Motion is Lotion

Longtime runner Sandra Burch advises others to find an exercise that makes them smile

By Dianna Troyer

Sandra BruchDescribing how she dressed as a purple crayon for a fun run, exercise physiologist Sandra Burch encourages patients to take exercise—but not always themselves—seriously.

“Whatever you do for exercise, make it fun and do it three times a week or more for at least 30 minutes at a time,” she says.

Sandra, 60, has been sharing her message for 35 years, working in the cardiac rehabilitation unit at Cassia Regional Hospital in Burley.

“We’re all different, so pick whatever activity makes you smile,” she says. “I like running, hiking, learning to play pickleball and paddleboarding. Running especially gives me a sense of accomplishment and makes me feel good. It frees my mind, and it’s relaxing to be outdoors.”

To train, Sandra runs about 2 to 3 times a week, usually on the trails in the East Hills near Declo, where she lives.

“I’ll drive up and see which gate is open and run from there,” she says.

For Sandra, competing in 5K and 10K fun runs throughout the region is suspenseful and entertaining.

Sandra Bruch“I always wonder in what place I’ll finish,” she says. “Usually, I’m among the top three women overall and first in my age group. It’s great meeting other runners, too. There are about 4 of us from throughout southeastern Idaho who have been doing the same fun run series for years.”

Sandra says competing is important because it gives her a goal and a specific date to do something.

This month, she probably will slip into her crayon outfit to compete in the First Dam Scary Run, a Halloween fun run in Logan, Utah. She originally wore her colorful costume—a long purple T-shirt with “Crayola” written on it and purple socks—during the Monster Mile in Idaho Falls.

“It made people smile,” she says. “I ran in honor of my sister-in-law, who was having cancer treatments. The run was organized to help her financially.”

2 Decades of Trophies

A runner for 20 years, Sandra still crosses the finish line with times as competitive as when she started. She wins trophies even though she sometimes has to wear a brace to protect a sprained ankle or to recover from a stress fracture.

“I have a competitive personality,” she says. “A doctor once told me I was running too hard and fast for my age. I told him I don’t think about running fast—I just have a certain pace.”

With her winning pace, she has accumulated countless trophies from entering about 12 races a year for 2 decades.

Wearing her ankle brace, Sandra placed first last month in the Master Class and third overall among women runners at the Run the Gap 5K in Pocatello. Photos by Dianna Troyer

“I have to stack them in a certain way, so they’ll fit on a shelf at home,” she says.

Sandra is a familiar face leading a race. She is easy to spot in her trademark turquoise blue tank top and black shorts.

“I’ve been wearing the same clothes at my races for 10-plus years,” she says. “That way I don’t have to think about what to wear. When it gets colder, I switch to a sleeved blue shirt and tights.”

While she leads for most of a race, Sandra says she cannot sprint to the finish anymore.

“Sometimes, I’ve led the entire race until the last quarter-mile or less when someone younger passes me. So, I made up a funny saying, ‘Old women can’t sprint.’”

Old women can intimidate younger runners, though, she says.

“I’ll never forget the look on a high school runner’s face when I passed her during a race in Oakley last year,” she says. “She looked like she couldn’t believe it—someone with gray hair running that fast.”

Sandra stayed ahead of her until the end.

“She sprinted to the finish to take first, and I placed second. Then I saw her throwing up in a trash can because she’d pushed herself so hard. She beat me again this year but let me run first place most of the race. At the last 800 meters, she sprinted past me. I later found out she was a contender on her high school’s cross-country and track teams.”

Overcoming Self-Doubt

Although a successful runner, Sandra once had self-doubt.

“When I was 40, I thought I was too old to run. My daughter, Skye, disagreed and got me running again.”

Sandra had run track at Declo High School and ran with friends for fun in college. After earning a master’s degree in exercise science at Brigham Young University, running fell by the wayside while she worked at the Burley hospital and raised three daughters.

“When Skye was in seventh grade, I encouraged her to try out for cross-country,” Sandra says. “She said she would if I ran with her. She told me another girl’s mom ran with her daughter, so I should too. I soon realized how much I still enjoyed running.”

Sandra’s joy was conveyed in a poster last year to promote the YMCA Famous Idaho Potato Marathon and fun runs in Boise. A race photographer had seen her radiant smile and suggested using the photo.

Skye says after Sandra pushed her to run, “I realized that with a little effort, I could be good. During junior high and high school, I ran on the school teams. Now, it’s something that’s still enjoyable, all thanks to my mom.”

Sandra admits she has some limits to her race distance.

“I was talked into doing 2 half-marathons,” she says. “After about 7 miles, my mind told me I was done. I had to make myself finish and was in the top 3.”

About 5 years ago, Sandra began running mostly 5K races due to a second stress fracture in her left foot. Yet one 10K she commits to annually is the running segment of the Spudman Triathlon in Burley.

“I’ve done it for about 15 years with friends on a team,” she says.

Tracking her races and times, Sandra keeps a running journal.

“I have so many memories in those pages,” she says. “I guess the ultimate reason I run is because I can.”