Interview: Sara Bei
by Alison Wade

Sara Bei overtakes friend and future teammate Anita Siraki to win the 2000 Foot Locker Cross Country National Championship.
(All Photos by Victah@Photo Run)
Sara Bei Links
Feature article from The Press Democrat (6/01)
Bei is 2000-2001 CIF Scholar Athlete of the Year
2001 CA State Meet article from The Press Democrat
"Bei wins state title" The Press Democrat (6/01)
"State 3,200m champion is more than a runner" The Press Democrat (6/01)
"Bei captures national title" The Press Democrat (10/00)
New Years Chat (2001) with Sara Bei from
Bei talks to about her HS career (5/01)
DyeStat Feature: "Those California Girls"
An interview with Sara Bei (11/99)
Click here to see a video of Bei's Foot Locker Cross Country Championships win

Sara Bei of Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa, California capped off what was already an excellent high school running career with an even more excellent senior year. Last fall she earned her fourth-straight California State Cross Country title before going on to earn an upset, come-from-behind victory at the 2000 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships. She followed that up by winning the Millrose Games mile indoors ("just for fun") and then the California State 3,200m title in a 10:11.11 PR, just ahead of her friend and future teammate, Anita Siraki. Bei is headed to Stanford University in the fall.

What does it feel like to be done with high school and getting ready to go to college?
Near the end of high school I was starting to shift my focus towards college. It was hard to stay focused on the last few high school meets you have left because you're definitely thinking of next year and suddenly your competitors in the race are your teammates, because Anita (Siraki) is going to Stanford with me. I've been ready for a while to make the transition. It was fun to enjoy the last part of high school and the last part of my career but I definitely am looking forward to what lies ahead.

What kind of training will you do this summer to help you make that transition from high school running to college running?
Stanford sent me a packet of stuff and it's pretty much the same as I've done in past summers, it has more tempo runs and more interval-type workouts where I think I'll be starting to run faster earlier than I have in the past, and the weight work is a little different. But I really like it so far and I'm really happy with it.

What's the peak mileage you think you'll hit this summer?
Probably around 75.

Is that more than you've done before?
No, I've actually been doing a lot of mileage now, around the mid 60s, so it should be alright. I'm just working on trying to get the intensity up and run more quality miles rather than a lot of slow miles.

Do you have anyone to train with this summer?
Not really. A lot of the guys that I used to train with who graduated are not running in college. I'll be going to Colorado for a little while with Alicia Craig, one of my other new teammates. So that will be fun.

It's great that you already know so many of your new teammates and get along so well. Is it hard to transition from being competitors to being teammates, do you worry about competitiveness in practice at all?
Not at all. I really feel like in high school I took advantage of the opportunities I had to make friends with my competitors. I got to know so many other people from all over the U.S. Anita and I get together before races, after races, and I think that our friendships will just grow stronger now that we're on the same team. I don't think that we'll be competitive, I think we'll be working together to achieve our goal of winning nationals this year.

Are you doing anything besides training this summer? Do you have a job?
Yeah, I'm working at Fleet Feet Sports, which is our local running store -- it's fun, helping people find the right shoes. I'm also volunteering at the Jim Ryun Christian Running Camp (in Kansas) and Camp Isiah, which is another Christian running camp in Colorado.

Do people recognize you when they go in the store?
Yeah (laughs), it's kind of funny [to see] some people's reactions, but I like it because it's a good way for me to be able to give back to the community and help them with their (footwear-related) problems and stuff.

Santa Rosa seems to have a really strong running community with all the great high school runners you've produced (Bei, Julia Stamps, Trina Cox, Jenny Aldridge). How did you get started running, did runners like Julia inspire you?
Yeah, definitely. It seems like Julia came and then after that it's just been a snowball effect almost. I first started running in junior high -- I had been a soccer player all my life -- and was running pretty fast just on raw talent. My times were comparable to her junior high times so I was able to look ahead and say Okay, she's a sophomore and she just won nationals so if I stick with this, maybe I can achieve some of the things that she has. So she really helped my realize my potential and what I could be. It's kind of continued and we have some good freshmen this year that have a chance of doing really well.

You went to different high schools so you were never teammates, but will you be teammates this fall?
Actually, she graduated but she's going to come back for a quarter. She still has eligibility but because of her injury [she's not going to run].

