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Sara Vaughn chases her passions

Sara Vaughn races at the 2022 Boston Marathon
Sara Vaughn at the 2022 Boston Marathon. (Photo by Alison Wade)

(This Q&A is sponsored by PUMA.)

After a career as a middle-distance runner, Sara Vaughn, 36, won her marathon debut at the 2021 California International Marathon, running 2:26:53. She improved her personal best to 2:26:23 at the 2022 Chicago Marathon. 

Vaughn is preparing to run next month’s Boston Marathon, after a rough outing at the 2022 event, where she finished 21st in 2:36:27 and later found out she had Covid. She lives in Boulder, Colorado, with her husband and coach, Brent Vaughn, and their four children, ages 16, 12, 7, and 3. Vaughn also works as a realtor and recently launched the Vaughn Childcare Fund, which provides support for undergraduate student-athletes, including helping cover their child care costs. It’s a cause near to Vaughn’s heart because she had her first child at the start of her junior year of college.

Vaughn spoke to Fast Women on March 13 after a run with some members of Team Boss. This interview has been edited and condensed.

How is your Boston buildup going so far?
It’s been good. It’s been a lonely buildup because my husband, who has been my primary training partner for the last couple of years, has shifted his focus to weightlifting, so I’ve been on my own a lot. That’s why it was really refreshing to match up with some other women today, because I don’t get to run with other women very often. It’s been nothing spectacular or special, but I’ve hit every workout and checked all the boxes so far and I’ve done exactly what we set out to do, which, talking to more and more marathoners, that’s all you can ask for.

Judging from your social media, it looks like there have been a few factors outside of training that have challenged you recently.
Our 3-year-old went through a weird sleep regression with sleepwalking and night terrors. That coupled with a teenager with a late curfew. I feel like we were struggling for a few weeks to get in a good rhythm. And they’ve all been sick. It has settled down a lot the last couple weeks.

And then this winter has been a harsh one in Boulder. I’ve been here for almost 20 years, and I feel like this is the yuckiest winter we’ve experienced. It’s put me in a bit of a seasonal affective funk, which I’m not used to in Boulder, because it’s so sunny here. I found myself defaulting to my treadmill more than normal and not being excited to run outside. The sun’s out today, and it’s been a lot nicer the last couple weeks, so I feel myself coming out of it. It’s almost like a fog is lifting, even though I’m still doing 120-mile weeks. 

Are you planning to do any racing leading up to Boston, aside from your 3K/mile double at the University of Washington?
No, I don’t plan on racing beforehand. I’ve learned the hard way that I don’t do well with mid-buildup races. I’ve learned that when I do them, I spend the rest of the buildup trying to get my confidence back, so it’s more of a distraction than anything.

When did you realize you had Covid at last year’s Boston Marathon?
I tested positive the day after the race. I just figured there was no way it was Covid because they tested us every day, except for race morning. I woke up all achy and [feverish] and thought I just slept funny. But getting through that race—being this far removed from it—I take a lot more confidence from it than what it maybe appeared on paper.

Now that you’ve raced the course once, have you changed anything about how you’re preparing for Boston?
We’re kind of doing the same thing we did last time, where we’re focusing on the hillier routes in Boulder. I’ve been on the track once, versus for Chicago, we did almost every other workout on the track. I’m just being mindful about switching terrain and rhythms and just really getting in as many hills as possible.

Do you feel like you’re starting to get the hang of marathon training?
I think when we decided we were going for it in the marathon in general, the goal was to be proficient, if not have some sense of mastery, leading into the Trials. And while I still am learning things every buildup, it’s a little more predictable. We’re getting the hang of it for sure.

Do you think you’ll try to squeeze in another marathon before the Trials?
I don’t think so. In an ideal world, I think I would do a little track this summer and then focus back to the Trials.

If you go back to the track, what events do you think you’d focus on?
I don’t love the 5K or the 10K, but I feel like there’s a hole in my resume, and that’s naturally what I should probably work on. But I wouldn’t mind doing 1500m training just to feel athletic again and feel like my old self, so to speak. I also really enjoy training with my daughter, who will be training for the mile and two-mile, so if I can do some stuff with her this summer, I think that would be really special.

How do you handle having kids with such a wide age range?
I guess that was one of the biggest hiccups in this buildup—we had an au pair, and she got really homesick, I think because of the weather this winter. She went back to Mexico because she couldn’t handle it anymore. She left a week and a half ago on pretty short notice. So normally my answer to that question is, “We have a ton of help and I couldn’t do it without an au pair.” And I have partners at work that help me. But we’re kind of scrambling right now. 

Work has been a little slower for me. I kind of pump the breaks at the beginning of every marathon cycle, and I don’t take on a ton of new clients, so it’s not overwhelmingly busy right now, like it gets in certain parts of the year. But the child care is a bit of a mess right now.

