Benefield: Sara Bei Hall happy to keep running her personal marathon

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It was the sound of 10,000 big ones flying by, just out of reach.

Sara (Bei) Hall was focused on her nearest female competitor, Natosha Rogers. The two had duked it out over the 10-mile course from Minneapolis to St. Paul, Minnesota on Sunday and Hall had her hands full with Rogers. But in the equalizer format of USA Track and Field’s 10-mile national championship, the first athlete to cross the line — man or woman — wins a $10,000 bonus.

The women were given a 6-minute, 18-second head start, a time based on previous top performances.

But Hall, a 2001 Montgomery grad who was a high school All-American and seven-time All-American at Stanford, was so focused on her duel with Rogers that she didn’t know the men were closing fast. Hall, 34, never heard them coming.

“I wasn’t even thinking of the guys,” she said. “I was totally in the zone of trying to win my race. All of a sudden I hear this ‘Whoosh.’ ”

Hall finished in 53:43 – 1.2 seconds behind the overall winner, Shadrack Kipchirchir, who grabbed the bonus.

If she was bummed to lose out on $10,000 by a gnat’s whisker, she didn’t show it.

“I think it’s fun,” she said of the format. “It really made for the most exciting finish it could be in the race.”

No, she wasn’t $10,000 richer, but she was the 2017 USATF 10-mile national women’s champion. And she did earn a big confidence boost heading into the Frankfurt Marathon later this month in her quest to ready herself for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“Any time I toe the line, I want to be competitive,” she said. “My goal was to win the race.”

Better than that, though, is the fact that Hall believes she is running as well as she ever has. That is saying something, considering she is among the all-time great prep runners to ever come out of this area — who went on to shine at Stanford before becoming the 2012 national cross country champion, and Pan American Games gold medalist in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 2011.

Despite her stacked resume, Hall’s results are a bit of a surprise to the runner herself. Seems she didn’t think she’d still be getting after it as a 34-year-old mom of four.

“I’m enjoying running as much as I ever have,” she said. “I didn’t expect to be doing this at this point in my life with kids and everything. I’m just taking it one year at a time and seeing where my passion is.”

So far, Hall’s passion is the marathon — a race she is relatively new to, having just completed her first 26.2-mile race in March of 2015.

She has lopped some serious time off of her marathon’s bests. She ran a personal best of 2:28:26 in Tokyo in February. That was a significant chunk of time from her prior best of 2:30:06 at the 2016 London Marathon.

“I feel like it suits me,” she said. “When I started doing marathons it was a pretty natural fit.”

“I really enjoy racing on the roads,” she said. “A track is the same wherever you go. But every city has a different feel to it.”

But even with the win in St. Paul, even with her times falling by big chunks, even with her running pedigree, Hall said she feels doubts. Sometimes it hits her when she’s mid-run, sometimes it’s at other moments. Sometimes the doubts have to do with running and sometimes they have to do with life — how to balance being a wife, being a mom, being a runner.

“Sometimes it’s doubting if I can even do this at the level that I want with everything going on,” she said.

“Everything going on” has much to do with mothering four girls that she and her husband of 12 years, two-time Olympian and U.S. half marathon record-holder Ryan Hall, adopted in 2015. Her girls are 7, 9, 13 and 17; they are in school, they have homework, they participate in sports.

“The complexity increases every season. They get more homework, they are involved in more things,” she said. “It’s definitely challenging. I’m not superhuman.”

And running, especially long-distance running, can be a lonely pursuit. The voices in a runner’s head can get louder when self-doubt creeps in.

“It all goes into, at times, questioning whether this is the right path,” she said. “And having confidence that even if other people don’t understand, it’s more important to do what God is telling you to do.”

And sometimes Hall, a devout Christian, can struggle to hear God’s voice amid all the other noises in life.

“God will speak to you, but also the enemy will speak to you but speaks lies to you,” she said. “What are you going to believe?”

Hall said she believes she is doing the right thing with her running and her life. She said she has always been a person who takes on a lot — being a student-athlete at Stanford, running the non-profit The Hall Steps Foundation, and now racing and parenting.

“I think all moms struggle with ‘mom guilt,’” she said. “I think part of that comes from gender roles. I didn’t think I was going to be doing this when I was a mom. When you actually become a mom, a lot of things are not how you expected.”

Ryan Hall, who retired from competitive running last year, has taken on the role of his wife’s coach. He is also taking on what Sara Hall has described as the family’s “administrative” duties as well as coaching his daughter’s high school cross country team.

“He’s my biggest fan and encourager,” she said. “Even though that means he might have to pick up the slack. It’s not a ‘You versus me’ thing. We are very much a team.”

As a team, they are eyeing a trip to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Some doubt is honest and natural. And acknowledging the difficulty just might make Hall stronger in the end.

“I am running the best I ever have and I am there for my kids and they are thriving,” she said.


You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671.

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