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(Re)Discover Your Passion by Sara Beacham

The Loco Challenge Half Marathon

The date was Saturday, June 3, 2017. The scenery was Butte Meadows up highway 32. It was a cool, gorgeous morning for a run. It was the Intrepid Adventures Loco Half Marathon. I had never raced in an Intrepid Adventures race before but was looking forward to the new scenery and the new challenges. I didn’t know many people there, but that didn’t deter me. I had run plenty of races solo and knew that my friends would be up there later for their 5KBEER5K start a little later in the morning.

I have a pre-race warmup routine. In any sporting event, it is important to create a routine to shake off last minute jitters and prepare for the challenges that lie ahead. I am runner who must get her race bib and other race related items usually the day before the race, but on this morning, I opted to pick up my bib that morning. No problem; I drove up early to ensure that I had plenty of time to pick up my bib, use the bathroom, get warmed up, use the bathroom again, and make it to the starting line on time. On time, however, was not something the race organizer had in mind.

The actual half marathon started almost 30 minutes late, which is agony for a runner who has a pre-race warmup routine. I felt myself getting cold. Oh, well, there’s not much I can do about it.

At this point, the mind game in my head was all over the place. “Oh my gosh, why haven’t we started yet.” “I’m losing my warmup.” “What if I have to use the bathroom on the trail.” “What do the trails look like?” “How big are the hills?” “Stop talking to yourself like this and just enjoy the moment.”

This last internal comment is what did the trick. Once I accepted that all those thoughts running through my head were actually true and that there was truly nothing I could do about any of those situations, I let go. I let go of all the limiting thoughts and decided to enjoy the weather, the environment and the race. It’s true that I had never run this course before, not even for a training run. Sometimes, not knowing the course is a beautiful thing. It allows for the moment to be present. However, you have to pay close attention in trail running, or you could end up with a bad fall, or worse, a broken bone. Luckily, neither of these happen on this race.

There was a smaller field for this half marathon. I could easily see the other female runners in the pack. Given that I had resolved to enjoy the race and the scenery, I didn’t go out super hard thinking that I would do a little conservation. I didn’t know the course first-hand but had studied the course elevation on the website to know that the first half was a long, gradual uphill climb. I would need the energy to get through seven or so miles uphill. Unfortunately, I have a competitive side inside of me. I started to take note of where the other female runners were in the pack. I tried to stay focused on those competitors who appeared to be in my age group. That helped tamper the competitiveness a tad.

Just when I think I am making some good progress as we work our way up the fire road, it seemed to be a bathroom break time. Luckily, the race organizers strategically placed blue rooms near some of the aid stations. Yay for me. I didn’t have to find a bush. I told myself to relax, that this pit stop was worth the two minutes I would lose trying to catch the other female runners in front of me. Less than two minutes later, I was back on the course. I thanked the volunteers for coming out and kept on chugging. I had lost visual contact with the runners in front of me that I had been tracking. Oh, well. I am here to explore new trails and have fun.

I kept this mindset for the majority of the first half. Occasionally, I would get a glimpse of the runners in front of me and a little of my competitiveness kicked in again as I picked up my pace a little. Maybe that competitiveness was a gentle (or not-so-gentle) reminder to stay on pace.

As the climb continued, I saw in the distance what would be the last aid station heading up the long, big hill before starting the descent. I also saw that the remaining female runner in front of me, who I was slowly gaining on, stopped at the aid station. I was carrying my aid (water and GU) and didn’t need to stop. I plowed through the aid station, waved at my friends cheering me on, and never looked back.

It was time to tackle the giant climb.

I honestly didn’t know if I had it in me to make it up the hill, in elevation – by this time, we are near 5,000 feet above sea level – or if I had enough fuel in the tank to maintain my newfound lead. What I did know was I just needed to put one foot in front of the other, keep moving, and trust the training.

The training. I really had not ran over 11 miles during this training. A half marathon is 13.1 miles, and usually I like to hit at least that or more during training. What had just happened in the gym in May was the burpee challenge. The burpee challenge consists of performing burpees daily following one of two tracks. The basic track means performing the number of burpees that correspond to the date of the month. So, for the 1 st of the month you do 1 burpee and finish May with 31 burpees. Yes, you do a pushup, too, with each burpee. The advanced track is the one that I followed and consisted of burpees Monday through Friday, each day adding 5 burpees to end the month with 100 burpees on the last day of the month. Here is an example of the burpee challenge. This one is from January 2020. The red is the basic track and the blue is the advanced track.

Burpees are pretty close to the perfect exercise. They are great for strength and conditioning – you get endurance, leg power, and upper body strength, not to mention you look great after doing them. To learn more about doing burpees, check out the blog post at This was my training – a few long runs and the burpee challenge almost daily.

What this challenge and minimal distance training did for me was nothing short of outstanding. True, I probably should have had more long runs in, but the burpee challenge provided me the endurance and conditioning training I needed to make it 13.1 miles and climb a monster hill at 5,000 feet plus elevation. Once I hit the bottom of the long hill at the aid station, I told myself to just keep moving, trust the training and do NOT turn around. No need to look back to see who was coming up behind me. I didn’t need to know. I just had to keep moving. If I got passed on this hill, so be it. I had not run the miles I needed, or at least I thought I needed. I just kept going.

