Beyond the Badge

Running is passion for Assistant Secretary Sarah Larson

Running are two crossing the finish line of a 50-mile endurance run.
Assistant Secretary Sarah Larson and her dad at the finish of the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run.

Global Running Day may be June 1, but for many CDCR and CCHCS employees, running is a year-round passion. They hit the pavement, trails, and treadmills, reaping the benefits of the sport.

One of those people is Sarah Larson, CDCR’s Assistant Secretary of Legislation. She leads the team charged with analyzing bills, keeping California’s lawmakers up-to-date on CDCR’s activities, and serving as the liaison between the Department and the Legislature.

After graduating from UC Berkeley, Larson worked as an analyst for the Receiver. She left to complete her master’s degree in public policy at Georgetown. Then she began working for the Legislature on criminal justice issues before coming to CDCR. She started in the CDCR Budget Management Branch, then worked for the Division of Rehabilitation Programs. Last year, Governor Newsom appointed her to her current position.

Despite her packed schedule, Larson is also an avid runner, completing marathons and rugged long-distance trail races. She shares her thoughts on running and how what she learns on the trail impacts her career.

3 questions with Sarah Larson

When and why did you start running?

When I moved to Washington, DC for grad school, I started running as a way to stay in touch with my dad, who lives in Sacramento (he loves to run). We decided to train for a marathon together – so we shared a training plan and the ups and downs of training together. In 2012, we ran that first marathon together — Three Sisters in Bend, Oregon.

We have since run a bunch of races together, including 50k, a 50-mile, and the California International Marathon in December. I have kept running, though, because it brings me such joy and emotional balance. As someone who has issues with anxiety and depression, running is a great way to calm my thoughts and appreciate the world around me. When I’m running, problems that seem big are actually small when you think about how big the world is.

Does the act of running, or what you have learned from the sport, inform your professional life?

Absolutely. I am not a fast runner by any means, but I have done some long races. The longest I have done is a 100k race, so a little over 62 miles. Races like that usually are on trails out in the wilderness with a lot of hills and technical terrain. One race I did made me take a bear whistle.

When you run a race like that, you experience so many highs and lows. I learned to take the race little by little – just make it to the next aid station, then the next one, then the next. That is really true at work too – change comes slowly, and I have to be patient and thoughtful. I also learned not to get overwhelmed by the magnitude of a race. If you think about it, CDCR is similar. With everything the department does to make the prisons work on a daily basis, it’s extraordinary we get it done. Races like that are also really collaborative, not competitive. The course is hard on everyone, and you all pull together to beat the course. I try to think about that at work, too. Even folks who seem like are not on our side, we really can come together.

Are there any other runners in the Department you’d like to recognize?

There are actually so many runners in this department! I love that we have organized teams, like Law Enforcement Torch Run and Baker-to-Vegas. And Undersecretary Macomber and I talk running a lot, and I have talked to Undersecretary Dr. Toche about it a lot, too. It’s great to see people like that, who are so busy, still take time to get outside. I think it goes to show how important it is for wellness and being able to be your best self at work.


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