It will be a reunion of sorts Nov. 6 when two members of the 2000 California state champion cross country team both toe the line for the New York City Marathon.
Once teammates, Montgomery High School alums — Kim Conley and Sara (Bei) Hall — are slated to race each other and thousands of others in one of the most competitive marathons on the 2016 calendar.
Both Conley and Hall have forged successful running careers and both are looking at the marathon as the next logical step in their evolution as runners. And the fact that both have been among the top American racers in a variety of distances over the course of their careers makes the fact that they were once prep teammates all the more remarkable.
It’s been 16 years since the Vikings brought home the Division II cross country title from the state meet in Fresno, but the reverberations from that team continue to ripple through the running world.
That was a day Hall, who dropped the surname Bei when she married fellow runner Ryan Hall, raced to her fourth consecutive individual cross country crown and cemented her legacy as one of the greatest prep runners ever to come from Sonoma County.
For Conley, the Vikings’ team win was the first real taste of success in a slowly unfolding career that has blossomed into one of the most successful in Empire history.
After that race in 2000, Hall went on to become a 10-time All-American at Stanford University. Conley, 30, competed successfully at UC Davis but never raced in the NCAA championships. The one year she did qualify, a case of food poisoning kept her from competing.
But since then, Conley — a two-time Olympian — has proven herself a master at almost any distance she tries.
Hall, too, has tried different distances and disciplines including the steeplechase. But now, at 33, Hall is taking aim at the marathon. And she’s going after it hard.
New York marks Hall’s third 26.2-mile race in 2016. She’s posted the fourth-fastest time in the United States this year, behind only the three women who represented the country in the marathon at the Rio Olympics in August.
On the flip side of that schedule is Conley’s. The race next Sunday will mark Conley’s first attempt at a marathon, and comes close on the heels of her Olympic performance in Rio in the 5,000 meters.
It’s funny for former Vikings coach Larry Meredith to think that two of the greatest runners ever to emerge from Sonoma County were members of the same team.
“It’s hard to believe they were, but it’s cool to say they were on the same team,” he said.
And what a team that was.
The seven Vikings were ranked No. 1 heading into the state meet based on their performance at the Mt. Sac Invitational earlier in the season.
“They were ranked No. 1 but they weren’t exactly the overwhelming favorite to win,” Meredith said. “A lot of things had to go right.”
A lot of things did go right — like just about everything. Every single member of the team ran their personal bests that day. Everything they had was just enough — they won by the slimmest of margins: nine points.
“All seven got PRs,” Meredith said. “They all did and most of them were by 40 to 50 seconds. Sara Bei had the toughest PR to get because this was her fourth trip to the meet and she PR’d by like 12 seconds.”
Hall finished the 5,000-meter course in 17:04. Sarah Bashel finished 14th overall, Elisa Pedersen finished 25th; then Conley in 19:04 and 29th place, Joy Terribilini in 55th, Christy Sweaney 65th and Amelia Thomas in 150th. Four of the seven went on to run in college, according to Meredith.
Hall’s win was her fourth consecutive individual cross country title. She also earned three state track titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters while at Montgomery, as well as the Footlocker National High School Cross Country Championships in 2000.
“Kim was our No. 4 at the state meet,” Meredith said. “It was a very solid performance, really a good performance that day, but she really blossomed that next year. Just being around Sara and the team and the success that we had really motivated her. She would make statements that she was going to do this and do that and she just backed it up.”
Did she ever.
Conley has become the most successful Olympic runner ever from the Empire. She made the 2012 team in the 5,000-meter race and again for the Rio Olympics this summer. In 2014 she was the U.S. champ in the 10,000 meters and in 2015 she became the U.S. champ in the half marathon.
“It seems like whatever she tries she’s been successful at,” Meredith said. “The first time she ran a half marathon was that race. You just don’t expect her to win it, thinking she’ll probably be top five, and she wins it.”
Meredith is almost chuckling. Conley has gifts.
“The marathon? I don’t think I’d be surprised if she won it,” he said.
She’ll certainly have competition. In addition to her fellow Viking, the lineup in the women’s marathon is expected to include Molly Huddle, 32, who is making her marathon debut but holds the American record in the 10,000 meters, and Kellyn Taylor, 30, who finished fourth in the 10,000 meters and sixth in the marathon at this year’s U.S. Olympic Trials.
And the race itself brings out the best in athletes.
“The only two in the country that can compare as far as competition would be Boston and Chicago,” Meredith said. “I can’t think of any that draws better runners than those races. New York has had the top runners running it.”
And two of the top names lining up are not only from the same town and same high school, but the same team.
“It’s always a point of pride to know that some of the kids we coached are still out there,” Meredith said.
Still out there, still winning and on the sport’s largest stages, to boot.
You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”