That’s tough.
I’m trying to frame it as a blessing. I tend to get wrapped up in work and marathon training and I found myself wishing I could spend more time with the kids. Having a 16-year-old and a 3-year-old makes you come face-to-face with how quickly it goes every day. A couple weeks ago, I was like, “I wish I could start being home more,” and now I’m kind of forced to and it’s been great.

It seems like you have a superhuman ability to make everything fit into the day. Parenting plus one job is hard enough. Do you have any tips?
A practical answer is that I time block. I literally have a calendar and I block out everything, starting with the non-negotiables. During marathon training, that’s my big workouts, and then I’m a little more flexible on my double runs, when I can fit those in. But I really just treat those as any other work meeting and schedule child care around those. And then the other stuff that I can’t delegate, like being there for my clients and having desk time to get computer work done.

And then I delegate anything I can. I don’t grocery shop; I use Instacart. Whatever I can afford to outsource, I do that. And having a nanny helped a lot, too. She did a lot of laundry and things like that, and that just lightened the load in general.

But the other thing is that I feel like when it’s been put on your heart to chase a passion, for me, energy in those areas has been pretty abundant. I think it’s because I’m doing what I’m meant to do. I think I’m supposed to be pursuing running goals, so I have energy to do that. And I’m supposed to be a mom, so I have energy to do that. And I love my job and I feel called to help clients, so I have energy to do that. I think we all need to be kind of mindful, if it’s not serving you or you’re getting burned out, that maybe it’s time to take a break or make a change.

After so many years of not being sponsored, has being sponsored by Puma changed anything for you? 
I finally feel like a professional. I love the gear. I love not having to buy my own shoes. I feel pretty spoiled in a lot of ways, and my kids love all of the perks, too. Hiring a babysitter so I could run for 10 hours a week, or whatever I was allocating to running, the math of that got to me quite a bit, and it came with a lot of mom guilt. So being rewarded for putting in that work and having a paycheck to go with it, it totally alleviates that part, and I’ve never experienced that in my entire running career, so that’s been really beneficial, I think.

What are your favorite shoes for training, workouts, and racing?
Today I wore the Deviate, which is easily my favorite training shoe. It just feels good and it’s light enough but cushy enough to hold up to all of the miles. And they keep coming out with the coolest colors. With all of the collaborations that they have, I don’t have any two pairs that are the same, which is cool, and it makes it easy not to mix them up when you’re going through so many pairs in a marathon build.

And I haven’t decided which shoe I’ll be racing in yet. I’ve raced my last two marathons in the Fast-R, which I really liked on the Chicago course, because it was flat and fast. But I think with the hills, I might race in the Deviate Elite. I’ll decide in the next few weeks.

Occasionally I wear the PUMA evoSPEED Distance Spike. It’s really good, and I’ve worn it for a couple of sessions. And my daughter races in those shoes, too.

How has the response been since you announced the Vaughn Childcare Fund
It’s been good. It’s one of those things where it was a labor of love, and then as soon as it was over, I wanted to take a sigh of relief that I finally launched it and sort of woke up the next day being like, “Actually this is just the beginning of all of the work.” It’s a relief that I finally did this thing that I’ve been talking about for a while, and the response has been super positive. A lot of people have donated, which is beautiful, but other people are helping spread the word. My biggest fear was that we would launch, we would have all of this money, and no one would know about it. 

One would hope that things have changed since you had a child during college, but do you know that things have changed?
A couple of women that I’ve spoken to, they both had really similar experiences to each other in that neither of their school’s administration had ever dealt with something like that before. They didn’t have a formal written policy. They didn’t have any sort of immediate assurance that they were keeping their scholarships because they didn’t know that they were allowed to. 

I hope it changes, but people just don’t know what they don’t know, because it hasn’t happened very often. But one in five women experience pregnancy at some point in undergrad. I think it’s way more common than people think, and if people are just talking about it and are a little more open about it, that would be really helpful to most people.

(For much more on the Vaughn Childcare Fund, see this Runner’s World Q&A. And if you’d like to contribute, you can do so here.)

My final question is a reader-submitted one: Is there anything you serve for dinner that all four of your kids will eat?
Chick-fil-A? If that counts (laughs). I was going to say spaghetti, but my 7-year-old is really against red sauce these days. I can make spaghetti, reserve some for her, and just put butter on it. But other than that, Chick-fil-A is the only crowd-pleaser.

I do have a rule in my house—I’ll make something for dinner, and I don’t ever force feed my children, I just give them one very simple alternative, and it’s like cottage cheese or yogurt. I’m not a short order cook. They can go to the fridge and eat a bowl of cottage cheese if they don’t want to eat the dinner I make.