase in GPS watches and everyone knowing exactly what pace they’re running every step of the run, we start to lose touch with the internal pacing mechanisms runners had to hone into even a decade ago. The issue with relying on GPS is it tends to hinder your ability to race. When all you’re focused on is time and pace you tend to forget to just race and try and beat people. That’s one of the reasons I like to include workouts that work on making moves and covering moves like you do in a race; as well as workouts where I don’t give a pace to run, I just give an effort (i.e. 5k race effort) so that they can still stay in tune with those internal pacing mechanisms.
I want you all to know that this is coming from someone who runs with a GPS watch, has a Strava account, and enjoys indulging in some training numbers. But it’s nice to go “naked” and run without a watch from time to time. The idea of this blog it to realize that sometimes we just need to take a step back and enjoy running for the sake of running.
Like always leave comments or questions in the comments below, and let me know what you think and if you have any topics you want me to talk about in future posts.
Local medical professional, Bruce Koepp, has published his first fiction novel: Heel Strike. Set on Oahu, the story is a compelling thriller/mystery involving two veteran trail runners whose lives are tethered together in a tense story of deadly deceit. Caught between them is the devoted wife and mother not willing to wait at the Finish line any longer. Koepp explains: “For those of us beset with this sport, it’s much like a descent into an addictive love affair that constantly tests personal relationships where the expectations don’t always equal the outcomes. Our need to personally compete is way beyond the need to participate.” Bruce invites fiction path finders to share the visual escape and pick up the narrative at Reader’s Books in Sonoma. “It’s not a lite jog around the Plaza,” he adds.
Eminent tropical storms are lining up off the Oahu shores like anxious runners awaiting the starter’s pistol. The competiveness of trail racing draws them together while a desperate love triangle tears them apart. Both visual and metaphorical, the suspense builds with each treacherous step toward the Finish line. Not a niche story, but rather a surprising cornerstone chase into survival.
(An ongoing series of interviews of redwood empire runners by Alex Wolf-Root)
The Redwood Empire has been familiar with Sara Bei (Hall) since her earliest days as a Montgomery HS Viking. She was the first girl to win four CA XC State Championships, she was the 2000 Footlocker National Champion, and still holds the Empire 3,200m record. As a professional, she’s represented the USA in cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track (including a PanAm Gold), and has now turned her attention to the roads. She’ll be racing the Marathon at the upcoming Olympic Trials on February 13th, so be sure to tune in to watch!
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today Sara! I know you’re busy, so let’s get right to it: In just about two weeks you’ll toe the line at the US Olympic Trials in the Marathon. When did you know you wanted to be a marathoner, and why do you think it took so long for you to turn to the marathon?
Trying a marathon was always something on my bucket list, but not something I felt I would really be good at until I ran my first half marathon back in Sonoma County in Healdsburg. It was just for fun, not a fast course, but I loved it and made me wonder how much faster I could go! Then I started the training for it later in the year and really loved the training. Unfortunately my appendix burst and I had to delay my debut but it affirmed in my mind I wanted to try the distance.
I’m not sure if it’s possible to take that much time off again 🙂 but I felt I finished Chicago curious how much more was there. The Chicago course and conditions were much more forgiving, and I learned that I do really love the distance as I thought I would. I just had too many weakness exposed in my first one. The LA Marathon was the most I’ve ever hurt, and I’m stronger for it.
And it’s not just the marathon that you’ve excelled at. If anything, the roads may be your least successful terrain thus far. You’ve won a national title in XC and earned PanAm gold in the steeplechase, so you’re clearly a very versatile athlete. What is it about yourself that makes you excel across the disciplines?
I played a lot of sports growing up and feel like I have more of a general athletic gifting by God than having a specific endurance pedigree. I’ve always been willing to work really hard and not be afraid to try new things. All those successes came with an equal number of failures of events I tried that didn’t go well! I’m not afraid to fail and I enjoy mixing it up.
On that topic, if you could be a legitimate contender for the best in the world in any event in Athletics, which would it be?
Good question. I don’t think I’m near that in any event but my best may be the half marathon… With a few hurdles and mud thrown in 🙂
Stepping back a bit, let’s talk about your (Montgomery HS) Viking days. You made history by being the first athlete to win the CA State XC meet all 4 years. Additionally, you were a Footlocker National Champ. What do you think led to such incredible success during your prep career?