Looking back on your high school career, what moment(s) stand out the most in your mind?
I think that two things stand out, definitely. My junior year at [the 1999 Foot Locker Cross Country Western Regional] when I didn't qualify for nationals, that was a pretty devastating experience, just because I was expected to go on and maybe challenge for the title. But a lot of good came from that experience. I was able to share with a lot of people the reasons why I run, and that's to glorify God and I think that was one of the most special races to me because it did accomplish that.

The second one would probably be nationals (in 2000) because I was able to come back from not having a great season my senior year leading up to nationals, and from not qualifying junior year. I was able to come in kind of as an underdog and not really one of the favorites and just let God take the race and do through me whatever he wanted. That was just really exciting for me.

You were a three-time Foot Locker national qualifier, could you talk about the experience a little bit and what it meant to you?
It's an amazing experience. They spoil you so much there (laughs), we don't deserve it. It's almost like the Olympics, they just treat you like you're awesome. All the people there are totally great. It's in Disney World so we're set up in this amazing hotel that's on a fake beach outside that has waterslides. It's just a great atmosphere. They rush you around, do a lot of different things -- we get to be in a parade. But at the same time they are still considerate of the fact that we do have a race. Afterwards, there's a dance. It's just a great time to meet other runners and everyone has a mutual respect for everyone else because they know what it's taken to get there. With that common bond of running, it's really fun to meet other people.

The race is so hyped that it's something that stands out in your mind all year. That's really what I worked for, all throughout high school, to win nationals one day. In track, there's the state meet, but it doesn't quite compare to (Foot Locker) Nationals.

You didn't run any national meets after the California State Meet this spring, why did you make that decision?
In California our state meet is so huge that it's really what everyone peaks for. It's a big deal, whereas in other states that are a little smaller or not as competitive, they really focus on something like nationals. I was really only going to do post-season meets if I wasn't very happy with my times from State. I had enough competition there -- I didn't quite run what I wanted to run, but I was happy with it and it was a good way to end my high school career, with the two-mile there, that was a great race.

Going back a bit, you said you ran in junior high, when did you first start competing seriously?
I competed in 7th and 8th grade but I wasn't really training. I just basically was going to my soccer practices and then doing the races. We ran maybe like a mile a day in junior high -- just to the 7-Eleven to get slurpees, stuff like that.
I really count the summer before my freshman year as when I really got into running and started training.

What kind of mileage were you doing then, as a freshman?
I did about 50 miles a week. It's kind of strange, on my own, I wasn't working with my coach or anything, I started to run a lot of miles and I just really enjoyed it. I just have a love for running, I don't mind doing a lot of miles because I like being up in the trails, in nature.

What were your best times during your freshman year?
In track I ran a 4:49 and a 10:31.

You got a lot of press that year. Did you have a lot of people warning you about burnout and doing too much too soon?
People threw around the word burnout a lot. It kind of made me think about it and I was a little bit scared for a while. But I really realized about talking to some people that were knowledgeable, it's really a mental thing, I think. There are some professional runners now that did well in high school. I think it's not so much physical, but when you mentally let down, the training gets to be too much for you and you've been doing it too long. I didn't worry about it, I knew that as long as I was loving running and just doing it for that, then I'd be alright. I did think about it though.

Could you tell us how you trained your senior year and how your mileage varied throughout the year?
My senior year was different in very distinctive ways. The summer before, I went to Holland for a month with an organization called Athletes of Good News. It was a missions trip and that was probably the least mileage I'd ever done in a summer because I just didn't get the opportunity to train very well and I didn't have access to a gym. I knew it was what God wanted me to do but it was hard at the time because I came back and I wasn't in the shape that I needed to be in. I was running times slower than [I did] my freshman year. It was kind of scary at first but I knew that I just had to trust God with the season and I knew he wanted me in Holland. As the season progressed, I was working really hard. I didn't do as much mileage but I definitely focused on quality. I was running harder, I did a lot more long intervals than I had in the past, working on my strength, and I just started to improve each race and it finally led up to nationals. But it was a slow process, it wasn't like other years when I started big and was running fast in the beginning. I didn't really improve throughout the season that much but I started slower senior year.

