The Great Experiment: Exclusive Pre-Race Interview With Ryan Hall

Ryan Hall setting his U.S. half marathon record. Photo: Courtesy of Asics America

The owner of the fastest time ever recorded by an American at the Boston Marathon (2:08:41) assesses his new approach to running on the eve of his third attempt to win the world’s oldest marathon.

Interview by: Matt Fitzgerald

Ryan Hall has a lot of doubters these days. His decision last fall to part from coach Terrence Mahon and guide his own training by listening to his body, and through prayer and biblical principles, has caused many in the running community to question the soundness of Hall’s mind. The notion that Hall is heading down the wrong path seemed to receive some validation in March, when he ran poorly at the New York City Half Marathon, finishing 21st in 1:03:53.

Ryan Hall himself is not worried, however, as he made clear in this interview at Friday’s elite athlete press conference in Boston.

Competitor: We know your general approach to training changed. But how much did your training itself change—the workouts, the mileage, etcetera?

Ryan Hall: It wasn’t a huge departure. I was still doing the 15-mile tempo runs and stuff. I know those things work. They’ve worked for a lot of people over a number of years, whether it was Deena doing them or Meb doing them. I mean, Terrence knows his stuff. I still think he’s one of the best marathon coaches in the world. So there’s no need to go completely crazy changing everything. I just needed to structure things a little differently for my own personal needs, which at the time meant resting a lot more than I was.

Some of the workouts I changed up. Interval-style workouts I’ve done a lot different. But I gain confidence from those same big runs I’ve done year in and year out.

You’ve said that part of your new approach is to be more responsive to your body and your intuitions in steering the course of your training—being more willing to improvise. So did this approach take your training for this year’s Boston Marathon in any surprising directions?

No, nothing too crazy. I started doing some different stuff, like doing sprints in the middle of some of my easy runs. But I’m going to explore some more of that stuff after Boston, especially if I’m going to hop on the track and do some speed work. I might try switching things up pretty drastically, just to see how my body responds.

Has your new approach to training brought some of the joy and passion back into your running as you hoped it would?

Yeah, totally. I’m having a blast every day in training. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed running more than I am right now. Flagstaff has been really good for me, and even more so for Sara. She’s really thriving right now, and that alone makes it totally worth it for me.

How important is Monday’s race in terms of validating the new direction you’ve taken, not for the doubters out there but for yourself?

That’s an important distinction to make. I think for everyone else it’s like this big, “Let’s see how this goes” sort of thing. At least that’s how I perceive them perceiving it. But for me it’s really not. I feel like I’m just getting the ball going. After working through a lot of health issues, I feel like I’m finally in a spot where I can train really effectively. Things have gone really well over the last six weeks or two months or so. That’s just going to continue to get better and better. So I’m really confident, regardless of how Monday goes, that things are going to continue to snowball and get better and better.

If that does happen, would you like to see your example have some influence on other runners, who may be locked into a certain way of doing things?

Yeah, I think we need some freshness in U.S. running. Athletes and coaches need to open up their minds to different styles of training, and maybe mixing things up. You never know what’s going to be the big thing that really shifts American distance running, and positions guys to start doing some special stuff.

I’m going to keep changing things up until I find something that works—something that really works. All of a sudden I’m like, woah, this is what I’ve been missing. It’s like a science experiment. I’m learning how to do and how not to do things.

Isn’t that half the fun of the journey—including even the mistakes?

Yeah, totally. I mean, mistakes are going to be a part of it. I need to learn to give myself grace and not be perfect every time out—not expect every workout to be completely perfect. It’s hard to do. I think it’s really important in this process of searching and exploring; you feel like a frontiersman, exploring uncharted territory.


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