Nomadic Hall Cherishes The Lonely Run

The 2:04:58 marathoner says he pushes himself harder when training alone.

Ryan Hall ran away from the field to win the Olympic Marathon Trials in November 2007. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Written by: David Monti
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission. 

CHICAGO — Ryan Hall did his easy morning run here Friday along Chicago’s lakefront bicycle path.  Keeping to the grassy apron next to the paved path whenever possible, he wore a white Asics cap pulled low to block the powerful morning sun rising over Lake Michigan.  He was alone, just the way he usually was during his entire build-up for Sunday’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon which he will be running for the first time.

“It’s like being in church,” Hall told a small group of reporters who spoke with him here yesterday.  “Honestly, it’s like my sanctuary.  I love to run, and I can push myself really hard on my own.”

Photo Gallery–Looking Back: Ryan Hall Wins 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon

Hall, 28, the USA half-marathon record holder, is a solo operator in a world dominated by marathoners who train in groups under the direct supervision of a coach.  Instead of working with a traditional coach, Hall is essentially self-coached using the ideas put forth by an informal group of advisors.  He clearly relishes this approach.

“I call it faith-based coaching,” he said.  “That’s really what I’m trying to do.  In the Bible it ways ‘in abundance of counselors there is victory.’”

His key advisor is Matt Dixon, an endurance coach who is a former professional triathlete (Hall’s photo appears on Dixon’s homepage at purplepatchfitness.com).  Hall said he also gets advice from his physiotherapist, Dr. John Ball, his father Mickey, and his wife Sara amongst others.  However, it is clear that he is setting his own training schedule based mostly on what he learned from Terrence Mahon at the Mammoth Track Club, his previous coach, but that he has “switched it up” a bit and made the interval sessions longer and more intense.

“So, instead of doing a typical interval day of ten by a ‘K’ (kilometer), I do 20 by a ‘K,’” Hall explained, sounding more like a coach.  “So, I was basically doing 12 miles with the interval work.  So, those days were a lot bigger.  My long runs were big and hard and a little bit longer than before.”

While Hall said he had company from a somebody on a bicycle on his last long tempo run, and ran one key workout with is younger brother Chad, he was mostly logging 100-mile weeks alone.

“I love to warm up with people, I like to cool down with people, but I love to workout on my own,” Hall added.

So comfortable is Hall with being on his own, he and Sara no longer have a permanent address.  They rented out their two homes in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., where Hall previously lived and trained under Mahon, and Hall said he plans to sell his house in Big Bear, Calif.  The Halls now divide their time between Flagstaff, Ariz., where they rent coach Jack Daniels’s house when Hall is doing altitude training, and a rented property in Redding, Calif., where the Halls recently joined a church they had been following online.

“It’s funny because I never thought I’d move to Redding,” said Hall, a devout Christian.  “I’d never thought I’d live there, but there’s a great church there that Sara and I have followed, Bethel Church.  They have a really good website, Bethel.tv, and we always watch their church services wherever we are in the world.  We wanted to be part of the church there.  So, when we’re at sea level, we’ll train there, when we’re at altitude we’ll train in Flagstaff.”

Hall said he is in better shape than when he ran his personal best 2:04:58 in Boston last April, saying “I’m feeling good and snappy.”  But some feel his love of front running will make it hard for him to win.  In his only marathon victory, in the 2008 USA Olympic Marathon Trials in New York City, Hall broke away from the field just past the halfway mark and ran the second half of the race alone in 62:45.  Here, it will be hard for him to run away from the likes of Moses Mosop (2:03:06 PB), Bazu Worku (2:05:25), Evans Cheruiyot (2:06:25) and Marilson Gomes Dos Santos (2:06:34) amongst others.

“I’m learning to embrace who I am, you know?” Hall said about his front-running style.  “Maybe it’s getting old.  I don’t know.  I think anyone who has watched me race sees me come to life when I’m in the front, and that’s how I run best.  I know at strategic points in the race I know I need to put myself in the front, and I feed of the enthusiasm and excitement that I get from being in the front.”

The last American man to win here was former world-record holder Khalid Khannouchi, who ran 2:05:56 in 2002.  Earlier that year, Khannouchi clocked 2:05:38 in London, then a world record and the still-standing American record (Hall’s time from Boston doesn’t count as an American record because the Boston course is point-to-point and downhill).  Nonetheless, Hall has to be thinking of how the Boston time would translate on Chicago’s flat record-standard course.  He was clearly uncomfortable assessing that.

“I don’t know.  I try not to think about the time too much,” he groaned.  “Because, honestly, when you train and you think this is marathon pace…”

Hall stopped to ask what his 2:04:58 worked out to per mile and was told by Runner’s World veteran writer Amby Burfoot that it was 4 minutes and 46 seconds.  He continued: “I don’t like to think about that.  Same with my half-marathon best time.  It doesn’t seem like that should be half-marathon pace because it never feels that easy in practice.  But, I don’t know.  I think that day (in Boston) was a gift from God because I had no business running that fast.”

Hall said he is trying to guard against overconfidence which hurt his performance at the ING New York City Marathon in 2009 (he finished fourth).  He said that “to come in low,” as he did in Boston last April after a disappointing 65 minute half-marathon in New York City the month before, was the best way for him to perform his best here.

“It’s funny, that sometimes you come into your race so confident… and then it’s so easy to fail when you come in high,” he said.  “So, I’m learning to come in low, even if my training has gone really well.  Be like, expect this to be hard, expect this to be a battle.  Don’t come in all (high) on your horse.”

No matter what happens in Sunday’s race, Hall has some domestic business to deal with after he leaves Chicago.  There’s the matter of getting that house in Big Bear Lake ready for sale.

“Right after this, I’m flying back to Big Bear, getting all of our stuff out of there, and putting it on the market,” Hall said, sounding like your average suburban homeowner.  “We’re trying to downsize our life.”

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