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When Kiki Vaughn was a toddler, she could sometimes be found running around on the turf infield of a track in Boulder, Colorado, watching her mom — professional runner Sara Vaughn — run fast 800-meter repeats during a workout while training for upcoming track races.
Fast forward about a dozen years and Kiki’s becoming a standout track athlete in her own right. Now a 16-year-old junior at Boulder High School, she owns impressive personal bests of 2:15 in the 800-meter run and 5:06 in the mile. She qualified for the state meet in the 800 last spring as a sophomore, although she admits she didn’t have much training under her belt last season.
Meanwhile, Sara, 36, is still at the top of her game, especially after winning the California International Marathon 13 months ago in her debut at 26.2 miles and securing a multi-year sponsorship deal with Puma. Last fall, Sara finished seventh at the Chicago Marathon in a new personal best of 2:26:23 and she’s about to ramp up her training for the April 17 Boston Marathon.
This weekend, mother and daughter will race on the track together in a mile race at the University of Washington Indoor Preview meet on January 14 in Seattle. Competing unattached in the third of five heats of the mile along with 11 collegiate runners, Sara will be running next to Kiki with the goal of pacing her to the first sub-5-minute mile of her life. And yes, they’ll be wearing matching pairs of Puma evoSPEED Distance Nitro Elite spikes.
“I’m super excited about it,” Kiki said this week. “It’s definitely very special that I get to run next to her and she gets to pace me. I don’t know any moms who can pace their child in a mile, so that’s pretty cool. She’s a professional runner, but to me she’s just my mom. It’s a big opportunity, so we’ll see how it goes.”
When the Vaughns realized the opportunity to race together was possible, they combined it with Kiki’s first college visit. But, trying to break 5 minutes together is certainly their primary goal.
“She came close a couple of times running at altitude, so coming down to a sea level race and having a good chunk of training behind her, I think she has a pretty good shot,” Sara said.
Like Mother Like Daughter
Later in the meet, Sara will race in the women’s 3,000m race. She had considered racing in the last heat of the mile but found out that competition rules forbid a runner to run in more than one heat of the same event. It will be the culmination of a short track season for Sara, who will be transitioning into the start of her Boston Marathon training block next week.
Very rarely does a parent get to compete in a sport at a competitive level with their child. Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffery Jr. played together for the Seattle Mariners in 1990-1991, while Florida’s mother-daughter duo of Leigh and Anna Leigh Waters have become a force on the professional pickleball circuit.
The Vaughns ability to make it happen is, in part, a testament to both Sara maintaining her competitiveness and Kiki coming of age in the sport at the right time. Ironically, 14 years ago when Sara raced a mile at the Dempsey Indoor Center in Seattle in 2009, Kiki was there with her as a 2-year-old.
Families That Race Together, Stay Together
So now, being able to race together is inspiring but also, um, well …
“It’s a little weird, to be honest,” Sara said with a laugh. “I have a daughter who will be old enough to be going to college in a year and a half and yet I don’t feel old enough to be experiencing that. But at the same time I feel so glad and lucky that we have the opportunity to do this. As long as she’s cool with it, it will be fun.”
Surprisingly, Sara and Kiki have never run in any competitive race before — not even the low-key summer track series meets in Boulder — except maybe for a local Thanksgiving turkey trot.
Growing up in Nebraska, Sara was a four-time state champion runner in high school who went on to become a NCAA-qualifying track and cross country athlete for the University of Colorado. She’s continued to compete at a high level while being a mom — she and husband, Brent, have four children — and working full-time as a Realtor with Sotheby’s International.While Kiki has good genes — her dad and Sara’s husband, Brent Vaughan, 38, is a former professional runner who serves as Sara’s coach — she’s a hard-working kid who might actually possess more natural speed than her parents. While Sara ran 4:58 for the mile in high school, Kiki has already run 2:14 for 800 meters and 61.49 for 400 meters — times Sara didn’t achieve until she was in college.
“She’s going to run way faster than me before she gets done with high school,” Sara said. “I love that she’s found a love for running, but she kind of found it on her own, which makes it even more special. She has a great high school coach in Geo Tam and trains with a club, too, so she has plenty of cooks in the kitchen. Brent and I try to default to her high school coach for her training, but we definitely give her race tips when we can.”
After a solid track season last spring, Kiki was inspired to keep training last summer. In the Mile High Mile last August in Lafayette, Colorado, Kiki ran in the elite women’s field and finished fifth in 5:06, while younger sisters Calia, 12 (6:23) and Cassidy, 7 (7:19) competed well in their age-group heats.
Kiki’s improved fitness led to a good cross country season and that has paid off when she got back into track training a few weeks ago with her club team.
“I enjoyed running cross country more than it was in the past. I definitely used to not like it, but that’s also because I didn’t train for it,” Kiki said. “I’m not definitely not as fit as I will be in May but I have a pretty good base so far.”
Sara has spent most of her career as a middle-distance runner on the track and, amid having children and managing the family, she continued to improve into her early 30s. She owns a mile personal best of 4:27.31 from 2018, but she’s also run as fast as 4:21.7 on the roads.
She’s earned three podium finishes at U.S. track championships, including a third-place finish in the 1,500m in 2017. That came at age 31, less than two years after giving birth to their third child, Cassidy. Later that summer in London, she advanced to the 1,500 semifinals at the world championships.
Those will always be some of her most memorable career highlights, but they just seem to keep coming for this intrepid mom. After she and Brent welcomed their fourth child, David, into the world in 2020, Sara returned to training and, after another good track season in 2021, decided to move up to longer distances. She won the low-key Horsetooth Half Marathon in Fort Collins in November in 1:15:16 and then won the California International Marathon in 2:26:53, the seventh-fastest debut time ever for an American woman.
As Kiki has gotten more into running on her own, they’ve been able to share their passion for the sport. Occasionally, and with Kiki’s permission, Sara has joined the Boulder High School girls team for workouts.
“I think just being around high school kids, you realize how mentally tough they are and ready for anything and makes me realize how soft I’ve gotten,” said Sara, who has been working with &Mother, an organization that promotes women’s ability to combine motherhood and a career. “I bought myself a fancy treadmill and I have all of this gear to run outside, but these kids showed up to run in a blizzard and some of them didn’t have gloves but there was zero complaining. They just got it done. And I thought, ‘Wow, I would probably be running indoors today if I hadn’t promised Kiki I was meeting her.’ It’s really refreshing being around high school kids. They just like to work hard and have fun, which is one of the reasons our sport is great.”