© Copyright – 2009 – Athletics Illustrated
I remember watching Ryan Hall race the 2008 Beijing Olympic Marathon and thinking that he seemed to be putting in a great effort and really just hanging on to the pace. Hall was not demonstrating that mystique he exuded in past races, like during his previous efforts in the New York and London marathons. He went out hard that day in Beijing, in very warm conditions — the type of race that apparently does not suit him.
“It wasn’t the most enjoyable marathon I’ve ever run, going out that hard in those conditions that I’m not particularly good in, and just how the race played out. It was just a huge mental battle, more than anything, to try and stay positive and keep myself in the race and tell myself I’m doing well.”
Hall also said, “But I believe that it’s the very best thing that could have happened for me. I believe I’ve learned from that and moved on from that and I’m excited for the future…”
Of Hall’s next half marathon, the ING Philadelphia Distance Run, which takes place September 20th, are we going to see the athlete who has cruised so effortless? This past Sunday, August 16th, he ran a 63-minute half marathon in the New York Half-Marathon, finishing third, which was slow by his standards. Although during the pre-race press conference, he did say that he didn’t know what his fitness level was going to show at this time. He also indicated that he was tapering only ‘a little’ for this race.
Hall, I am sure, will be quick to remind you that there are examples of marathon runners who have run very well in advance of their goal marathon and failed on the big day, as well as those who have trained through their half marathons, raced to a slow result only to have stellar performances on the big day. Perhaps we can view the New York Half-Marathon as an indicator of greater things to come.
Hall’s half-marathon personal best is an American Record, 59:43 which he ran at the Aramco, Houston Half-Marathon. His marathon best is 2:06:17, which he ran at the 2008 London Marathon.
CK: I got the impression from some of your earlier interviews back in 2005 that you liked racing and taking chances during races, you even said you admire guys who are willing to push while in the lead. However, you mentioned before the Olympic Trials in New York you were more nervous having to compete for a spot, where, in London for example, you were pacing sub-5-minute miles for 20 miles, then you would let the race unfold.
You ran an amazing race in New York, was the performance a product of having those nerves?
RH: Yeah, it is always hard to tell exactly what contributes to a good race. There are usually many factors. Nerves are certainly a good thing to have before races, so I always welcome them. There were so many things that went into the trials clicking as they did for me it would be hard to single anything out. All I know is that I experienced God out there. It was the easiest race I have ever run.
CK: Perhaps it was a sign of the perfect peak, being absolutely ready. I mean how many times do you hear someone say that his or her lifetime performance or pb seemed to be the easiest race?
RH: Yeah, it happens a lot where guys say they felt like they could have run much faster, like Jim Ryun when he set the world record in the mile all by himself.
CK: Jim Ryun was a mentor of sorts to you when you were younger, yes?
RH: Yeah, Jim has always been a hero of mine. Growing up in high school I read his books and watched his videos over and over again. Before I made my big breakthrough (from 4:22 as a sophomore to 3:45 for 1500 as a junior) I went to his running camp (that is still going to this day), met his family, and had a great time learning how my faith could be played out in all areas of my life, including running. It was one of the most life-changing weeks for me. I got to know the Ryun’s really well, especially Drew Ryun, who was finishing out his last couple of years as a professional runner. My senior year he came out and lived with me and my family, all in pursuit of giving the sport one really good last shot. During that time he played a big influence in my life. He introduced me to my wife to be and influenced me to check out Stanford and even introduced me to the coach there, helping me make my first contact. We still keep in touch to this day and were in each other’s weddings. Drew is one of my best friends and his whole family has shown me the love of Christ over the years.
CK: Being married to Sara, also an elite athlete, it’s obvious the two of you can understand each other’s professional ebb and flow and appreciate the details of the daily toil. Now being a Christian, do you feel the pull and the paradox of Christian selflessness in your continued, single-minded pursuit of physical greatness?
RH: Yeah, we struggled some with the selfish nature of our sport for the first couple of years out of college, but now, through getting involved with organizations like Team World Vision we have seen how we can better serve the needy through our running than we otherwise could. We have seen firsthand the clean water that kids in Zambia had because thousands of team world vision athletes raised at various races throughout the country. It is an honor and exciting to be a part of something like that.
Ryan wrote in his New York Road Runners Journal entry, November 6, 2008:
“After our first run in Zambia, I was convinced that the trip was already worth it. Children ran alongside us laughing and smiling for miles and miles as we ran along the main road going through town. The people were contagiously joyful.”
“The other image from Africa that is burned into my head is being on the starting line of a 15K road race that this small village put on for us as a way of showing their appreciation for all our efforts and seeing 150 pairs of feet ranging from barefoot, to flip-flops to knee-high plastic farming boots. I ran the entire race in 90-degree temperatures on black pavement straight uphill next to two guys: one that had a pair of flip flops on and the other was running barefoot. I realized then that I have no idea what it means to be tough. “
CK: Switching here, here, are you getting in much fly-fishing these days?
RH: Not as much as I would like to. Once I get in that three-month window before the marathon I usually don’t have a lot of energy for anything physical besides training. I did get in a couple of good sessions before August hit and hooked into some nice browns. I love it up here in Mammoth.
CK: Any chance you have Steelhead at the lakes?
RH: No, we don’t have Steelhead up here. I wish.
CK: Would you suggest fishing is a great form of therapy? Not too many better things than that first tug-of-play on the end of the line-that first bite?
RH: Yeah, fishing is great not only mentally but physically as well. I like to take out my float tube to gently kick for some hydrotherapy in cool waters. My legs usually feel much better afterward, but maybe not my shoulder. I guess it is a good thing we run with our legs and not our arms.
CK: Apparently Gebrselassie has a little crook in his arm from carrying books to school every day. Are you working hard on your crook?
RH: I don’t think I have one haha. I wore a backpack, but Haile is a huge inspiration to me of what the human body is capable of.
CK: Your father attended a couple of Arthur Lydiard seminars. As I understand it you built up a good aerobic base with your dad when you were young while getting in some steady running around Big Bear Lake. Does your training now resemble Lydiard’s?
RH: My dad has always been a big Lydiard fan, and I am glad to have his influence in my training at a young age. My dad’s coaching, through his influence, prepared me well for the marathon. I am not sure how much of my training is taken from the Lydiard perspective now, my coach (Terrence Mahon) would be able to answer that question better than myself. I believe that my coach is one of the best marathon coaches in the world.
CK: Can you describe your base phase or a typical base week versus a later specific quality week?
RH: Well, the thing about marathon training is that it is pretty much all base so it doesn’t change too much throughout the buildup. The tempo runs get longer and the long runs longer and that is about it.
CK: Have your preparations for NY differed much from your Beijing training?
RH: Yeah, we never do things completely the same. It has a lot of the same elements but naturally, there is more hill training. It is nice to not have to worry about training in the heat.
CK: Are you going sub-59:43 in Philly, September 20th?
RH: With God all things are possible. I am going to run my heart out like I always do, and if the conditions are good, the course is fast, and everything comes together I would love to break 59 minutes one day; if not in Philly then perhaps somewhere else.