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Ryan Hall And His Coach Terrence Mahon Talk About This Year's London Marathon
By David Monti
(c) 2008 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
January 17, 2008

Running gracefully up and down the hills of Central Park at last November's USA Olympic Team Trials - Men's Marathon, Ryan Hall's run to victory looked effortless.  Although his 2:09:02 clocking was a Trials record, he surely would have run faster had he not spent most of the final mile celebrating.  Nonetheless, he still won by more than two minutes, breezing through the final half of the race in 62:45, the fastest half-marathon ever run in Central Park.

But the Trials was only the first of three major marathons Hall will run over a period of less than ten months.  Instead of sitting out the spring marathon season to rest his legs for the Olympic Marathon in Beijing on August 24, Hall has instead decided to contest the Flora London Marathon.  In the April 13 race, the most competitive spring marathon in the world, Hall will be up against marathoning heavyweights like Martin Lel, Abderrahim Goumri, Felix Limo, Jaouad Gharib, and Stefano Baldini.  He finished seventh there last year in 2:08:24, a USA debut record.

When asked in an extensive interview conducted by e-mail if he was concerned about packing three marathons into a relatively short period of time, Hall quipped: "Practice makes perfect."

COACH AND ATHLETE ON THE SAME PAGE

Living most of the year with his wife, Sara, in a mobile home at their high altitude training base in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., both of the Halls are coached by Terrence Mahon of Team USA California.  The 37 year-old Mahon, who has a 2:13:02 marathon to his credit, works very closely with his athletes, including Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor.  But with Hall, he shares a rare closeness, a meeting of the minds.

"Once I knew that he made the team I was on to the next step and that was figuring out what he needed in his athletic arsenal to be his best for the Olympics in Beijing," Mahon said via e-mail.  "Once I thought about the races I knew that it should be either London or a half-marathon on a very fast course (maybe something like Berlin).  Once I had my ideas I then talked with Ryan about what he thought.  More often than not, we are on the same page and he agreed that it was down between those two choices for his major Spring race."

One of Mahon's discoveries about his 25 year-old charge was that Hall needs a strong near-term racing focus in order to put in his best training.  "We both came to realize that if he has too much time between big events then he gets lost," said Mahon.  "We tried to use the summer as a low key arena where he could jump in some races and just see how things go.  However, we learned that this doesn't really fit his style of running.  Ryan is either doing something 100% or he is not doing it at all."

Mahon said that a shorter road or track race would not provide Hall with the kind of motivation that London delivers in spades.  "It had to be something that would give him the impetus to want to put his heart and soul into the training," Mahon reasoned.

They thought about Boston, but decided it was best saved for a different year.  The relatively flat terrain in London would mean less wear and tear on his legs and a shorter recovery.

"I would love to run Boston one day," said Hall.  "Both last year and this year London was the perfect fit in terms of the long term goal of first making the Olympic team and then being in the mix for a medal.  My aspirations of running London are getting stronger and stronger with every passing year.  There is a lot of rich history behind Boston and for an American to run well there would be something very special that I hope to one day accomplish before I am all done."

TRAINING WILL BE TWEAKED FOR LONDON

In London, where pacemakers will dictate a fast pace, Hall will be running a completely different race than at the Trials.  Mahon will be adjusting his training accordingly.

"Ryan's training will not be the same for London as it was for the Trials," Mahon explained.  "The courses are different, the racing style is different, and the field is full of people that he does not have much experience with.  His training for London will address all of these factors.  In a race like London we have a fairly good idea what will take place over the first half of the course, but the big surprises will come over the latter stages in this race."

While Hall wasn't ready to say that his participation in the race had any of the top entrants worried, he did feel that he had earned their respect.  "I would think they certainly won't be surprised to see my face up there this year, as they probably were last year," he said.  "It is always fun to surprise some guys.  I don't think I will be able to sneak up on anybody this year but I do think I have the benefit of no one gunning for me.  I don't think those guys will be thinking about how to beat me this year in London."

In London last year, Hall was actually leading in the latter stages of the race, when his second group merged with the first.  That was a valuable experience for him.  "I learned a lot from London last year.  I learned that I need to be very aware of how I am spending my energy and be very fluid when I move.  I think I moved too hard too soon last year.  I do think I did some things right, like getting a taste of the lead, but I need to do something with the lead next time."

Mahon, who is rarely away from his laptop computer, has been studying Martin Lel's racing style.  While thoroughly impressed with his ability to sprint at the finish --the tactic he used to win both London and New York last year-- Mahon sees at least a few weaknesses.  "Lel's finish is proving to be phenomenal, but we can see some weak points in his overall game," Mahon said.  "If he is the guy to beat then we need to practice in training how to exploit such weaknesses."

RECOVERY WILL BE KEY FOR BEIJING PREPARATIONS

Mahon said that Hall recovers more quickly than most athletes he's seen, a distinct advantage for his 2008 campaign.  "I am always trying to be aware of how athletes come off of races and how much it took out of them mentally, emotionally, physically," Mahon explained.  "With Ryan we have seen him in three major races where he felt like he came back even stronger than before he ran the race.  His soreness from the two marathons have been pretty minimal and he has come back from the Trials even quicker than from London.  I look at what his first workouts back have been after both events and can see that it was even easier the second time around."

Hall's marathon racing schedule will be the same as other top marathoners who will figure prominently in Beijing.  He will be running the exact same schedule as Paula Radcliffe, Lel, Ramaala, and Baldini, for instance.  The difference, critics say, is that Hall is much younger and less experienced with the distance than these veterans, and that London will take more out of him.  Mahon disagrees.

"Ryan is young, takes care of his body, and is a very efficient runner," Mahon said.  "All of these are signs that he will recover well from a race if the training has gone well leading up to the event.  We have no reason to believe that anything will be different after London."

EXCITED, BUT HUMBLE AND LOOKING AHEAD

Hall, a devout Christian who spent his post-Trials vacation in Israel to follow the footsteps of Jesus, is both excited by the prospect of another big performance in London, but knows that the key to training well is to forget about the swagger.  "I am very excited to keep learning about the marathon and how to prepare for it," he said with the tone of a schoolboy.  "While I am gaining confidence, I am also staying humble knowing that the marathon is not something to be taken lightly, in preparation or in the actual race.  Having two good experiences is a tremendous blessing in that I look forward to getting back out there and doing an even better job next time out.  It is good to know from my previous experience in London that I am capable of running with the worlds best."

Mahon, who refined his coaching techniques working with Kastor, spoke with confidence of his plans for Hall.  He fully appreciates that Hall is a legitimate medal favorite in Beijing and that he would do nothing to put that goal at risk.

"Ryan wouldn't be stepping on the line in London if he thought that this would jeopardize his chances for his best run at the Olympics," Mahon concluded.  "The Olympics have been his dream and my job is to get him there as prepared as possible.  We both feel confident that this is the next stage in the level of development for his professional running career."


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