The steeplechaser is aiming for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
The 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials at Hayward Field were not kind to Sara Hall.
In the 1,500 meters, the former Stanford University standout could only muster a ninth-place showing. While Hall missed her chance to represent the United States at the Olympics four years ago, things are different now.
Hall is hungry for a spot on this year’s team, and is doing everything in her power to reach that goal. Her first step takes place tonight in the 3,000-meter steeplechase preliminaries at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon.
The grueling race over barriers has been good to the 29-year-old Hall since she took it up a couple years ago. At last year’s Pan American Games, she won the gold medal and is currently ranked third in the U.S. with an impressive clocking of 9:39.48, which is under the Olympic ‘A’ Standard. In addition to that achievement, Hall demonstrated her physical and mental toughness at this year’s U.S. Cross Country Championships, where she edged out U.S. 5,000-meter record holder, Molly Huddle, in a gutsy photo finish victory.
Hall’s move to the steeple is just one change in a series of calculated moves that she and her husband Ryan have undergone in the past two years. In October of 2010, the couple parted ways with the Mammoth Track Club and headed to Redding, California to be closer to their Church. While Ryan went on to explore faith-based coaching, Sara returned to her former Stanford coach, Dena Evans.
During her years at Stanford, Hall wasn’t competing in the steeplechase and admits that she and Evans are breaking new ground. “We are both learning how I respond to training,” Hall says. While in Mammoth, Hall maintains that she stayed in close touch with her former coach. Hall calls Evans “a big supporter of my career and a good friend and mentor.”
Hall believes her decision to switch things up fit perfectly with her husband’s goals. The couple contends they were burned out from overtraining in Mammoth and ready for something new. “I didn’t have many injuries in Mammoth, but I was equally as run down as Ryan and I had a lot of muscle adhesions that were really impairing my movement from a mobility standpoint,” Hall admits. At that point, she went and saw a doctor and chiropractor to deal with the physical issues related her overtraining.
Hall says that training mostly solo is much different than the team dynamic she experienced in Mammoth. Since Redding isn’t considered a bastion of distance running, Hall finds herself doing a lot of training with her husband. She does all her easy runs with Ryan and says this comprises about two thirds of her training. “There’s an occasional time when he [Ryan] wants to run faster than I do, but for the most part, we like to run our recovery runs at the same pace,” Hall says. “It’s been that way for a while now, and we definitely don’t hold each other back if the other’s body is wanting to go faster, but it seems like we usually just end up at the same pace, which is really enjoyable. It’s good quality time spent together for our relationship.” The pair does their high-altitude training in Flagstaff, Arizona, staying occasionally at the home of legendary coach Jack Daniels.
A devout Christian who isn’t shy about speaking publicly regarding her deeply held convictions, Hall contends that she consults God for guidance about the next steps in her training, but her coach gets a say, too. “God does speak to me about it [self-coaching] and fortunately Dena has given me a seat at the table to discuss my training and give input,” she says. “We don’t always agree but she values my opinion, my intuition and how well I know my body by now.”
At the time that Ryan decided to explore the faith-based model, Sara dwelled on the same notion, but ultimately decided that she needed someone else to help her along as well. “I thought about doing what Ryan is doing with the purely faith-based coaching, and didn’t feel that God was calling me to do it these last two years, but am always praying about what He wants me to do in the future and taking each year at a time,” she says.
Making this summer’s Olympic team is Hall’s ultimate dream, and she says that she’s readier than ever this time around. In 2008, Halls thinks she peaked too early, saying she had been pushing the envelope earlier on in her training and ran out of steam in the summer. But now, she says she has plenty of energy to go the distance this summer.
Hall has been hurdling more than just steeplechase obstacles during her life. She feels now is the time to realize the dream of competing in the same Olympic Games as her husband, who is already a member of the Olympic Marathon squad bound for London.
“Ryan and I are determined to walk hand in hand into the Opening Ceremonies,” she says. “Talk about a milestone event in your life! And it would be so fitting since we are on this journey, just the two of us right now. It would be a fairytale ending for sure.”