Only 26 years old, Ryan Hall may already be the best American-born distance runner in history. His claim to the title rests on two great performances: His half-marathon American record of 59:43, set in Houston in 2006, and his 2:06:17 clocking at the 2008 London Marathon, which stands as the fastest marathon time ever recorded by an American-born runner. If those credentials are not enough to set Hall at the pinnacle of American distance running, he is sure to add more legendary performances to his career resume before he hangs up his racing flats.
Interestingly, two of Hall’s greatest rivals for the title of best American-born runner were in the same high school graduating class of 2001: Dathan Ritzenhein and Alan Webb. Although he achieved plenty at Big Bear High School (Mammoth Lakes, California) and Stanford University, Hall was overshadowed by Ritz and Webb throughout his student-athlete years. Webb broke Jim Ryun’s national high school mile record, running 3:53.43, whereas Hall’s best high school mile time was a stellar but weak-by-comparison 4:02.62. And Hall finished third behind Ritzenhein and Webb in the 2000 Footlocker High School Cross Country Championship and second behind Ritz in an epic duel at the 2003 NCAA Cross Country Championship.
Before graduating from Stanford, however, Hall foreshadowed his future dominance by winning the 5000m at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. But it was not until 2006, when Hall reinvented himself as a long-distance road racer, that he really broke out. In October of that year, Hall destroyed the American record for 20K by 48 seconds, running 57:43 at the World Road Running Championships in Hungary.
The 20K distance is quirky, though, and Hungary is a little out of the way. It was Hall’s next performance, three months later, that instantly elevated him to the status of hottest name in American running. On January 14, 2007, Hall took a whopping 1:12 off Mark Curp’s 22-year-old half-marathon American record in winning the Houston Half Marathon. He followed that up with an impressive seventh-place finish in the London Marathon, setting an American debut marathon record of 2:08:24.
Hall has since run four more marathons. He scored a dominating win in the 2007 US Olympic Trials Marathon, finished fifth at London in 2008 (where he ran his 2:06), managed a 10th-place finish right behind Ritzenhein at the 2008 Olympic Marathon, and finished third in the 2009 Boston Marathon. Hall’s dream is to win a major marathon, and it seems only a matter of time before he does.
The son of a minister, Ryan Hall is a devout Christian for whom running is very much a religious experience. In a recent interview he said, “My running is simply an extension of my faith, which is why it is impossible for me to not talk about it openly when talking about my running. When I talk about clearing the trash out of my head when running, what I am attempting to do is to enter into a state of worshiping God.”
On Sunday Hall will attempt to break his own half-marathon American record at the ING Philadelphia Distance Run. He certainly picked the right race. Mark Curp set his American record there in 1985, and Deena Kastor set the still-standing women’s record in Philly three years ago.