Finally, I reached the top. Hooray! I saw the volunteers at the top, thanked them for being there. I watched the 50K runners keep going and made the turn to start my descent. YAY! Downhill!!! And, there was practically no one behind me – male or female. I had just kept my head down and let my legs do the work. Of course, I yelled at my legs almost the entire trip up the hill – Come on, legs! You can do this. Shut up! Really! You can do this.

As I made my fast descent, I saw the female runner I had passed at the aid station well behind me struggling up the hill. I gave a, “Good job, you got this,” as I blew past her heading down. She was way behind me. This was my chance to gain a lot of ground and put as much pavement behind me as I could. (We switched to pavement at the aid station at the bottom of the hill.)

I had taken a GU just prior to reaching the bottom of the hill aid station before climbing, wanting to get rid of my trash and get the extra nutrition before depleting going up the hill. This proved to be a key point in heading up. I didn’t need to GU again until nearly mile 11, when the course turned to boring flat roads again. I saw one car heading up the hill with volunteers. One of the volunteers knew me and cheered me from the car yelling, “You’re the first female.” What! Was I really coming in at number one?

Okay, stay focused and stay on point with just running with enjoyment.

Like I said, the course shifted to pavement and the road flattened out around mile 10 and by mile 11, I was feeling the hill, both the ascent and the descent. Running downhill can actually be more taxing on the legs than going uphill. You have to keep yourself upright, tighten your core, so you don’t find yourself tumbling headfirst downhill instead. All other things taken into account I was feeling pretty good. I took my nutrition, skipped the aid station, and tried to observe as much of the beauty in the mountains as I could.

It was a gorgeous day. There was no one around. It was just me and the mountain road and my thoughts.

“Where is the darn finish line?” I asked myself. “We’ve got to be close by now.” It took everything in my power to not keep looking down at my watch. Sometimes, it’s better to just run, to not pay attention to where or how long you’ve been running.

Finally, the end was in sight. I saw the crowds. I saw the finish line. I sprinted (as much as my legs would let me) through the finish. I was the first female half marathoner across the finish. I had just won my first big race. I was ecstatic!

Shortly after finishing this amazing race, I was getting ready to change my training. I started bodybuilding. Since I would be a novice to this type of training method, I hired a coach, and he helped me find my new passion for the next few years.

I found lots of new joy and excitement in the new training challenge I took on over the coming months, which would lead to my first bodybuilding show at the NPC Tahoe Show. I would love it so much, that it led to three years of bodybuilding and four shows in that time span. Basically, I ran very little, and definitely did not run on trails. Trails can be a dangerous place; see above where I describe the possibility of face first, broken bones, and twisted ankles. It was not something I could risk while trying to build muscle, grace, and beauty.

(Re)Discovered passion

Flash forward to January of this year.

I decided to try my feet at trail running again back in the fall of 2019. I signed up for the 10-mile distance of a local race, the Frost or Fog. This race had disappeared for a few years, and I couldn’t be more excited to make my trail comeback at this great event. Again, I didn’t feel like I was as well-trained as I should have been, but this time, I did get my 10-mile training run in. I knew I could do the distance. I also knew the course. I had run Upper Bidwell Park many times in the past and did a couple of training runs along the course to refamiliarize myself with the course. The back half of the Frost or Fog course if uphill. Surprise, surprise, another hill. I wanted to remind myself how bad it really was going to be. It was bad, but I, again, gave myself permission to enjoy the run and to walk when I needed to walk. And, I needed to walk.

I didn’t place at this race overall or in my age group. I was okay with that. It was my first long- distance run and first trail run back after taking a hiatus for over three years. I hit my pace goal and had an amazing group of friends join the race.

I think runners in general are a little crazy. Even before completing this 10-mile race, I signed up for another comeback race, the Trail Less Traveled. Of course, to insure I am 100 percent crazy, I signed up for the 14-mile distance. Cool! This is going to be fun! {Sarcasm doesn’t really come across in writing, but that was sarcastic.} I also plan to return to Bend, Oregon this summer for the Haulin’ Aspen. In 2010, I ran the trail full marathon at the Haulin’ Aspen. This time I plan to run the half marathon, because I am only half crazy. Maybe, the jury is still out on this one.

Knowing that I have all these wonderful trail races coming up this year, I thought it would be a good idea to head back to Upper Bidwell Park and start training on the trails again. My husband and I took to the trails last week for a nice one-hour run. I thought it would be fun to run up some big hills, only to discover how weak I actually was when it comes to trail hill running. A thought ran through my head, “Man, I need to more burpees.” Who says that!? I guess, I do. It’s true though. Burpees will help in training for hills and trails.

I missed a workout one Wednesday morning recently; so, to compensate, I decided to head for those some trails again in the afternoon after lunch. This time, I didn’t run as long, but I did attack the same section of the trails that kicked my butt just a few days prior. Same thing. This hill is a B – a BIG pain in the butt. “Yep, definitely need more burpees and more trail running.” Even though it was hard, I felt an immense joy getting out on the trails, observing nature, no music, no podcasts or Audible books. It was just me and the trail. Me and my thoughts. The ability to meditate and get awesome exercise.

This training run resulted in me following through with some of my goals that were set at the beginning of the year. It provided some much-needed clarity and the ability to check in with myself. Basically, any challenge you take on, make sure you give yourself the grace you need to work on what brings you passion. What gets you excited? What gets you so excited that this excitement and passion overflows into every other aspect of your life? Now, go do it!

By Sara Beacham

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