This is not how it’s supposed to be done.
Elite marathoners are not supposed to race major events less than six weeks apart. Runners are not supposed to shine at such disparate distances. Mothers of four children are not supposed to be at the top of their athletic game.
Don’t tell any of this to Sara (Bei) Hall, the new USA Track and Field national champion in the marathon. With her win Sunday in the 35th annual California International Marathon in Sacramento in a time of 2:28:10, Hall became the first American to win national road running titles in both the mile, which she won in 2011, and the marathon.
The marathon crown comes in her final event of 2017 and marks a fall season of racing that is nothing short of phenomenal. But for a coach who saw what she was made of early on, this stretch of success is not surprising.
Joe Walsh, who coached and taught at Slater Middle School for 32 years, knew he had a talent in Hall, who was then a seventh grader named Sara Bei.
Hall’s versatility — and her incredible drive — were apparent when she was 12, Walsh said.
The coach lined Hall up in the 800 meters and the mile, after which he handed her the baton, running anchor no less, for the 4 x 100 sprint. She barely had time to take a breath between events.
“I knew she had the drive that wherever she got the baton, she would take care of business,” he said.
In cross country, Walsh remembers Hall lining up to race against a nationally ranked junior. He didn’t tell her how fast the other girl was because he didn’t want her to feel added pressure.
But the tight race triggered something in Hall. Even a mismarked course that put her behind her competitor didn’t deter her, Walsh said.
“That’s when I knew she was driven,” he said. “She had an excuse to lose really, but she didn’t think twice about it. The rest was history.”
Today Hall, 34, is continuing to make history. The second half of 2017 points to a runner whose already sparkling career is far from over.
On Sept. 4, Hall, a Montgomery High grad and seven time All-American at Stanford, ran a personal record of 67:53 to finish third in the U.S. 20k Championship. On Sept. 17, she ran another PR of 69:37, this time at the Copenhagen Half Marathon where she finished 10th. On Oct. 1, she won the U.S. 10 Mile Championship with a time of 54:30.
On Oct. 29, Hall ran a personal best of 2:27:21 in the Frankfurt Marathon to finish fifth. Now, five weeks later, she ran the second fastest time of her life to become the new national champ. She just missed the course record while running the entire race alone. No other female competitors were even close.
Hall’s times in Frankfurt and Sacramento are the eighth and ninth fastest marathons by an American woman this year. And they are the two fastest of her life — posted back to back — and an unheard of five weeks apart.