Redemption in 26.2 Miles: Marathoner Ryan Hall
Photo: George Roberts
By Sam Scott
At Stanford in 2003, Ryan Hall was named the Pac-10 Cross Country Athlete of the Year after leading Stanford to the NCAA championship. In his senior year, Hall, '05, earned his first individual NCAA title by winning the 5,000 meters. In 2007, Hall placed seventh in the Flora London Marathon. His time of 2:08:24 was the fastest marathon debut by any American, and the fastest marathon ever run by a U.S.-born citizen. He qualified for the 2008 Beijing Games in the marathon, and has had continued success, including placing third at the 2009 Boston Marathon. Hall runs on August 12, the final day of Olympic competition.
What does your dream for London look like?
My dream for London is to soak in the whole experience alongside my wife, and then to have my best day ever on race day. It would obviously be amazing to land on the podium but all I really want is to be in peak fitness and be at my very best on race day. I was bummed to not be at my best in Beijing so it would be pretty redemptive to hit it right in London.
In college you won the NCAA championship in the 5K before finding your calling at a far longer distance. What about running 26.2 miles at near sprint pace appeals to you?
I love the challenge of the marathon. For me it is the perfect combination of speed and strength. Trying to hold a sub 4:50 per mile pace for 26 consecutive miles is hard, and the training is hard, but I love the challenge it presents. I enjoy the ups and downs of it all and constantly learning about my body, mind and spirit, and how it all works together to achieve a goal.
How do you psych up for a race? Do you have routines you follow with music, food, etc.?
It really depends on the race. I love to draw on the energy of the crowd and the atmosphere of a race. For example, one of my favorite moments of the Boston Marathon is when we (the top competitors) make our way to the start line. We have to pass through a sea of humanity through the masses that are waiting to start the race with us. It’s a very narrow passage and the runners are stoked to see us come through. Rather than just kind of jogging through like other runners I like to high-five everyone on the way and work them and myself into a frenzy. It feels like we are going to battle. It’s awesome and gets me super stoked to run. In contrast, prior to the starting line my strength comes from quiet moments of prayer and worship.
Your first marathon was in London in 2007, where you set an American record for a debut. The next year you returned to London and posted the fastest time ever by an American-born marathoner. Is there something special about running in London?
I love racing the marathon in London. It is a very special place for me. I'll never forget the crowds there. It is probably the best crowd I've run in front of for a marathon and it should be even better at the Games. The course is a Tour de France-style criterium loop that runs down narrow alleys and past some of the best sights of London. I imagine the crowd will be on top of us going crazy. It is going to be an electric atmosphere that could produce some amazing results.
In the 2008 Beijing Games, where you finished 10th, you were running in just your fourth marathon. How does the experience you’ve accumulated since then change your approach—and your chances—this summer?
Having run in Beijing certainly will help me for my second run in an Olympic marathon. I know what to expect and how everything runs. The Games is a crazy experience. There is so much going on. It’s good to know what it will be like this time around. I think I will be in a better position this time around simply because of all that I have learned in preparing and racing in six marathons since Beijing. I never stop learning. All those lessons add up.
You race on the last day of the Olympics. How will you spend the earlier part of the Games?
Well, I am really believing that my wife, Sara [Bei, ’05 ], will qualify for the Games. It’s my dream to walk into opening/closing ceremonies with her and to watch her compete in the Games. Her trials aren't till the end of June so we will have to wait to see how all that works out but it would be a dream come true for me to experience the Games with her. Regardless, I won’t be in the Olympic Village too many days since it is pretty hectic in there. The U.S. track and field team has a training camp in Birmingham, where things should be a little more chill.
[Editor's update, July 2, 2012: Hall's wife did not make the Olympic team.]
How does Sara watch the race? As a professional runner, how is she part of your Olympic preparation?
My wife always comes to my marathons and watches. She is my prize at the end of the race. She seems to have a way of weaseling into the finish line so she is usually the first one to greet me when I cross the line. I think about her waiting for me in those last couple of miles, which is a huge motivation for me to get to the finish line quicker.
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