After nationals, did you take a break at all?
Yeah, I took about two and a half weeks off, and the third week I just ran every other day, which was a pretty long break. I didn't really want to do a lot of indoor -- I just did one (meet), I did Millrose for fun. Then I just got into it slowly because we had all the way until June.

So were you doing about 60 miles a week then?
Yeah, I upped it to like 65, I even did some 70 weeks. I was really getting into the mileage and feeling good. I started running double days, which was something I hadn't done regularly before. I still didn't start really strong in the beginning of the season but by March, I was running pretty fast.

Have you ever been injured?
Besides an ankle sprain, no.

So you're pretty durable to be able to handle that kind of mileage.
I've been surprised because I'm not very flexible at all (laughs).

Do you think you'd ever want to run marathons?
I've thought about it. My long runs are my favorite days, I run like 16 miles. I don't know though. I think for now I'm enjoying using my speed and I'll probably want to do that as long as I can, because when you get old, you lose it. But maybe one day.

And you've got a pretty fierce kick there that seems to work pretty well for you... What kind of pace do you do run on your easy days?
In the past, I've done them usually at 7:30 to 7:45 pace, but that's something that Stanford is having me change. They want me to focus more on like 6:45 to 7:00 pace, so that's why I'm really focusing on quality this summer.

When are you headed off to school?
We go to Mammoth as a team in early September and school starts at the end of September.

Do know who your roommate is going to be yet?
No, Stanford doesn't let you choose. You can't room with athletes, they won't put you with an athlete. So it will be a surprise, they don't let you know until you get there.

I thought maybe you and Anita were going to be like Alan Webb and Nate Brannen (both sub-4:00 milers who will be roommates at the University of Michigan in the fall).
Yeah, all of the other colleges let you choose, but it's part of the Stanford [experience], there are so many people there, they want you to get to know one another.

Do you have any idea what you might want to major in?
Yeah, I'm really interested in Education, Physical Therapy as well -- maybe a combination of those. And also Journalism.

Changing gears, you've mentioned that you run to glorify God. Could you talk about the role that religion plays in your life?
I'm a Christian. I know it sounds trite when I say the reason why I run is to glorify God, because a lot of people thank God after races. But it really is the focus and the purpose behind my running and I feel like God's given me this talent for a reason. There's a verse, Colossians 3:23, that says "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." And I think that that has a couple parts to it. I really strive, in my training and in my racing, to work at it with all my heart and not sacrifice the talent that He's given me. And then it also says "As for the Lord, not for men," and I think it's easy, when you're running at a high level to get caught up in the hype. It was really hard for me junior year, not qualifying for nationals, and letting people down. I've just really been able to focus my senior year on not worrying about what other people expect of [me] but really just running for God and knowing that he loves me unconditionally.

Is it all difficult being as high profile as you are -- knowing that there are all these people out there who know all about you but you have no idea who they are?
Since I experienced it at a young age... like I loved freshman year because no one knew who I was. It was just great, I could get into a race, just go and surprise myself every time. But after that I definitely had to deal with it. It wasn't too bad but it's definitely something that made [me] different from the ordinary high schooler. Junior year, not qualifying for nationals, that was probably the low time. But I'm really glad I experienced it young because I feel more prepared going into college. In just my senior year, I've been through a lot of things and so now I'm more prepared for it.

And at Stanford you'll be joining other national champions and great runners.
I'm looking forward to fading into anonymity a little bit more (laughs).

We read that a private coach, Shannon Sweeney, was brought on this year to help coach you, could you tell us about that?
Shannon came on to help this year and she was our girls coach, sort of. She worked mainly with me but she also helped out our girls team. We won State as a team in cross country, so that was really exciting. She's a P.E. teacher at our school. She knew a lot about the women's aspect of running.

And finally, outside of running, what are your interests?
I have a lot of things that I like to do. I like working with developmentally disabled kids, I help teach a bible study at my church for them. I've taught summer school for special ed. kids. I love just being able to work with kids. I've taught vacation bible school in the summer for kindergardeners. I like to do the normal high school things, also, like be with friends and stuff like that. I like to be outside as much as possible too -- rollerblading and hiking.

Well thank you so much for the interview and best of luck at Stanford and in all of your pursuits.
Thank you.

(Interview posted July 2001)

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