SARAH SIMPSON: Adjusting Expectations

Sarah is a long-time trail and ultrarunner — she ran her first 50 mile trail race in 2012. She is also a wife and a mom of two young boys.

Sarah caught my attention at this past year’s Voyageur 50 mile trail race. The Voyageur 50 mile starts early in the morning. Racers started lining up in the dark, and the sun was rising as the start of the race approached. Sarah was the only person on the starting line of the Voyageur 50 calmly cradling her young kid. She was about to race 50 MILES, and there she was calmly comforting her kid!

I spoke with Sarah about how she trained for the Voyageur 50 with two young kids and what role running is playing in her life now. Sarah’s story inspires me because of how she meshes her roles as ultrarunner, wife and mom.


What was it like to return to trail running after having your two kids?

I started trail racing in 2011, and I would run one or two 50k’s each year. I ran my first 50 mile trail race in 2012.

In 2014, when I was pregnant with my oldest son, I ran the Superior Spring 50k at 18 weeks pregnant. I stayed very active in running through that pregnancy. When my oldest son Landon was six-months-old, I was right back up North running the Superior Spring 25k. The next year, I ran Voyageur 50 before becoming pregnant with my second child.

I did not run through my second pregnancy, and I found it more challenging to get back into my groove after he was born. My first successful race was just this spring with the Spring Superior 50k and now the Voyageur 50 mile. My second son Clayton just turned two.

What has been the most challenging part of returning to running and racing ultras post-childbirth?

The hardest part about getting back to training after my second son was managing the two very different interests between my kids. They seemed to always want opposite things, and timing a training run when both would be agreeable about it was very difficult. I also found it hard to keep my willpower up to be out away from my kids for long training runs.

Thankfully, there were no physical challenges from any childbirth complications. Although, I will say that my body didn’t jump right back into training as easily as it would have from a long break before having kids. I had to start with lower mileage and work up slowly.

Sarah cradling her son on the starting
line of this past year’s Voyageur 50 mile.

What goals did you set for yourself when you first returned to running after having your children?

My goals were to spend my weekdays running with the kids in the stroller for three or four miles and then try to do at least a ten mile run on the weekend without the kids.

How do your goals now differ, if at all, from before you had kids? How does your training now differ, if at all, from before you had kids?

Some of my goals now seem very small compared to before having kids, but still essentially the same. My goal has always been to do what I can when I can and make the most of each run around a busy lifestyle. But, now there’s sometimes a playground stop here or there in the middle of it. I make a point of making it a fun experience.

“Some of my goals now seem very small compared to before having kids, but still essentially the same. My goal has always been to do what I can when I can and make the most of each run… but now there’s sometimes a playground stop in the middle.”

Your kids were at Voyageur. Why was it important to you for them to be there?

I really love to have my kids at the race, since they’re part of training. I want the race atmosphere to be a part of their life as much as it is mine. Landon actually gets really disappointed if he doesn’t get to cheer me on at the aid stations. He seems to love it. I’m hoping next year Clayton will feel the same way. He’s a little too young still this year, but I did see him at the first two aid stations and then was thrilled to have him at the finish.

Do you have any stories that you can share about seeing your kids along the course?

Both of my kids like to sneak candy treats from me at the aid stations. That may be the secret to their love of racing! I really look forward to seeing their smiling faces and getting hugs and kisses. I also like to find a flower or leaf or something unique along the trail and give it to them when I see them.

Sarah and her husband Jared running the Spring Superior 50k together in May 2019.

I often see you and your husband running trail races together.

Since I started running trail races, my husband Jared and I have always run together. We used to do all of our training together as well, but with kids we have to tag team and don’t train together at all. So, race day has become an even more special day to run together. The Spring Superior 50k was the most perfect time for that. Both of us were equally well trained and prepared for that race.

What was your training like for this year’s Voyageur 50 mile?

For Voyageur, I continued my training, fitting in three days a week with the kids and getting long runs in on the weekend. I spent the whole month prior to Voyageur with my parents in New Hampshire and had more opportunity to run while my mom watched my kids. I ran a good 20 mile trek through the mountains there with my brother-in-law, which was so incredible.

What was your goal for this year’s Voyageur 50 mile?

I wanted to finish under 12 hours, and Jared just wanted to finish well. Jared was not able to get the distance in as much and hurt his foot while I was away, so he had to take a couple weeks off right before the race. With our training being so different we had different goals for Voyageur.

How were you feeling when I saw you late in the race, crossing the swinging bridge at Jay Cooke State Park? (See photo above!)

Jared and I ran the first half of the race together, and then he slowed down while I started to feel stronger. The second half of the race, I felt amazing and was in a really good place mentally as well.

I was feeling super happy at the place where you photographed me. I had just spent a minute sitting on a bench watching the river before the Jay Cooke aid station. It was a spot I noticed on the way out and even said out loud to Jared that I’d love to sit there and look at the river. So, on the way back I indulged myself, and it felt so good. Also, that bridge bouncing makes me feel like a giddy child every time without fail, and I look forward to it for miles beforehand. I also had just chatted with the men I was running with, and we had all realized that we were well on track to finish under 12 hours and reach our goal.

Honestly, it was a little bitter sweet to finish without Jared, since this is the first time I’ve crossed the finish line without him since we’ve been married. But, I felt so good about having the confidence of good training and having accomplished my goal, and I knew Jared was already so impressed with me. I couldn’t wait to see him finish and share our separate journeys, with so much more to talk about than when we race together.

FOLLOW UP:

What role is running playing in your life now?

I have got to be completely honest that I have been in some pretty deep depression since not being able to go to the gym and have my yoga and climbing there. I haven’t run in weeks, since finding out that our races were cancelled.

I hope to start back at it this weekend though, since I know that running will get me back on track mentally and emotionally. So, in light of that, I would say running is my key to maintaining a positive attitude during this time. My goal is to keep a regular routine, to stay focused on the day-to-day, and to be my best me for my family.

There is never a doubt within me that this is a season that will pass. Running will always be a part of my life.

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