I had great coaches at Montgomery in Larry and Tori Meredith and later help from Shannon Sweeney that gave me a good foundational base. Larry gave out summer schedules before my freshman year that were “beginning, intermediate, advanced” so being the over-achiever personality I was I followed the “advanced” to a T even though it had me running 15 mile long runs, etc. I’ve always loved challenging myself. Plus living across the street from Annadel didn’t hurt! 🙂
Beyond your coaches, was there anyone else who had an extra special impact while in HS?
Early on, Julia (Stamps) Mallon set the bar high for me in all my races from local to national, so I’m grateful for that. Later my Stanford teammate Lauren Fleshman really mentored me thoroughout my college career, and after that Deena Kastor in the 5 years I spent in Mammoth Lakes was very influential.
What about any favorite memories or races from your time as a Viking?
It’s hard to top winning the state championship as a team! It began as kind of a pipe dream and I almost couldn’t believe it when it happened.
And while you had a great career at Stanford as a many-time All-American, you weren’t quite the world-beater you were in HS. How was this transition back to being great, but not the best?
The level of competition is much higher. It’s easy to succeed in high school just by working really hard, especially because when I was in school that wasn’t the norm. I think I placed 2nd at NCAA nationals like 4 or 5 times. And the time I was most likely to win I got tripped in the final sprint. There just wasn’t a lot of room for error and yet I am thankful for all the 2nd place finishes and leading our team to a NCAA XC title.
While at Stanford, you met your husband, who’s also an elite distance runner. How has that relationship helped your performance on the roads/dirt/oval?
I would definitely not still be running if it wasn’t for Ryan’s inspiration and support. He has believed in me at times when I gave up on myself and he is my biggest fan. Now he coaches me, which has made for a fun new season! Of course there are times I’ve had to sacrifice my career for his and vice-versa, but we are a team.
While obviously Ryan is a marathon great, some were surprised to hear of this coaching change. How did that come about?
The biggest news there has to be your starting a new family. Congrats! What led to the decision to adopt, especially as you’re in the prime of your athletic career?
It was a leap of faith and far from a career move, but one we felt called in our hearts and have not regretted it for one minute. We wanted to grow our family through adopting kids that may not otherwise have a home and that are typically older kids and are special needs kids. Our girls are amazing and have added so much joy to our lives! For more details on our story becoming a family, see the Press Democrat article 🙂
And that’s hardly the first way you’ve done good for Ethiopia and her children, thanks to your Steps Foundation. Can you tell our readers a little bit about how this came about, and about it’s current mission?
Seeing extreme poverty first hand in Africa and other areas totally changed me as a person and the trajectory of my life. I thought I’d go straight into development work after college but had the opportunity to still run and here we are 10.5 years later, enjoying it more than ever! But I haven’t forgotten about the calling I feel is on my life to bring justice in these areas, and engage the running community to do the same. Currently our funds are focused on famine relief and orphan care in Ethiopia.
What final words of advice would you have for those reading this, especially for current Empire Prep’s gearing up for their T&F season?
Enjoy the team aspect of the sport! That is one thing that changes after school. Eat well – don’t look for shortcuts by losing weight – or you may not be able to enjoy running later in life. Be “you” to the fullest rather than comparing yourself to other people. Find your identity in who God made you to be; root yourself in that and you can run free of fearing failure.
Thanks for the chat Sara, and good luck in LA! All of the Redwood Empire will be rooting for you!
(Local runner and photographer Anthony Rink went to the 2015 state XC championships, and here are some of his photos with captions.)
Sonoma Academy girls team post race at the finish line of the CIF state cross country championships. At this time all athletes have to remove the electronic chips from their shoes before leaving the finish area. Athletes Rylee Bowen, Mckenna Sell, and Kayja Mann.
Start of the division one girls race, just over a quarter mile from the start. This leads down the road to the entrance of woodward park where they take a hard left turn onto the park course.
Two leaders of the division four race. They are just past the two mile mark of the three point one mile course. On the left is athlete Morgin Coonfield who finishes second overall.
Just after the start of the division three boys race. As the runners begin to sort out their best position to be in for the race.
First place division three boys race. Athlete Austin Tamagno finishing in 14:45:9 as the second fastest overall athlete to compete.
Almost one mile into the division five girls race. The pack of runners begins to thin out as they get further into the race. Sonoma Academy athlete Rylee Bowen hangs onto the front pack of runners to pull her through the race.
This is the two mile mark of the division five girls race. As the front pack of the race thins out Rylee Bowen is positioned right behind the first runner. Bowen continues to move up and win the race.
Finish of the division one girls race. Athlete Delaney White on her final push to the finish line, placing 12th.